Scaling for Athletes

by Sarah on October 6th, 2015

One of the things we loved about starting our own gym was introducing levels of scaling into our everyday programming.  As we envisioned it, and as we now operate, each day athletes can select from four levels: Black, Red, Grey and White, and athletes can race each other within these levels as well as push to achieve new levels.

As we program, we're envisioning a room full of athletes completing a workout that is similarly taxing to each, while accommodating a wide variety of strength, skill, fitness and familiarity with the movements prescribed for the day.  The goal is for each to complete the workout in the intended time domain with the best technique they were capable of on that day.

Sometimes it's necessary to reduce the weight or the complexity of a skill within a workout performed for time because an athlete is unable to complete the movement under stress.  Handstand walking is an example of this for me - right now I can do reasonably well at handstand walking when my heart rate is low and my arms are fresh.  Once I'm breathing hard and my arms are tired though, there's a good chance I'm going to fall on my face.  Literally.  When we scale, we factor in the aggregate complexity of the workout, taking into consideration the effect each movement has on the others.

In the above two cases, scaling is relatively straightforward.  For each movement within the workout, do you think you can complete the workout at the level you've selected with good technique within the time cap?  If not, reduce the weight or simplify the movement using the prescribed scaling options as your guide.  If yes, go for it.  If by chance you guess wrong, that's why we have time caps and coaches to tell you to take weight off.

At other times, it's necessary to reduce the weight or the range of motion because the athlete is working around some form of injury.  We are firm believers that it's important to get off the couch when possible, even when a bit dinged up, but also feel strongly that it's necessary to scale movements to avoid further damage.  We always start class by asking the participants to tell the coach if they need to adjust the workout beyond what's written on the board - this is to accommodate the special circumstances that usual scaling can't address - a limitation on doing overhead movements, squatting below parallel, front racking the bar, etc.  We're always happy to give suggestions in this case, but it's pretty important that you come prepared because as coaches we don't know exactly what you're trying to avoid.

If you think the volume is too high for your current fitness level, ask how to reduce the volume.

If you can't go through a certain range of motion tell the coach and ask if it's possible to modify the movement to avoid that range (e.g. squatting above parallel).

If you can't do a movement at all, like snatching, ideally suggest another similar movement - a clean or deadlift for example - that you haven't done within the past few days that you'd like to sub.

In the above cases, the coach then has enough information to quickly give you a good suggestion.  If you simply say "what should I do today?" the coach has to start at the top of a flowchart with tons of stages:  Are you injured? yes/no  If not injured: why do you want to modify the workout?  If injured: Does it hurt when you do the movement?  Does it hurt after you do the movement?  Does it hurt if you reduce the weight?  Have you seen a doctor?  The list goes on and on.  For your benefit, and for the benefit of your classmates, if you think you need to make a major change to the workout, please come prepared to tell your coach exactly what you're trying to avoid, and what you think you should do instead.

Any questions about the above?  Give us a shout and let us know!
OK, you're going to run two laps while I do all that other stuff - then we switch. Cool?
(Photo courtesy of oh happy dawn photography)

WOD for 10-07-15:

AMRAP 18 Minutes With a Partner:

400m Run


20 Double Unders
15 AbMat Sit-ups
10 Hang Power Snatches @ 95/65 lbs

Partner A runs 400m while Partner B completes the triplet, then partners switch.  Score is total rounds of the triplet completed, with the teams scoring continuously (one partner picks up exactly where the last partner left off).  

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with no tags


Leave a Comment
Arena Ready CrossFit

CrossFit Journal: The Performance-Based Lifestyle Resource

Log your Progress

Equipment for CrossFit


Body & Mind Maintenance

Mobility WOD

follow on
follow on
follow on



no tags