Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Scaling: Not Just For Pussies.

In our previous post we discussed the importance of properly scaling workouts.  However, we have received some objections to this argument.  Experienced CrossFitters and coaches such as Dale Saran in our comments section and Kelly Starrett have called for athletes to stick with a loading as long as the athlete is able to complete it, without regard for fast time to completion.  We respect these guys and see where they're coming from.  Avoiding weak movements is never a good idea.  However, we think that WODs such as "Diane" or "Elizabeth" are the wrong time for focused strength work or skill development.  

To illustrate this point, let's assume an athlete suffers at handstand pushups.  We have seen that handstand pushups do not come up frequently enough in the mainsite WOD and in many affiliates' programming for many athletes to make substantial improvement in them solely through performing WODs.  This is an excellent opportunity for regular skill work.  We recommend performing several submaximal sets of handstand pushups per day until the athlete corrects this deficiency.  Slogging through a 20 minute "Diane" will both necessarily be a low power output endeavor and be an ineffective way to develop the skill of handstand pushups.  

We have seen that the best improvements in weak points come from regular practice rather than dragging oneself through 25 minute WODs that take top athletes 2-3 minutes.  Therefore we recommend scaling movements down when necessary to maintain high average power output throughout the WOD and then adding extensive, regular skill practice to address weak points.  

Beginning and intermediate CrossFitters may find the loads and movements in most WODs to be close to the limit of their capacities.  Insisting on the "as prescribed" standard in these cases will turn the vast majority of WODs into essentially timed strength work, thus vastly reducing the extent to which they tax the glycolytic and oxidative energy pathways.  Much of the value of CrossFit is the constant variance between time domains and energy pathways.  Doing all workouts as prescribed, regardless of how much this extends them beyond their duration with elite athletes, minimizes this variation.  Though it extends most WODs' time domain, it does so by adding extensive rest periods between high strength efforts.  

A top CrossFitter attempting a cycle of heavy front squats, Diane, and Angie will find extensive variation in each day.  A CrossFitter with a max of 7 pullups and 5 handstand pushups will find himself essentially performing three consecutive days of strength and skill work.   One cycle such as this would be fine; training like this all the time will rob the athlete of the gains in metabolic conditioning that he would gain otherwise.  If he can recover from this substantial volume of strength work, he will get stronger, but not necessarily faster than the CrossFitter who scales his WODs and practices his kipping pullups and handstand push-ups daily.  Meanwhile the scaling CrossFitter will have a rapidly improving metabolic capacity to go along with his improved strength on basic gymnastics movements.

So scale to go hard and relatively fast on the WODs.  Save the lower intensity practice on weak points for your skill work.

1 comment:

Dale Saran said...


Hard to disagree with your point. I think your hypothetical is just that, however. Let me 'splain.

Even if HSPUs are a real sticking point (and that's a good example), the other WoDs (the constant variety) of things like "J.T.", any ring dip work, Tabata S.T.E. (pushups), even Cindy, is more than adequate - IN ADDITION to separate skill work on weak areas - to transfer over and make HSPU work better and allow "Diane" the next time she comes up to NOT be a strength day.

I think we're picking nits here, though, and that we just have a different approach to getting folks with glaring weaknesses up to snuff. And given my own MetCon/running deficiencies, you may very well be correct.

I'll cop out and say what many on the message Boards have said. Yes. Do both. I think there is merit in both approaches and a mix of both would probably benefit the athlete, just as the debate between "gaming" a WoD and going all out from the start are each valid ways to approach some chippers (AMRAPs in 20 mins, for example).

Wish you guys all the best in your training. Your clients should know how lucky they are to have Coaches like you who give a $hit about this stuff and really think about what they're doing in their training.