If you don’t regularly participate in CrossFit this word probably has very little meaning to you other than its literal definition; the removal of scales from something.
If you DO regularly participate in CrossFit, this word carries quite the impact.
When you work out in a CrossFit class it is the dual role of both the coach and athlete to use the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses to best select the proper things that should be done in that day’s workout. A single workout is typically prescribed to the group population where some athletes will complete this workout as seen on paper, while others may not.
In CrossFit, Scaling is defined as; the adjustment of volume, intensity, duration, or some combination of all three, best suited to the individual athlete so that the intended result of that training is met for the day. Put simply, the generic workout should be performed by any and every one in a way that a similar experience is shared throughout the group. If a load is meant to feel heavy for one, the load’s being used should feel heavy for all regardless of the actual load. If the total time to complete a task is brief for one, the time required to finish that work should be short for all regardless of the particular exercises performed by each athlete.
At no point in this definition is there any mention of a REDUCTION or INCREASE in the items listed above, otherwise, such a recommendation would not be specific enough to the athlete or the workout. An adjustment can mean a reduction one day and an increase another day. It can also refer to a reduction in one component of that day, while seeing an increase in another component.
Instead of viewing the term Scaling as something that always means ‘to do less’, scaling should be viewed in the same way as one would seek out a tailor for their clothing. Rather than purchasing generically sized clothing that may fit you, a tailor uses information about you to best fit the clothing you are going to wear exactly to who you are. In this same way, the athlete and coach use information about the athlete to come up with a plan best suited for that athlete so the intended outcome is achieved.
We call this, ‘meeting the stimulus’. It goes back to sharing the same feeling everyone else has. If the workout is supposed to be long for everyone but is very short for someone, they have missed the stimulus. This athlete would need to look at how much work they were doing relative to their own abilities as well as what adjustments could be made leading them to that shared experience.
Scaling exercise in a CrossFit class is not an easy task. It requires a collection of information to know what someone is and is not capable of doing, otherwise, realistic expectations can not be set for anything. Pushing too hard in one area or not pushing enough in another are both problems that need well-crafted solutions. Scaling also requires a humble attitude in the face of adversity. Weaknesses are weaknesses due to them being less trained than strengths, running from them will only exacerbate this. Lastly, scaling is all about finding the right fit for each athlete. You wouldn’t walk into the tailor and ask for the same exact outfit as the last person you passed on the street, would you?