What Does Scaling/Modifying Workouts Really Mean?

In the most basic form, scaling/modifying (scaling from now on) a workout means you are doing it right. I know that sounds backwards, but scaling workouts is essential to proper training in any form. Scaling helps in many ways and below we will look at how it affects safety, proper progression and protection of our bodies.

Greg Glassman said it best in an article posted in the CF Journal, “Ahead of efficacy is safety.” Efficacy is defined as: the ability to produce a desired or intended result. Safety is our number one goal at CrossFit Mudtown. If you blow out your back deadlifting 500 pounds, separate a shoulder doing butterfly pull-ups, or get rhabdo from doing Murph RX, what have you gained? The answer is pretty straightforward – an injury that will set you back for days, weeks, months or even years.

Properly scaling workouts or movements is paramount to safety and your overall fitness. Coach Jacki has been preaching recently that we need to work on strict movements before we add any sort of kip. Strict pull-ups and handstand push-ups (HSPU) are both great examples. We need to work on the proper strength to execute the pull-up and HSPU before adding high rep volume work with kipping. The reason for that is safety. If we don’t have the strength to perform these movements strict, then what are we doing to our body when we do them with a kip? We are adding undue stress to joints and muscles because we don’t have the strength to properly protect them, which could lead to a preventable injury.

Too many times we see people walk into the gym, walk straight to the whiteboard, and start strategizing what they need to do for the workout in order to compete with someone else. Yes, the whiteboard is there as motivation to push you, but the person you need to be pushed by is yourself. The programming at any gym should be written for the best athletes, to push the limits of their capacity. Everyone else, including myself, NEED to scale when appropriate. If we are not getting the intended stimulus from a workout because we didn’t scale, then we are doing ourselves a disservice. Doing Fran RX in over 6 minutes takes us out of the correct energy pathway for that workout, which means we won’t achieve the desired outcome. Fran is meant to be done very fast, at a high intensity and with relatively light weights. If we fail to appropriately scale Fran and take 6+ minutes to complete it, then we are telling our bodies to utilize a different energy pathway, which is reserved for lower intensity, longer duration activity.

The last point I want to hit on is appropriately scaling for yourself. We as coaches will always do our best to get you set up for success, but only you know how you are actually feeling that day. Long days of work, stress, illness and the amount of sleep you got the night before are all things that we as coaches can’t see/know unless you let us know. Even at that point we can’t really know how you are feeling.

Age, nagging injuries and the amount of days you have worked out that week are also factors that come into scaling. There is a reason the CrossFit Games starts changing the RX workouts for groups of people over a certain age. If they did not scale the workout appropriately, then the intention of the workout would not be met by those groups of people. As we get older, it takes us longer to recover, our joints are a little more beat up, and scaling is essential in reaching our overall goal – to lead a fit and healthy life. Remember we are all choosing to do CrossFit for a specific reason. Those reasons may differ, person to person, but some commonly shared reasons include being able to play with kids/grandkids, being able to stand up and sit down independently at an old age, and reducing the likelihood of developing several chronic diseases. To accomplish your goals, it is important to make sure you are scaling to the right movements.

So remember, scaling a workout doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong, in fact it means you are doing it right. Our goal is to have everyone do this for a very long time and scaling is a part of it. Just remember, sometimes that also means scaling up from your comfort level.

Coach Danny