Scaling/Modifying Workouts – part 1


The version of CrossFit you see on TV is actually rare (<1%) compared to the amount of everyday folks who do CrossFit as their general physical preparedness (GPP) program. However, even at an everyday level, there is some level of competition due to our recording scores, having a suggested “Rx” (prescribed) workout of the day, and just being around others tends to push us harder than we would go on our own. In of themselves, these are not bad things, but when our ego gets in the way of us scaling/modifying* appropriately, it can hinder us in the long run. Why, when, and how should we scale? Let’s talk about it.
*Traditionally, CrossFit uses the term “scale,” but we feel that some people take the term to mean “doing the easy or watered down version” and therefore avoid scaling. At Kanna, we like to say “modification” or even better, “progression,” to convey the sense of a journey towards excellence. In order to relate to folks outside of our community, we’ll use “scale,” “modification,” and “progression” interchangeably.


MECHANICS – How do you actually do something new? What are the steps to take? How many of you have power cleaned before CrossFit? Or even deadlifted? Chances are, not many. Elite athletes take YEARS to learn these movements and in large part, this is all they do. Olympic lifters will do cleans and snatches every other day. We need to focus on the MECHANICS of movements first, using light weight. Our Base Camp course teaches the fundamental movements of CrossFit in a low intensity environment so that new members can learn the steps for each movement. We also are sure to go over the movements at the beginning of each class as a review before the actual workout.
CONSISTENCY – Once you have the mechanics down, be CONSISTENT. You should be able to walk in any day and be able to get the basic movement down, especially for Olympic lifts. Repetition is key. It’s very rare to learn and remember something after having only done it a few times. As you know from other activities like riding a bike, learning to drive a car, speaking a new language, etc. you need to consistently practice before you can do it with speed and intensity.
INTENSITY – In CrossFit world, the name of the game is intensity. You become better, faster, stronger because of INTENSITY. CrossFit says intensity = power. If POWER = [(FORCE x DISTANCE)/TIME], then you can raise your intensity by increasing your weight, increasing your distance, or lowering your time. But there needs to be a careful balance so that if you increase your weight or distance a little bit, you don’t take forever to complete the wod. This is the careful balance of scaling.
CrossFit “Rx” workouts are intended for fairly elite athletes. We don’t expect you to come in and do workouts Rx’d right away. Or even in a few months. Or maybe even in your first year. Depending on your athletic background, it might be years before you do something Rx’d. That’s ok! On any given day at Kanna, we have 75-90% of our members scaling the workout in some way, shape, or form. We would rather you scale and be INTENSE on a workout that is supposed to take 10 minutes than do Rx’d and take 50 minutes. Remember, Intensity = The Good Stuff. But you can only be Intense by Preserving the Stimulus.
Let’s take Fran for example: 21-15-9 of thrusters (95/65#) and pull-ups. The firebreathers of CrossFit can do this in 2-3 minutes. Their arms and lungs are on fire and they can’t move for 10 minutes after the workout. If a guy walks in the gym and wants to do this as Rx’d but takes 25 minutes to do Fran, he’s lost the stimulus. He’s lost the point of the workout. We don’t expect you to do Fran in 3 minutes, but you should modify it to get the work done quickly, maybe around 5-10 minutes. You can change the weight of thrusters, you can do ring rows or use our modified height pull-up bar for pull-ups, you can do a rep scheme of 12-9-6, etc. There is no single solution for everybody; that’s why there’s a coach!
By preserving the stimulus, you get all of that “Good Stuff” and will become stronger and faster QUICKER over time than you would by doing a 25 minute Fran. To give you more reason, let’s make up a character who is 6ft., 190lbs and does a 95# Fran in 15 minutes. Using the power calculation above, their power output is 63 watts. If you drop that weight to 65# and he gets the work done in 9 minutes, his power just jumped to 92 watts. He upped his intensity. The physical and neurological benefits he receives from a higher power output will do better for him than struggling through a Rx’d Fran. In other words, by dropping the weight, his body will ADAPT more quickly and therefore become stronger and faster.
We should note that this intensity only comes after mechanics and consistency. Most people look at CrossFit and think it’s only “go go go!” high intensity. If you’re at a box that is concerned about your long-term progress, this can be no further from the truth. Even if a workout is “for time,” we remind new members to move at their own pace to learn the movements. This is why we would generally modify the weight, the number of reps, etc. which we’ll discuss in the near future.
In our next post, we’ll talk about more nitty gritty details in terms of how and when to scale and when you should push the limits to use heavier weights.

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