Workouts at Black Box, and largely for CrossFit in general, are scaleable to any level of experience and ability. The “sport” of CrossFit incorporates many different movements, some of which you are great at and some of which you may kinda suck at, for now. That’s okay, everyone has a list of each.
As you continue to work on shortening the “[insert movement here] can kiss my butt” list, some workouts will be largely in your favor, while for others, you will have to battle with frustration and learn how to scale properly. Scaling a workout is important to avoid injury, accomplish the intent of the workout (which I will further elaborate on below) and progress in a sustainable fashion.
Biting off more than you can chew during a workout by doing too much weight or performing a movement at a higher skill level than you can handle is a good way to get hurt and frustrated.
This post will help you understand how to properly scale your workouts so you can continue to improve while staying challenged.
Let us start by analyzing types of movements you perform in class. They can be classified as skill-centric, strength-centric, endurance-centric or a combination of the three characteristics. For example, a burpee is not considered a skill-full movement. Yes, you can become more efficient as you become stronger and more conditioned, but everyone learns and can successfully do a burpee on the first day of Foundations.
Next, consider a set of kipping pull-ups. This exercise requires a base of strength (at least 5 consecutive strict pull-ups), as well as a certain degree of skill to achieve the required coordination to properly time when to utilize your hip extensors and abdominals, when to pull up and when to push away. As the number of reps increase in a set, grip strength and muscular endurance become important factors for completing the movement successfully.
Finally, consider barbell exercises, which can be further categorized into the “power lifts” and the “Olympic lifts” and their variations. Power lifts include the deadlift, squats, press, and bench press. These movements require relatively less coordination, speed and timing to complete as opposed to the Olympic lifts, which include the snatch and clean & jerk and variations such as the power clean, push press and power snatch. The ability to perform these movements proficiently takes a great deal of strength, coordination, and, depending on the number of reps, a good deal of endurance.
The exercises that require a higher combined level of strength, skill and endurance are those that must be scaled down or up depending on the athlete, especially when fatigue becomes a factor, which sometimes happens during a WOD, right?
When deciding how to scale a workout, ask yourself (or your coach) the questions below. And, for the sake of practice, answer them based on this example workout:
10 deadlifts (225/155#)
What is the intended time or rep domain?
Workouts are typically either to be completed “for time” or as an AMRAP. Workouts are not carelessly or randomly thrown together, especially here at Black Box. They are written and programmed to accomplish a certain type of conditioning, which generally means that a workout could be written with suggested weights so that it may be accomplished in 10 minutes. However, if you go too heavy, it will take you 15 minutes. Using more weight than you should therefore has changed the programmed level of intensity and you are not getting the targeted training effect.
Let’s say the times on the board for the example workout above range from 11:00 – 16:00. Think about how many total reps of each movement are being performed: 400 double-unders, 80 pull-ups and 40 deadlifts. That’s a rather high-repetition workout, so the level of difficulty of each movement should be rather low to adhere to the prescribed time domain.
What if we changed the workout to the following, but the times on the board were still within 11:00-16:00:
10 strict pull-ups
5 deadlifts (315/225#)
You see that the level of difficulty and the weight of the deadlift has substantially increased. That means the this workout will be lower rep, higher difficulty and a lower level of intensity due to the fact that slightly more rest may be required between repetitions.
What are your strengths and limitations for each movement?
Understanding which movements you can perform efficiently and which movements you are still learning to master will help you decide how to scale the workout. The example workout above would have levels of modifications for the double-unders, pull-ups and deadlift weights. You may be very good at bodyweight movements, but struggle with lifting. If that’s the case, you know you’ll spend less time on the pull-ups and double unders, but require more time to complete the deadlifts, thus you would choose a deadlift weight that may be a bit lighter so you can maintain good form for all the repetitions.
This leads to a very important point: maintaining quality movement with high repetition of weightlifting is difficult and extremely important, unless you want to hurt yourself (and let’s be real, nobody wants that). Proper execution of barbell movements is what makes you stronger. Improper execution of barbell movements is what leads to injury. Yes, you will get stronger to a point, but after a while, you will have a massive collection of mechanical disadvantages causing you to plateau at best, or become seriously injured at worst. Remember to appreciate your lighter-weight warm-up reps and take the time to perform EACH REPETITION with good habits, not bad ones. Practice doesn’t make perfect – practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.
What levels do the A, B and C groups represent?
You’ve noticed that we suggest different weight and movement scaling options with each workout as A, B or C groups. Use this as a tool to help choose which weight/modification for a workout. The group you choose may be a factor of how new you are to classes or how difficult a particular movement or weight is for you at this point in your training.
The “A” group is a good option if you are new to classes and still familiarizing yourself to the exercises or if that movement is just a tough one for you. Sometimes this option may be a little to heavy depending on your own mobility limitations, in which case you can just ask your coach what to do.
The “B” group is when your efficiency and ability is improving and you can string repetitions together without losing form terribly, allowing you to become challenged by the weight or variation.
The “C” group is an advanced level. At this point, you are able to move your own bodyweight and heavy weights with efficiency and minor form adjustments. When we do benchmark WODs, this is the “Rx” or prescribed level.
Remember, this is a guide. You will not always be B group, nor will you always be C group. The scaling option that is right for you may fall between these suggestions and we encourage you to choose weights and modifications that are best for you. And when you are unsure, remember to consider the intent of the workout and your current level of fitness. Your coaches are there to help you with this as well, they’re the experts and are here to help you make progress towards whittling down your “suck at” list.