What is scaling?
It might be helpful to go back to July and re-read the blog post about leaving your ego at the door. That blog post brings up some similar topics and serves as a nice amuse-bouche to signal the flavors of this post.
So what is scaling? We hear the word all the time, mostly in the gym, but also on social media or the internet. In many cases I think it has a negative connotation to it, as in “I was not able to Rx the workout, so I had to scale it.” What it really comes down to though, is the preservation of the intended stimulus of the workout, and is definitely not a negative thing. In fact, scaling is the critical glue that holds Crossfit together, and allows everyone, regardless of age, gender, and ability to do Crossfit. “Our understanding is that the needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind” – Greg Glassman. Meaning everyone needs to squat – maybe not the same weight, but everyone needs to do it. This is where the term “scaling” comes in, as there is a scale from elite to novice that we all fall upon and can move up or down.
In order to properly scale, we must first know the intended stimulus of the workout. This information may be presented to you in the workout description, but more likely it will be given to you by your coach during the workout brief. Is the workout supposed to be light and fast, heavy, or a long, drawn out slugfest? Once we know this, we can then properly scale to our abilities. Take for instance the workout Fran: it is supposed to be a fast, intense workout, ideally completed in under 3 minutes, but more realistically for a group class in under 5 minutes. If an athlete can do 95 pound thrusters and pull ups, but finishes Fran Rx’ed in 12 minutes, did they do it correctly? NO. They have the strength to perform the movements Rx’ed, but not in the time domain required for the workout. Instead they should have either reduced reps (15-9-6), reduced weight (75# thrusters), or reduced movement difficulty (ring rows) in order to get done under 5 minutes. “Rx’d isn’t only the ability to perform or complete a certain movement. Rx’d means you have the capability to meet the time, loading, volume, and complexity stimuli of a workout” – James Hobart.
Believe it or not, scaling might also mean increasing difficulty for certain athletes on workouts. If the stimulus calls for a light barbell and the prescribed weight happens to be extremely light for an athlete, they should scale the weight up to keep the stimulus. The general rule of thumb is that group class workouts are programmed for the average athlete, with beginning athletes most likely needing scaling options to reduce the difficulty, and advanced athletes needing scaling options to increase the difficulty on occasion.
This month, I want you to pay special attention to the intended stimulus of each workout you do and really consider what the best scaling options are (if needed). Keep in mind that each workout is designed with a specific goal with regards to energy systems, time, and loading. It might take some time to get good at it, and until you do, check in with your coach as they will be able to give you some good advice and insight into what you should be doing for each workout.