"Scaling" or "Scalability" or "SX"...all terms used to define how to "change" a workout so that anyone and everyone can execute it. When a workout is scaled correctly, the same body parts are used, the same stimulus is reached, as well as the same intensity. In this week's edition of Box Talk, let's take a look at how to scale properly, when to scale, and why should we scale in the first place?
Recently, one of our members posted a GREAT synopsis of why he has chosen to scale recently, and how his workouts have changed, and the benefits he received from scaling correctly. If you haven't read it, check out Loren Fenders recent post. It's as good as anything I have read regarding scaling.
Let me continue, or add, to his points.
To be direct, EVERYONE SCALES! Yes, everyone. From Matt Frasier, to Annie Thorisdottir, to Rich Froning, to all your coaches, and to the newbie who has never set foot in a CrossFit gym, or any gym for that matter.
Why would Matt Frasier have to scale? Well, there could be many reasons. Maybe he can't do the workout exactly the way his coach wrote it. Maybe his shoulder is inflamed from a recent injury, maybe he can't run a sub 5 minute mile, maybe he is getting over flying across the world and feels pretty worked over. Regardless of his reason, he certainly has changed a workout here and there, and probably more times than you might think.
Obviously the number one reason we scale workouts is that we are new to the movement, or simply cannot perform the movement...yet. Pull-ups come to mind here. I would say 90% of all beginners cannot do one pull-up when they join CrossFit. So we scale pull-ups all different ways so that we can still build strength in our biceps and lats, the same muscles used in an RX pull-up.
Another reason we scale is due to soreness, injury, or lack of mobility. Overhead squats come to mind here. Another super tough move, especially to beginners. We sometimes scale these to a MUCH lighter bar, or even a PVC pipe, and/or elevating the heels while squatting. Overhead squats seem to be one of the toughest movements for a high percentage of the gym, and this is mostly due to lack of mobility. I will go into MOBILITY in another edition of Box Talk soon.
Scaling due to injury is obviously a must. We need to either take the movement completely out of the workout, lighten it significantly, or alter it so that there is no danger to the injured body part. We see this a lot with shoulders, knees, and my nemesis...the lower back. I am NOT a fan of "working through the pain". If something hurts due to an injury, let's work around it, and leave the healing to time, rest, massage with Josh and Daniel, and PT with Dr. Jaime Gold.
Soreness. Should we scale if we are simply sore AF? I think this depends. Sometimes my legs are so fried I don't know how I'm going to do a WOD with squats and cleans and blah blah blah. But miraculously, I do it, and feel so much better afterwards. However, there are times where we must scale because we are simply too sore. It's normally after a big break away, like a two week vacation to Mexico or something. And you come back blazing with all guns out on the first wod. And you can't move at all the next two days. LOL. Like literally, LOL. Because I've done it. Exactly that. So instead of forcing myself to do the WOD as written, I changed it all up and did some bike, some jogging, some DU...you know, things where I'm not bending and hinging and loading.
I also warn beginners that they are going to be more sore than they have ever been the first couple weeks. And when they can't get up from the toilet because their legs hurt too bad, still come in. And I will change the WOD so that at least we get the blood going and flush them out and get the body improving just the same.
But lastly, and the reason why I loved Loren's post on Insta, is we need to scale correctly so that we get the correct STIMULUS out of the workout. This is confusing to people. And rightfully so. As an owner, it is Paul's job to program WODS for the highest level of athleticism in the box. Notice, I said "in the box". That means in Conquest. He is not writing WODS for the best athlete of Reebok One, or Brick, or NorCal, etc. He has to keep in mind who is in our box, and proceed accordingly. And he does this, almost to perfection. It is then my job, and the rest of the coaches, to break it down and consider/recommend proper scales for the workout. And aside from scaling for beginners, the way we approach it is...what kind of stimulus are we looking for in the WOD?
Let's take Fran, arguably one of the most famous CF WODS ever created. 21-15-9 Thrusters/Pull-ups (95/65). Ok, I know...Fran is a benchmark WOD. Meaning it's a big deal. And there are those that MUST do it RX, every time, even if it takes them 15 minutes. Hey, all the power to them. I respect it, that's their choice. But that isn't what was in mind when FRAN was created.
FRAN was meant to be done FAST! Trust me, I know. I've been doing FRAN for 13 years. It used to be the workout we were made to do on Day 1 of our Level 1 CrossFit Cert. Yeah, that was a punch right to the throat. Sit on your ass for 8 hours, and then "Hey guys, put your shit away, we're doing FRAN!". Yep, true story. I got 4:09 that day. Not a PR, but still unbroken with old school kip (butterfly wasn't a thing yet). Tasted metal in my mouth. Don't believe me? Google it. It happens after super fast intense wods.
I know, after coaching for many years, what the correct stimulus is for that wod. It's supposed to be at 100% max high intensity, for a very short duration. This will give you the "Fran Cough" for a day and a half, and keep you up with sweats that night. Good sweats, where you wake up and see more abs in the morning. It is not supposed to be a self destructive 15 minute fight with a barbell and pull-up rig.
I don't care if you can't do FRAN RX. But let's look at some cool ways to get the same stimulus.
As many of you know, I hurt my back three years ago. Bad. I have not done FRAN RX since. The pull-ups yes, the weight...no. However, I have always picked a weight that I could do unbroken. I started with 38 pounds. Then moved to 45, then 55. I am now doing Fran with 65 pounds, and can go unbroken in 2:40ish. My goal, obviously, is to keep adding weight till I get back to 95#.
How do you think I felt after I did FRAN all those times at light weight, but unbroken. Keep in mind, that 38# felt just like 95# used to, because of the loss of leg strength. So yeah, it felt just like RX. Every damn time. Couldn't even feel my arms for a while the last time I did it.
Does FRAN have to be done unbroken? Certainly not. But we must pick a weight, and a pull-up scale, that allows us to take a two second break and then attack with confidence, poise, and determination.
As your coaches, we do NOT expect YOU to know what the stimulus of every workout should be, or what you should be getting out of it. However, I always tell my classes how they should approach each workout, and what timeframe I am looking for, because I know what you should be getting out of it. So if your coach doesn't say "Hey, pick a weight you can do 10 reps with", or "Pick a distance on the run that you can do in 2:30 every time", then ask them point blank. They will know the answer.
Scale it. A lot. Ask questions. Get the results you want, by allowing yourself to be humble, and yet, determined. It's a cool thing.
Scaling everything used to bother me. Then I started to embrace it. Then I started being proud that I could at least do what I can do, after a really bad injury. And now I see the genius in it.
Alright, time to wrap it up. Thanks for reading. Please share and urge your peers to read this one. This is an important one.
Till next time, eat protein, carbs, and fat....at every meal and snack. And watch DARK on Netflix.....It's pretty damn good.