Scaling UP in a CrossFit Workout – part I

athletes at CrossFit Central East Regionals 2010
With new clients, we always insist in MCI (no, not the old phone company):
Mechanics
Consistency
Intensity
That is, we want newbies to first learn how to do something, then be able to do it consistently and correctly, and then finally add the intensity piece with weight and/or speed. In order to achieve this, many folks have to scale down workouts by using less weight or less reps. This allows them to focus on form and keep intensity high. For instance, if we are doing “Angie,” (100 pull ups, 100 push ups, 100 sit ups, 100 air squats, for time) I am not going to have brand new clients do this as prescribed. Rather, I’m going to scale it to their ability. I can do this by scaling the degree of the stimulus, or by scaling the reps. By putting the athlete on rings and doing ring rows, I am providing a lesser degree of difficulty for pull ups. I could also have them do half or even a quarter the amount of reps as prescribed. Scaling helps maintain a degree of intensity that varies from workout to workout.

But what if you or a client need to scale UP? I don’t mean less scaling
down in order to achieve the prescribed workout, I mean someone who
wants to go above and beyond the Rx. In this two part series, I’ll
discuss situations in which you may want to do this, how to actually
scale up, and throw in some other considerations. 

Kristin T. at Barbells For Boobs – Helen Meets Grace event

First, there need to be TWO PREREQUISITES, for someone looking to scale up and both have to do with experience:
1. Form is Locked In – this speaks for itself, but I’m not going to have Mr. Reverse Curl do 185#
power cleans if he can’t properly demonstrate a power clean at light
weight. He needs to show me good form before he can scale up, let alone
do a prescribed weight. 
2. Familiarity with the Workout – the athlete needs to have experience with a workout and/or movement to know if they should be scaling up or not. Here’s an example: If you tell a former strongman that he’s going to do “Grace” (30 clean and jerks at 135# for men, 95# for women), they’ll probably scoff at you and want to load up that bar with 225. But anyone familiar with Grace knows that she’s a nasty one, and even the strongest of people can be destroyed by her. I need to know that someone understands the workout and what is expected.
Joe M. at Iron Cross Athletics Grand Opening

Ok, so if someone meets those two prerequisites, then here are situations where we might scale up.
SCALE UP WHEN…:
1. Progress Has Plateaued – If Mrs. Fran has been CrossFitting for a few years and her Fran time is staying around the same sub 3-minute time, I’m going to have her scale the weight up from 65# to 75# or 85#. This will slow her down for sure, but it will also make her regular Fran time faster when she picks up that 65#.
2. You Want to Get Stronger – This makes sense, especially when you look at it on a strength day. If I asked you to find a max backsquat, you keep progressively loading weight until you hit a max. The same idea can be applied to metcons. Even though a workout might call for 55# kettlebell swings, if you want to be able to swing a 70 pounder, you just have to start swinging a 70 pounder! It might be tough at first, but that’s the point. You will adapt and overcome.
3. You Want to be More Competitive – If you are consistently finishing workouts ahead of the class, you might not feel as motivated to give it your all unless there is some close competition. We call this being the “firebreather” or being “rabbit.” If you are always being chased, who can you chase?
These are the three main situations in which a CrossFitter might want to scale up. In part II, I’ll discuss some ways to do just that.
-Are there other prerequisites in which you’d want to consider scaling up?
-How about other situations that someone would want to scale up a workout?
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One thought on “Scaling UP in a CrossFit Workout – part I

  1. Great ideas and weight lifting is grossly underappreciated in today's workout for both genders. I want to invite you to lunch at a local website with a global audience http://www.thelunchbreakblog.com and maybe you can share some of your ideas with our community.

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