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Scale For Intensity

As an athlete that scales almost every CrossFit workout she ever completes, take it from me: there’s no shame in scaling. Weightlifting is my training poison of choice, and I CrossFit to get my blood pumping and endorphins running and to maintain a level of conditioning. Training is HARD for me.  Even though I’ve played sports since I was young, I’ve never been naturally athletic. I’ve always had to work hard, really hard, for any progress in my training.  I don’t hit PR’s regularly. I injure easily. And I’m not as young as I used to be, which means my body requires a lot more recovery now than it did just a couple of years ago. 

When I approach a CrossFit WOD, my primary goal is to keep moving throughout the entire workout while keeping my comfort zone just out of reach.  If I’m doubled over, and staring at the bar instead of making progress, I’m not maximizing my time or my power output. So I scale.. and guess what? It doesn’t make me any less of an athlete.

Why scale?

To maximize performance and prevent injury. 

Everything you want from your workout comes from intensity. Intensity is relative, meaning it’s unique to your own ability, strength, endurance and psychology. Part of the beauty of CrossFit is it’s scalability - it’s what evens the playing field between elite games athletes and people like you, me, our parents, children or grandparents. 

I love this definition from the CrossFit Journal: 

Intensity is defined as power: force multiplied by distance, then divided by time. Simply put: Intensity is doing more work faster. “Be impressed by intensity, not volume,” Glassman is quoted as saying as early as 2002.  Crudely translated, it means this: Do more work in less time—not more work in more time.

A lot of athletes approach intensity with an all-or-nothing, no-holds-barred, throw-everything-out the-window-approach. Put as much weight on the bar as possible and hope for the best.  However, this approach not only results in a less-than-optimal work capacity, it also puts you at risk for injury.  Scaling allows athletes to match their ability to the intention of the WOD so that workouts can be maximized. By scaling the prescribed movement, weight or reps of a workout, we can actually increase work capacity by maximizing power output.  

In order to scale effectively, evaluate the intent of the WOD against your skill level. If the WOD calls for 30 clean and jerks at 135 pounds, and the average time to complete the WOD is 4 minutes, it’s clearly a met-con. If you can lift 135 pounds, but it’s 90% or higher of your max, and you turn this workout into a 30+ minute workout by completing 30 singles with a minute rest in between, you’re missing the point. 

Intensity needs to be built on gradually, and only once a solid foundation of proper movement has been laid.  Technique and proper form should always be the first priority. Not only does this reduce injury, it ensures that your muscles have memorized proper foundational movements so that they default to correct form as intensity is added. If you perform 10, 20 or 50 reps of a movement in a workout with improper form, you’re ingraining incorrect muscle patterns that are only setting you up for critical failure down the road once you add weight. Take the time to build your foundation - your future self will thank you for it.

Scaling is nothing to be ashamed of. I scale because I want to honor where I am in my fitness journey. want to get the most out of my workouts by performing movements at a weight that will keep me progressing toward the next rep, even when I don’t want to.

Coach Alex

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