There’s a message in this for athletes and coaches alike. It’s important to remember that, in training at least, workouts aren’t done simply for the sake of the workout. Training is done for the adaptation that it yields. Keep in mind competition is a different story. Workouts in competition are done as a test, which is much different than training.
In CrossFit, our training goal, most literally, is to increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Programmers, then, are faced with the arduous task of covering their bases, per se, with regards to the spectrum of time, skill sets, load and otherwise. That being said, each workout is designed with a specific stimulus in mind. “Fran,” for example, is a max-effort gut-wrenching test of output in just a handful of minutes at nearly peak capacity. “Cindy,” on the other hand, is a much longer, lower-intensity display of basic gymnastic efficiency and muscle stamina.
Whether you’re a coach or an athlete, it’s important to recognize the intended stimulus of various training days and that the execution of the workout complies with the correct stimulus. One of the most beautiful components to CrossFit is this idea that 12 very different people can get in a room and do the same workout (or a variation of it) and get the same response, regardless as to whether they are a Special Forces operator, weekend warrior or an accountant.
It’s my view that scaling is more than just finding what’s manageable for athletes. Scaling is about relative intensity. Continuing with the example above, “Fran” ought to be a handful of gut-wrenching minutes (two to six minutes) regardless of whether you’re Dan Bailey or you’re a 43-year-old car salesman who is just six months into training again.
Relative intensity with regards to “Fran” means more than choosing a thruster load that is possible for 45 reps. I’d argue that doing “Fran” as prescribed in nine minutes and 14 seconds is a mistake, when the same athlete could turn in a time of four minutes and nine seconds at 75 pounds, with banded assistance on pull-ups. Do you see the difference?
Nathan Holliday, renowned coach at Next Level CrossFit, is exceptional at this concept. His students are given clear context as to how each training session should be handled and what it should feel like. “Fran” shouldn’t feel like a strength session, for example.
I’d argue that though it’s the coach’s responsibility to set that context, to help students check their egos at the door and to train with relative intensity in mind, it’s ultimately the student’s workout. I’d encourage students to make decisions that support this context in workouts if such guidance isn’t made clear for them.
Scaling intentionally with the correct stimulus in mind often requires going a bit deeper than surface level. Simple cues like, “You should be able to do the first round of pull-ups unbroken,” or “I’d like you to choose a deadlift weight you can do at least 15 times,” begins to paint a clear picture for clients who have pull-ups but not enough to stay unbroken in the first round or an athlete who can deadlift the Rx weight but not for 15 reps, for example. These adjustments help steer athletes toward the desired stimulus with appropriate scaling.
In the end, it’s scaling and our ability to use it intelligently that will continue to yield the best fitness gains across the spectrum of CrossFit training. Whether you’re looking to be a rock-star coach or a rock-star athlete, mastering scaling ought to be a top priority.