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What scaling can do to improve your fitness and get you to where you want to go

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The pursuit of fitness and strength is challenging. In the realm of Crossfit we see others working at high levels and we want to push ourselves to those levels. Scaling is a big part of Crossfit and the phrase “infinitely scalable” is seen in the training curriculum. So why is it so hard for us to step back and scale appropriately? The biggest obstacle to overcome is the notion that adding weight to the bar or doing the more difficult movement over the “easier” one is what gets us results or helps us make progress.

Crossfit, like any good physical training program, is based upon progression. Constantly varied functional movements at high intensity is one slogan that is widely used in the Crossfit community. There is another that may be just as, if not more, important. It is this: “Mechanics, Consistency, then Intensity”. This phrase is from Pat Sherwood who was a trainer at my Level 1 Crossfit Certification.

Where does scaling fit in with that motto? Scaling is a part of developing proper mechanics as well as consistency. Further, dialing the weight back and perfecting mechanics will lead you to more success than trying to plow through the wall that is improper technique.
Ultimately, this equation is what you should keep in mind:
Mechanics + Consistency + Intensity = Results
Having all three of the pieces is what will get you to where you want to go. There is also a bit of hierarchy to this equation. Developing proper mechanics is the foundation. Crossfit’s Olympic Weightlifting Subject Matter Expert, Coach Mike Burgener, describes developing bodyweight exercises and mobility as the foundation towards progression to weighted lifted. Being in control of our body prior to adding weight is the starting point. Progression and scaling are really synonymous for all intents and purposes, and when you start to realize that dialing in technique can still lead to intensity you will begin to make progress.

What does it mean to progress via scaling? Essentially, you need to find the sweet spot where mechanics, consistency and intensity all intersect. Don’t for one second believe that you can’t dial back the weight and not have intensity. Workouts like “Jackie” prove that having a load as light as a barbell can be intense.

Finally, think about the goal of the training session and try to cater your movement towards achieving that goal. If you don’t know the goal, ask the coach. That is why they are there. We’ve all been around when someone wants to do “Fran” prescribed even though it will take them 12 minutes. While I admire the desire to do the work, that person has not received the stimulus that a workout like “Fran” is supposed to elicit. Scaling the workout so it takes you somewhere between the 4-6 minute range is going to do more good for you in terms of progression than that 12 minute RX’d time.

It boils down to this: “Start Light, Progress Slow, and Be Consistent” – Jim Wendler

Think about that quote and focus on the big picture. Where do you want to be in 10 years as opposed to 10 minutes. Scaling is the first step towards progression and getting you to where you want to go.

-Dave Hagerty