Today, I am VERY EXCITED to bring you a guest post from a well-renowend CrossFit trainer and competitor. Allow me to introduce you to Chuck Bennington of The Perfect Couplet. I first discovered their blog though a link to Vanessa’s Story (Chuck’s wife); maybe you have read it? If not, READ READ READ. I fell in LOVE with this story, her recovery, and where she has taken her fitness.
Anyhow, I am so glad that Chuck crafted this very post because it is relevant to my life at this moment, and relatable to any workout–not just CrossFit. This is the kind of knowledge that pertains to any level of fitness.
We’ve all “pushed too hard” and suffered injuries. BUT, did you know that lifting too LIGHT can be equally detrimental?! This post will show you that in CrossFit (or any exercise regimen) YOU MUST TRAIN SAFE and SMART.
Without further ado…
“Scaling Like a Boss”
For those of you unfamiliar to me, my name is Chuck Bennington. In the last several years I’ve owned one of the oldest and largest CrossFit gyms in the game (GSX CrossFit,) assistant coached with the CrossFit Gymnastics Certifications, pieced together CrossFit competitions from Chicago to Australia, completed 5 CrossFit Certifications, and coached quite a few people of all levels.
One of the biggest and most consistent issues that I’ve come across is appropriate scaling for various CrossFit workouts. Many people are so intimidated by what they see in the CrossFit community that they think that there is no place for them; they’re completely wrong. Some people think that they are the most badass exercisers out there and that they need to scale everything up beyond RX, they’re wrong. The other group are the individuals who have no idea what they are capable of and consistently scale way too much. All three of these groups are keeping themselves from making the progress that they should.
Let’s tackle each of these groups:
“I Can’t Do CrossFit!”
Nonsense. I’ve implemented CrossFit with people as young as 12 and as old as 74, anorexic women under 100 pounds and obese men well over 300 pounds, Olympic athletes and disabled veterans.
Every single one of them was able to improve their fitness and quality of life through making CrossFit a part of their lives. Here’s a dirty little secret, not everyone in CrossFit is a tattoo covered 22 year old male Navy SEAL who doesn’t own any clothing other than board shorts and inov-8 shoes; most people are pretty much average folks just wanting to feel better and look better naked. Here’s another dirty little secret, even our SEAL scales things from time to time (Muscleup to Ring Handstand Pushup or 30 Hang Squat Cleans at 225/135 anyone?)
Until you are exposed to competent CrossFit coaching, you might not be able to understand how some of the movements and workouts in CrossFit can be adapted to literally anyone.
You owe it to yourself to visit some of the CrossFit gyms in your area and communicate your concerns to some of the coaching staff. If they can’t adequately put your fears to rest and show you how their workouts can be scaled to meet your abilities and limitations, walk away and find a gym that can. If you have no idea which gyms in your area are decent, reach out to my wife or I at http://perfectcouplet.com/or http://www.facebook.com/ThePerfectCouplet and we’ll help point you in the right direction.
“Scaling Way Up or Scaling Way Down”
I’m going to tackle both of these at the same time because many of the same problems exist on both ends. Now, before I get into chastising people who are guilty of these scaling crimes, I will say that the majority of proper scaling lies with your CrossFit Coach. If you don’t feel like your scaling is correct or you don’t understand a scale and your Coach can’t explain it, walk away. Maybe read this real quick.
Most of this is directed to people who choose their own scaling and voluntarily do the wrong thing.
Whether you’re going too heavy or too light, you’re limiting your development of both strength and technique. Additionally, you’re exposing yourself to needless injury. Many people feel that you will only get hurt if you go too heavy, nope. Going too light may allow you to move either yourself or a load faster than your body can tolerate. Let’s explore these further, in no particular order:
Many people feel like they need to go preposterously light to “work on technique.” Once you understand the basic mechanics and sequences of a movement, you need enough load to be forced to actually perform the movement as intended. I have seen countless individuals fail to genuinely learn to Snatch a barbell or swing a kettlebell properly because they are never using a weight that forces either to be a hip driven movement.
If it’s too light or scaled too aggressively, many things in CrossFit become useless because there is no necessity to perform them correctly.
I have also seen plenty of people going absolutely nuts with the weight because they are convinced that they are stronger than they are. If it’s too heavy, especially during the learning process, both technique and range of motion fall apart to accommodate the load; half a squat does not make a full rep.
So, it’s easy to see how going too heavy presents an injury risk for connective tissues, muscles, and bones. CrossFit is much harder than what most people are used to and the weight, volume, range of motion, and intensity has a definite adaptation period for your body.
PLENTY has been written on excessive loading and injuries. That being said, and as I hinted at above, going too light can be problematic. Scaling too light can create situations where you are permitted to do FAR too many repetitions of a movement. The most common example of this that I see is with gymnastic movements, especially Pullups. If you’ve haven’t done a Pullup in 25 years and you use a preposterously strong band to scale your Pullups so that you can do 150 in a workout, that volume can leave you not just painfully sore, but also potentially quite injured in your connective tissue and musculature.
Scaling too much can also potentially present an injury possibility with lifting based movements as well. As we just touched on, excessive volume can be a big problem for over-scalers. Even if it’s light, tons and tons of reps with a lift can create the same possible overuse injuries in your lifting as in your gymnastics. Another possibility is having a load that you can move uncontrollable fast. If you’re used to muscling your way through a light Snatch because there isn’t a need to use your hips, the first time that you use your hips you will probably find your shoulders rapidly opened to a mobility requirement that they are not capable of.
I can hear it now, “WHAT, going too heavy can limit your strength development?!? LIES!”
It’s pretty obvious how going too light will limit your ability to improve your strength, but there are problems on the other side of things. This is something see fairly often with both men and women. Everyone is convinced that they need to be as heavy as possible in order to get as strong as possible.
Two of the big problems that I see with this are degradation of both form and range of motion.
I don’t care how much you can Deadlift with a completely rounded back that mimics your dog taking a poop, what matters is what you can Deadlift with a nice, straight, neutral spine.
Now let’s talk a little bit on how scaling both too heavy and too light can prevent you from getting as strong as possible as quickly as possible; physics.
So to get strong, we ultimately need to develop as much power/do as much work as possible.
Work = Force x Distance. Well, for most of the movements in CrossFit there is a set distance that is related to the range of motion (ROM) requirement for any given movement. Let’s say taking a barbell from the ground to overhead. If that ROM is fixed, then the only way to increase power is to produce more force. Force = Mass x Acceleration. BOOM!
Can you guys see where is going? If you’re too light, your force suffers because there is no appreciable mass. If you’re too heavy, the movement is too slow and acceleration sucks.
There has to be a sweet spot, a balance between weight and speed. A good coach should be able to give you help on hitting this sweet spot.
“Hitting the Sweet Spot.”
This is our little wrap up, it’s my quick and easy method for determining how well things are scaled. Granted, it only works after a workout is finished, but if you keep a workout log, you should be able to easily and consistently scale almost all of your CrossFit WODs. Average CrossFit workout times and scores should be quite close. In any given workout, you’re going to have your couple of badasses who dominate the whiteboard. You will probably have some pretty deconditioned individuals who are way behind the curve.
However, almost everyone that’s between those two groups should be finishing fairly close.
What I look for is trying to find movement modifications or load adjustments that let everyone ultimately do a similar amount of work. Reread the little physics piece above and think about how it applies to selecting workout scaling.
A great deal of getting good at CrossFit is getting super confident in yourself while also checking your ego at the door.