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By Marcus | In Psychology | on October 18, 2010

One of the oft-overlooked parts of the CrossFit regimen is that of scaling. While we harp on it here at Intrepid, those of you who tried one of the girls on your own at gyms may have made the mistake of using “Rx weight”. As CrossFit is marketed as “elite fitness”, it also attracts guys (and rarely, girls) who let their ego write a check their strength can’t cash. These WODs are made to be done at a furious pace with close to flawless form. Pierre Auge addressed this in issue 53 of the Performance Menu, using as example a guy who can deadlift reasonably heavy weight (350 lbs.) and can do HSPU, but with some difficulty:

“Diane” is designed to be a short, super-intense workout, tapping the glycolytic pathway and emphasizing muscle power and stamina. To elicit this kind of training response, completion times should generally be well under four minutes, and elite CrossFitters have done this WOD in under two minutes.

[Our example guy] can get through a “Diane” WOD loaded to standard, but it takes him ten minutes, as he repeatedly has to stop to catch his breath.

Some may look at his achievement and applaud the athlete for pushing through and reaching the standard load for the WOD. He can now write “as Rxed” on the board next to his time, which certainly feels good. But that comes at a cost. By stretching out the completion time for the WOD to ten minutes, he has sacrificed intensity, and has moved outside the prescribed time domain for the WOD. What was supposed to be a short, super-intense test of power and muscle stamina has essentially turned into a mid-length test of pure strength.

This is a huge reason why we program strength lifts on a regular basis. While these used to be visited haphazardly at CrossFit gyms a couple years ago, the vast majority of boxes have found that getting members stronger makes their times faster. It only makes logical sense that if your 1RM clean and jerk is higher, then your times will be faster in a WOD where you perform clean and jerk, like Grace. So the question then is, where exactly should you set the bar?

Jon Gilson of Again Faster addressed this in a recent post:

Of course, CrossFit won’t ask you to move the bar once, but perhaps ten or twenty or fifty times. To maximize your power across this broad spectrum of work, you’ll want to load to less than 50% 1RM, and continue to try to move the hell out of the bar.

Holy shit. A formula for scaling.

For too long, we’ve focused on strength bias this and power animal super athlete that, when this entire program is predicated on power. Stop thinking of scaling as something to keep Grandma in the game. We scale to the physical and psychological tolerance of the athlete for one reason: it enables the individual to produce as much power as possible.

Following Zatsiorsky’s formula, if you can’t thruster at least 190 pounds, you shouldn’t be doing “Fran” with 95. If you can’t clean and jerk 270, don’t do “Grace” with 135. You’re blunting your power output. Scale that weight down; it will make you more powerful.

I did not just tell you to abandon heavy weights. In fact, I want you to lift heavy. A lot. Just not in the middle of your WOD.

If you increase your 1RM, through any number of methods, your 50% 1RM will go up as well, and you’ll climb into the Rx’d echelon via this prescription. You thruster 150, you do “Fran” at 75 pounds or less. You thruster 200, welcome to the Big Leagues.

Interestingly, Auge also gives the recommendation of scaling to 45-55% of one’s 1RM for lifts in the Performance Menu article. What this all means is that every person has a different “Rx” that will change as their strength increases. You can think of the “official” weights as a goal to aspire to, but this is a dual-edged sword — as your strength level eclipses the Rx, scaling also dictates moving the bar higher. That is, once you can clean and jerk 300 lbs., you should probably be doing “Grace” at 150 lbs. not 135!

Yes, this may mean that you’re doing a different weight than your buddy, but then your comparison of times is more appropriate as it’s a closer approximation of equivalent efforts. In other words, your eyes should be going to your log book before they go to the whiteboard when you’re looking for competition. It will make you a better athlete, keep injuries at bay and allow you to grow with proper form, rather than bashing yourself to meet an arbitrary standard.

WOD 10.18.10

Bench Press 3×5

Then, 5 rounds for time:

  • 3 Clusters
  • 9 C2B Pullups
  • 12 Box Jumps

8 Comments to "Scaling"

  • Anna says:

    October 18, 2010 at 7:23 AM -

    What a tease! The post opens up talking about Diane, but then we get this crazy wod!?! It is too early for these mind games…

  • Jake says:

    October 18, 2010 at 11:08 AM -

    Solid post

  • Jake says:

    October 18, 2010 at 11:11 AM -

    My question is if a person that has done Fran and Grace as the Rxed weight all this time do they have to scale down since they still cant hit a 190 thruster and 270 c&j?

    1. Marcus says:

      October 18, 2010 at 11:48 AM -

      @Jake – In short, yes. This is where you need to pocket your ego and trust our programming.
      You told me your last Grace time (at 135) during Big Girls was over 5 minutes. Your max C&J from the oly challenge was 215. So if you scaled to 50%, you would be at 105 lbs and I’d be willing to bet you finish under 3 minutes, which is more of the target time for Grace.
      Taking Fran, you said your last 1RM thruster was 180 lbs. and that was a while ago… so your 50% scaling would be 90 lbs and not too far off from “Rx”. In fact, Rx of 95 lbs. would be 52% for you and well within the 45-55% window. Make sense?

  • Brian says:

    October 18, 2010 at 1:20 PM -

    does scaling apply to running? I will gladly pocket my ego for that one :)

    To see, you would first have to actually show up for a running WOD.
    – Marcus

  • Brian says:

    October 18, 2010 at 2:12 PM -

    Ouch Marcus! Cold blooded man. I believe i DID show up to Nancy… the main driver being that i would get guff from you if i missed. And what do i get… GUFF! man my attempts to have guff free comments regarding this issue are all for naught.

  • Jason says:

    October 18, 2010 at 2:14 PM -

    Marcus, thank you for the post. I respectfully disagree with the notion of scaling on benchmark workouts as it is a combination of both strength and endurance. Some have the strength to do the workout but not necessarily the endurance. Improving strength will invariably allow you to be less tired as you move more quickly through the exercise but also better conditioning, technique and experience also aids in optimal output. Who establishes the target time for Fran and Grace? If Fran is performed with both jumping pullups and only the OLY bar, it was demonstrated a challenge for that time to be under 2 minutes. Also, the type of pullup one performs – kipping vs. butterfly vs. strict also alters the time which impacts the power output, but is that a question of strength or skill?

    1. Marcus says:

      October 18, 2010 at 2:55 PM -

      @Jason – You have define what exactly is meant by “some have the strength to do the workout”. Does that mean doing Grace at 135 even though they have a max C&J of only 175? If so, someone is then doing 30 reps at a whopping 77% of their 1RM. That’s just not bright and is not going to get them conditioned as well as a more intelligently loaded weight they can do with minimal rest.

      Of the factors you mention affecting optimal output, for the majority of people, conditioning won’t be the weak link — strength, technique (form) and experience will. Unfortunately, far too many people want to do the benchmark WOD “as Rx” simply as a d*ck measuring contest. It’s not the wisest way to get better at the benchmarks but could sure slow down one’s progress via a high injury potential. Working at such a high percentage of one’s max is a strength workout, and shouldn’t be done for time. We don’t program 10 sets of 3 reps C&J for a strength portion, worse yet, set it to a clock! Think about it — will that lead to better or worse technique if you speed things up? So we develop the technique, the experience and the strength via our strength portion of the day and utilize that through intelligent scaling in the WOD to improve conditioning.

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