Member Experience

The Mod Squad: Scaling Workouts To Benefit Your Members

Lead by example to create a culture where scaling is suggested and acceptable. Your members will progress faster, gain confidence and have fun.

Monica Hilton
October 12, 2022
The Mod Squad: Scaling Workouts To Benefit Your Members
Lead by example to create a culture where scaling is suggested and acceptable. Your members will progress faster, gain confidence and have fun.

One of the biggest mistakes members can make is not scaling workouts appropriately. Whether they’re trying to do too much or not doing enough, the wrong modifications can hinder results.

As coaches, we want our members to feel an appropriate level of tired at the end of the workout. If it’s a full-send WOD, we want them to feel like they have nothing more in the tank. If it’s a longer, paced workout, they should feel fatigued. But benching until we can’t lift our arms or squatting until we can’t walk down the stairs is detrimental.

On the flip side of pushing people to their breaking point, members also shouldn’t finish a workout looking fresh as a daisy. If that occurs, we’ve scaled inappropriately in the other direction.

Scaling workouts is cool

Scaling is Cool.

Scaling is changing the intensity of the workout to match a member’s fitness level. This can be done through adjusting weight, reps, distance, etc.

“A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue developing increased work capacity despite limitations.” - The CrossFit Journal

There are several reasons why we should promote scaling appropriately for all members. First, it promotes better technique, leading to faster improvement. Second, it reduces injury by having members work within their current abilities. Third, and perhaps most important, it improves the member experience. When coaches scale correctly, it builds and strengthens trust with members. They know they can count on coaches to provide the best possible workout options for their journey.

Remove the Stigma of Scaling Workouts.

In too many CrossFit gyms, scaling workouts has gotten a negative rap. The stigma is that scaling means you’re unable to work at the RX (or “as prescribed”) level.

The truth is, unless you’re an elite athlete competing at the highest levels, you should scale whenever necessary to continue progressing. Encouraging people to scale appropriately is just as important as getting them into the door.

Just because a workout is scaled does not mean it should be easy. Scaling doesn’t mean members will barely sweat or won’t be sore. Every workout should be challenging. Each movement should require a level of intensity that requires effort. As long as the intended intensity is preserved, the benefits still exist.

One thing to keep in mind: Sometimes it’s smart to scale certain movements while RX’ing others. For instance, let’s look at a couplet of pull-ups and power cleans. The scaled version is ring rows instead of pull-ups and lower weight on the cleans. One of your members can RX the pull-ups but is not quite strong enough to do the RX weight for the cleans. Should that member scale the pull-ups to ring rows since they’re scaling the workout? Absolutely not.

Scaled pull-ups workout

Fight Against the Ego.

Scaling workouts is generally the norm among new athletes but what about those long-term members? The ones who believe they’ve been doing CrossFit for too long to ever scale a workout a gain.

This is the gym ego. It’s the voice that says, ‘I’m doing the workout as prescribed even though I’m not at that level.’ Not only is this detrimental to progress, there’s potential for injury.

For gym owners, there’s an important lesson here: It’s all about the culture. If scaling hurts someone’s pride, it’s because we’ve created a culture that believes this. It’s our job to not only show people that scaling isn’t a sign of weakness, but instead the path to achieving goals faster. Appropriate scaling is actually a sign of fitness awareness.

You’re not only helping your members achieve their goals, you’re looking out for their safety. It takes a strong coach to talk to a member about why they should scale a workout when they weren’t going to. At first, it may be tough. But how would you feel if that person seriously hurt themself and you didn’t say anything? When a member, regardless of experience, goes into a workout beyond their level, it endangers their safety. Play it safe. Be a trustworthy coach and have the conversation.

Share the Benefits of Scaling.

Knowledge is power. There are four important benefits to educating members about scaling:

  1. Building confidence. Self-confidence is a huge part of exercise and scaling can be a cornerstone. As members become more proficient in movement, their confidence increases.
  2. Improving technique. Scaling workouts appropriately helps members dial in their technique. Over time, this gives them the ability to lift more weight and perform more reps.
  3. Increasing challenge. Sometimes scaling can make it even more demanding for the athlete. For instance, a scaled weight might mean an athlete can cycle a barbell faster. With no reason to stop and rest, it can turn into a cardio challenge quickly.
  4. Having fun. With increased confidence and performance comes enjoyment. When members are getting the appropriate stimulus and making progress, workouts become more fun! Ultimately, this will help with retention, referrals and creating an epic member experience.
Scale weights appropriately

Hype Up the Messengers.

The source of your message is almost as important as the message itself. Members should not hear conflicting messages between coaches. Staff should help to create a culture where scaling is suggested and acceptable.

Also, get some of your gym influencers to help out. These are members who are respected throughout your gym. If they endorse a scaling culture, members will notice.

Finally, the best leaders lead by example. Almost everyone needs to scale at some point, whether because of injury or improving a certain movement. Let members see you and your coaches scale. You’ll remove the stigma and help your members improve.

In Summary: Change the Scaling Narrative

The members of your gym put their fitness in your hands and trust you will guide them to success. A huge part of that success is helping them with scaling workouts appropriately. Lead by example and get your coaches on board. Create a culture where scaling is suggested and acceptable. Your members will progress faster, gain confidence and have fun.

Monica Hilton

Monica is our Content Manager extraordinaire for PushPress. She also owns her gym in Indianapolis, Together We Rise CrossFit, which she opened in 2014 and previously worked in IndyCar racing.

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