How to Scale Your Athletes

Scaling members is important, but so is doing it right.I’ve seen over the past few months articles on the Internet talking about scalability and when to know if you should scale a WOD. This got me to thinking: What if your member doesn’t know that they should scale?

In CrossFit you find all types, but one type of individual that may come in to view would be the person that always wants to “go big, or go home.” While pushing yourself to safe extremes is sort of a key CrossFit aspect, for your business another aspect would be longevity. You don’t want members continually injured, not getting results or simply being unsafe.

I can attest to being one of these members early in my CrossFit life. I hadn’t been doing hang cleans for very long, but my strength had soared from just doing CrossFit. I felt stronger already and put myself in a position to push myself. What happened? On a hang clean I pulled my lower back, the injury removing me from CrossFit for a week. Honestly, I’m lucky that it was just a week.

I was thinking today, what would I have done had a Coach approached me and suggested that I lower the weight? In many classes the Coaches trust the athlete to gauge the amount of weight that is correct for them. However, in some cases I’m not sure that an athlete really knows their body.

Our Staff Writer, Heather Hartmann, shared a story with me from her fundamentals class about a woman that was clearly struggling with the weight she had on the bar. After the set of lifts, the group went out for a run, and while they were out the Coach removed some of the weight. According to Hartmann, the woman wasn’t too pleased when she returned.

We agreed that it could have been an embarrassing scene to return and be notified you’ve been scaled. However, in all reality it’s in the best interest of the gym to ensure members don’t do things that could hurt them.

But how do you politely coach a member into a scalable exercise? Everyone in CrossFit wants to be stronger and able to lift more. Just like in all sports, the most success comes from quality fundamentals. For example, when you see a basketball team pass and shoot well, they can be as equally dominant as a high-flying dunking team. In fact, when I was in high school, our team played against one of those teams. Our team had ridiculous fundamentals and destroyed the team with great passing and outside shots.

In CrossFit there are similarities to the above comparison. As I’ve stayed with the same Box, I’ve noticed an influence on form and body composition in complex movements. Proper form is key to being able to increase weight and strength. When you instill fundamentals and proper form into your coaching, it can be easier to sway members into scaling exercises. If you see that a member is struggling, you can easily say to him or her that you’d like to see better form in an exercise versus heavy weight. By focusing your coaching in this way you can help your members prevent injury and safely improve strength and form.

It can be challenge and even scary to approach a member about scaling weight, regardless of how long they’ve been at your gym. But, it’s better to be proactive than lose members to injury down the road. Yes, CrossFit is supposed to push you to your limits, but going past your limits to the point of injury isn’t good for you, or your member.

Tyler Montgomery
Tyler is a former editor of Box Pro Magazine.