Who Needs To Scale? (Thu 8/12/10)

By August 12, 2010CFMC Blog Archives

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No one likes having to scale something in a workout, especially when everyone else is doing the prescribed weight or doing pullups like it’s how they unwind at the end of a long day, but it’s necessary for anyone (and I do mean ANYONE) who wants to improve. There are two ways to look at the benefits of scaling the workouts.

One way is to look at an example everyone will instantly recognize, the band-assisted pullups. Let’s say that you don’t have full bodyweight pullups (strict or kipping), and the WOD calls for 50 of them. Scaling back by adding a band or two may seem like you’re sacrificing a good workout or wimping out, but if you DON’T scale the pullups, you’ll spend the entire workout hanging from the bar in several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to do the first one. Hanging from the bar is not what the workout called for, and you’re certainly not going to get any benefit from NOT doing any pullups, so the most obvious thing to do is to scale it.

This has nothing to do with you being a wimp, but it has everything to do with improving your ability to do a pullup. I assure you that scaling pullups will make you stronger, and soon you’ll trade the green band for the blue one, and then the blue one for the red one, the red one for the purple one, and then you too will be doing pullups like they’re no big deal. However, hanging from the bar in annoyed frustration, no matter how many reps of that you do for time, simply will not bring you closer to that first bodyweight pullup. This of course goes for pushups, weightlifting, wallballs and every other movement we do in CrossFit. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it, and not doing it doesn’t make you better at doing it, so scale it back so that someday, you CAN.

The other way to look at scaling is with technique, and if you have a 400+ lb. deadlift then I assure you that you need to read this too. Let’s say you have a max deadlift of 400lbs. but your back rounds a little (or a lot) when you’re going heavy, or maybe your body is pitched forward onto your toes a little, or your butt shoots up in the air long before the barbell even has any daylight underneath it. The way to fix this problem is not to drop your failed lift, get pissed off, wander around for a few minutes and then try it again. The way to fix the problem so that you can make that lift every single time is to scale WAY back and work on perfecting your technique (we even have coaches whose JOB is to help you with this!).

If your back is rounding AT ALL then you are losing your mid-line stabilization, putting your spine at SERIOUS risk of injury, losing a TON of efficiency (read: potential for successfully accomplishing a much heavier lift), and severely stunting your own progress. This just sounds stupid to me. Seriously, If you can’t do perfect technique with little or no weight, what exactly makes you think you will have good technique with a max load? There’s a reason we have a box full of PVC pipes marked up like barbells by the door: to teach you what your body is supposed to do when it has a real barbell on it. When you pass the PVC test with fantastic technique and terrific consistency, then you can start making it harder and see if your technique holds. When it begins to fail irrecoverably, drop some weight off the bar and practice making it beautiful again. Once again, this applies to every movement we do in CrossFit – if I tell you that we need to work on your technique, what I’m actually saying in a secret code that only coaches are taught, is that WE NEED TO WORK ON YOUR TECHNIQUE!! Drop some weight off the bar and focus on technique. Unless you want your current PR to be your last, that is.

Ok, this rant is now officially over. So go grab a broomstick and show me how much better you REALLY want to get.


Front Squat 5×3


21-15-9 reps for time of:

Squat Cleans (135/93)
Handstand Pushups


179 Double-Unders (this is the current record for consecutive Double-Unders)

  • justin

    Good points Tai, my deadlift needs work bad. on a similar note, i’m going to also scale the cash out today and not use the rope. I’m going for the record!

  • Dave

    Justin, your a genius