Archive | December 2012

“Get up!….at your own pace.”


Scaling implies surmounting an obstacle using some method or another to get to the top. As a CrossFit or fitness trainer of any denomination scaling is the tool in your tool belt to make your program accessible to anybody and everybody.

It is my opinion that the hallmark of a great trainer is the ability to scale any workout, any movement and have the athlete/participant leaving having completed a great workout that was as close to the stimulus the program intended for the highest level of athlete.

So how do we scale?

Let me refresh your memory from personal trainer school and revisit the basic principles of fitness (taken from

The Acronym SPORT helps us to remember the principles.

S is for the Principle of Specificity, essentially if you want to be better at bench press then do bench press and related activities, programming running for this athlete would not be keeping with the principle of specificity. If however you want a state of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) then you should Constantly Vary the prescription.

S could also be for Safety. Adherence to good mechanics, consistently before pursuing intensity is my favourite safety plan when training.

PO is for the Principle of Progressive Overload. This is the crux of my post. Scaling allows us to find where someone is at and then slowly take them past that point with the eventual goal of capacity at a prescribed task.

R is for the Principle of Reversibility – If you don’t use it you lose it. In the Charter MCI the consistency piece definitely refers to an ability to demonstrate good mechanics consistently but can also refer to using them consistently and regularly before embarking on new levels of intensity.

T is for Tedium – I have long been an advocate of the statement that the best program is the one that gets done. If a scientifically valid program is so tedious that nobody can stick to it then it is not effective. I think we have Tedium covered in our Constantly Varied prescription.

Progressive Overload is addressed in CrossFit by its claims of universal scalability. When I scale a workout I want to preserve 3 things:

1. The Intensity or Power


Force: This is most obviously scaled by using less load. It can also be scaled by decreasing the stability requirement (reduce internal work) think parallel dip vs ring dip.

Distance: Reducing the range of movement is viable when comparing the “power” version of the olympic lifts to their “full” or “squat” counterparts. Or when comparing a full deadlift to a partial version of the movement in a kettle bell swing.

Time: Either the total duration of the workout can be modified or the tempo of the workout can be modified i.e.. insert some rest.

Lets explore some options:

So you post “Eva” as your WOD – If you are like every box I have visited then you have a wide array of fitness levels and injury statuses. Scaling should be individualised as much as possible to meet specific needs but go in with a plan Eva is tough:

5 rounds for time of:

Run 800m

Kettle bell swings 2pood (32kg)

30 Pull Ups 30

This is a long and horrible workout. You will need some scaling options. I am proposing one of hundreds.

If we start with scaling the workout via force we could use a lighter KB on the swings and bands to assist our pull ups.

Scaling with respect to distance we could reduce the reps to 20 or 15 or even 10 of each piece. Run less distance, use a shorter Range of motion swing (Russian instead of American) and a short Range of movement Pull Up (Jumping Pull up where the legs do the first bit).

Up to this point it is easy to accidentally create a workout that looks like “Eva’ but packs none of the punch.

We have to be careful not to neuter these workouts as we scale them.

Imagine 5 Rounds for time :

Run 400m

20 Russian Swings @ 24kg

20 Band assisted pull ups

This is still a good workout but in the wrong hands this becomes a 15min effort that didn’t quite measure up to the 30-60min session that is Eva.

We can play around with the time aspect and introduce some AMRAPs.

What about shooting for about 40 mins on this WOD. As a scale for new or unconditioned athletes I may set three separate 12 min AMRAPs with 2 mins rest between each:

AMRAP 1: As above Run 400m

20 Russian Swings@ 24kg(scale as appropriate)

20 Band Assisted Strict Pull Ups

AMRAP 2:  Run 200m

15 American Swings @ 16kg (scale as appropriate)

15 Kip Swings

AMRAP 3: Run 400m

10 KB Dead lifts @ 32kg (scale as appropriate)

Run 200m

10 Jumping Pull Ups

If we strip the scaled workout down; in AMRAP 1 there is potential for a good athlete to get 6 rounds (90 second 400m runs and unbroken swings and pull ups) so volume wise it is 2.4km running, 120 Russian swings and 120 Pull ups. The same good athlete may hit 10 rounds of the second AMRAP and 4 or 5 of the third.

I think when planning a beginner or basic option that it should be able to provide a solid workout for a high level athlete not just be a watered down version of the prescribed stimulus, AMRAPs are a great tool for this IMO.

If we look at the three AMRAPs the movement functions were conserved as much as possible. This brings me to the second thing I try to conserve when scaling.

2. The Movement function : There are many movements with a similar pattern that have different coordination or stability prerequisites for execution. The basic pattern descriptors are: Squat, Lunge, Push -Up, down and forwards, Pull- Up, down and backwards, Bend (Hip Flexion), Extend (Hip Extension), Twist and Gait.

In the interest of Constant Variance we program to hit all of these functions as regularly as possible, granted we don’t twist that much in CrossFit, everything else gets its fair share of attention. Conserving the movement function aids in not having too many cases of repetition and hopefully fends against Tedium. For example having an athlete do a ring row for all the pulling movements because they cannot yet do pull ups may get tedious but more to the point wont expose the athlete to pulling down.

I like to think of every movement as existing on an infinite ladder  or staircase.

A push up can be made more challenging in a number of ways: Add weight, do it slower,do it explosively, elevate the feet (change the angle and disadvantage the stronger muscles), use rings (increase the stability requirement, extend the range by elevating the hands and getting the chest to the ground, use only one foot, use only one hand.

All of these movements can be stacked on each other from easier to harder and the variable that was adjusted can be adjusted to make the movement easier or harder in the smallest of increments. Thus if every movement is accessible to us then the push up family of movements is more like a ramp than a ladder and when scaling for someone doing push ups I just need to find the right point on the ramp.

The final thing I will scale to preserve is near and dear to my heart,

3. The Charter (MCI) : Pick movements the athletes have consistently good mechanics in before requesting intensity. Event if that means selecting a different movement pattern. Often with an injured athlete trainers are unable to conserve the movement patter and need to opt for something different completely.

We have a saying “Program for the best and scale for the rest” I like it but I appeal to you to realise that most of the CrossFit population is the rest so practice scaling and seek out compliments of how you made the workout accessible rather than “compliments” on how hard the thing you programmed was.

I will wrap up with a quick quote from Coach G’s article : “Virtuosity” if you haven’t read it you need to – click here. This is the CrossFit I signed on for and the one I will continue to express to the best of my ability.

“It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge. But make no mistake: it is a sucker’s move. Teaching a snatch where there is not yet an overhead squat, teaching an overhead squat where there is not yet an air squat, is a colossal mistake. This rush to advancement increases the chance of injury, delays advancement and progress, and blunts the client’s rate of return on his efforts. In short, it retards his fitness.”

Merry Christmas 🙂