Tip the Scale on Modifying


When it comes to scaling/modifying, your members need what John Bartholomeo calls an intelligent game plan.

“During warm-ups and pre-WOD discussions, we will address how it is an intelligent game plan to know how to scale any of the movements in that workout,” said Bartholomeo, the owner of CrossFit Mohawk Valley in Marcy, New York. “We have our Coaches explain that scaling or modifying the workout is not a negative thing, nor does it need to be frowned upon. Athletes that scale and modify as needed tend to have less injuries, train more often and have overall better results.

One of the biggest ways Bartholomeo said he gets his athletes onboard with scaling/modifying is via the Coaches. They too often scale and modify workouts, which athletes see and helps them understand it’s not a bad thing. 

At CrossFit Bradenton in Manatee County, Florida, members have different tracks they can choose in a workout, whether it’s fitness scale, Rx or competitor. Owner Paris Vannata said the tracks are often just starting points and they run the gambit of scales. Especially with competitors, Vannata said the goal is to still have them in the class, simply adding volume without isolating from the rest of the gym. 

In order to decide what to scale/modify, Vannata said it all goes back to the stimulus they are trying to hit in the workout. If they can preserve the stimulus while moving well, a scale or modification is then applicable. “That’s the big thing: Making sure you have technique and consistency before getting the intensity and really trying to do things as Rx,” he said. “We stress that Rx is not the goal, it’s the suggestion. 

It’s extremely important to explain to athletes why you’re having them scale or modify, said Bartholomeo. He explained if you take the time to share a lighter load will allow them to improve their positions and posture, it will make them aware of what they need to fix.

Deciding who needs scaling can be determined in the warm-up. Bartholomeo shared an example: Say the workout involves back squatting. Tom is running through the warm-up and you notice his squat is off. That’s when you should start running through scales/modifications to give Tom. “Think of this as a chance to screen your athletes for competency in the movements and the ability to perform them safely,” he said.

When standing up at the whiteboard, Bartholomeo said athletes will rarely raise their hands and ask for scaling. Getting to know your members and what they need can be huge when it comes to modifying. Vannata said it’s the role of the Coaches to find the appropriate scale for each individual and make sure members know just because they can do the workout as prescribed doesn’t mean they should.

Finally, Bartholomeo’s last piece of advice was a simple one: You’re a Coach, not a cheerleader. “What I mean by this is not everyone is going to love it when you tell them to take some weight off or stop doing HSPU,” he said. “But at the end of the day, that is your job as a Coach. Your ultimate goal is to help people and that means being honest and giving them the corrections that they need, not just stroking their ego.” 

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.