Proper Scaling and Advancement

Every workout, from 5×2 cleans to a 5 round triplet has a desired effect. We have a goal in mind for you with each workout, it may be conditioning, strength, work capacity, skill, mental toughness etc. We all want to get “more fit”, whatever that may mean to us. The best way to achieve this is by properly scaling your workouts and exercises to YOUR level. Some people have this idea that scaling is sandbagging or that you are a wuss if you scale a workout. These are the same people who you may see in the recovery position for 90% of their workout, and take 30min to finish while everyone else is done at 10min. In this particular case they have completely missed the desired effect, and have effectively just rested with small spurts of work in between. The most common place that people will overstep their boundaries is with weightlifting of all types (oly, power, kettlebell etc). Men in particular typically have the macho attitude and ego, and they believe that since that other guy or girl is lifting X I should be able too as well. Even if that means practicing the ugliest form and positioning. The worst thing you can do for yourself is rush your weights, especially with typical Crossfit workouts (high reps, high intensity) it ‘s just not a smart idea. You will NOT get any better by rushing your weights, plain and simple.
On the flip side there are also people out there who are more than ready to move up but just do not push themselves. Scaling isn’t just lightening up and cutting reps it’s also adding when needed. This is typically more common for some of the ladies out there, but when you finish a 5×5 3×3 4×1 back squat workout in 10min you have completely missed the point. That work is meant to be heavy, so push yourself to go heavy. When you do, you will need the rest trust me. Of course if you are still learning the movements and are not sound form-wise it is not smart to rush weights but it can be a fine line. If you have been doing Crossfit for a year and still use the 13lb kettle bell for swings, its time to move up.
Typical Crossfit workouts (fran, 4 rounds for time, helen, etc) should always be looked at with the advanced athletes in mind when scaling. So for example: Whitney Cappellucci can do a workout in 5:00 with 275 lb deadlift and non-assisted pullups. If I (Joe) did the same workout with 275lb deadlift and non assisted pullups it would take me 15:00 and I would barely be getting my chin over the bar, and rounding my back. Now if I dropped the deadlift weight to 205lbs and used a blue band for pullups I would be right at 6:00. I just got a better workout with higher quality reps. Fast times and big weights don’t mean anything if your form sucks and you take forever. You will advance faster if you focus on quality and push as hard as possible while scaled properly. So aim for the top and scale yourself to get around the same time. For weightlifting, you can either be limited by your technique or by your strength. For 99% of us and 90% of the movements we do, we are limited by our technique. So that means lighten the weight and practice perfection.
Bottom line is: listen to your coaches. We are here to help you, and trust me when I say that the most important thing to me and your other coaches is advancing your fitness level. When we tell you to drop your weight, we are not taking a stab at your ego but rather we are trying to help you get your form solid and not hurt yourself. You are here to train your body, leave your ego at the door. When we tell you to fix something (lower in the squat, full lockout of your arms, chin over the bar) we are doing it because half reps only give you half benefit. You will not advance quickly or develop fully if you do not practice full range of motion and perfect form. If that means going lighter on your weights or grabbing another band for the pullups, GET OVER IT. If anything, you should just be going faster and lifting perfectly. And isn’t that what we all want??


13 Responses

  1. Derek says:

    great post Joe!!

  2. Melanie says:

    Great piece, Joe. I know I’m guilty of underestimating myself or not pushing as hard as I can. You, on the other hand, are always pushing me. This was motivating…what did you yell at me at one point? I think it was, “Fight for it!” I promise to try harder!

  3. Bobby says:

    Great post, Joe, and this advice follows well after Matt and Ben’s posts from earlier.
    Often I’m still using the “girls” Rx weight on many of the exercises and I don’t feel a bit bad about it, because I feel plenty strong and getting stronger.
    Thanks for the advice and sound programming!

  4. Joe says:

    Thanks for the feedback! You guys rock. We all are in the same game with a common goal. Thank you for all of your hard work.

  5. Duran says:

    Yes sir Joe preach it, preach it brother Joe. You guys rock!!!!! Thank You for Crossfit!!!!

  6. matt says:

    Awesome stuff bro. Some great advice that we could all learn something from.

  7. Joe H says:

    Nice post Joe! No need to go and be a rip-van-WOD-killa and take all day!

  8. Tony says:

    Great advice Joe!! What you wrote really makes sense when you think about in a place other than the gym. My biggest problem is just like you said “If he can do that weight I can do it also.” I am going try to keep the mentality of go lighter and keep correct form for the WOD instead heavier and not as good form. Great advise Joe!!

  9. Joe H says:

    Another thing came to mind- scaling based on how you feel on a given day. Some days you can nail it, no questions asked. Other times, you’re not on your A-game, or you’re carrying an injury/knock/bump/etc and you need to scale as not to keep injuring. Again, great post, and thanks!

  10. Ben says:

    Nice add on Joe H. Every day is different. Recovery, stress, sleep etc play a huge role on the day to day and we all have to measure where we are in any given moment.

  11. Jim C says:

    So basically if scaling is done 100% correctly by everyone, then everyone would ideally finish every workout with the exact number of reps or the exact same time. Obviously this doesn’t happen because perfect scaling is impossible but that is the goal correct?

  12. Jim C says:

    What a handicap is to golf, scaling is to crossfit.

  13. Sara R says:

    I, Sara, solemnly swear to get more bands for pull ups. Great post Joe.

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