Scaling in the Gym:
I have coached at several gyms across the country, and everywhere you go, scaling is the name of the game.
As a coach, one of the most common questions I get asked is "do I do more weight and go slower or less weight and go faster." My annoying answer in most of these situations is "it depends."
The concept of scaling is often tossed around to make workloads or workouts accessible to all. Scaling is adjusting, but NOT always to make something more accessible. Scaling also takes into account tenets such as Athletic Capability (the most obvious one) and Training Adaptation (the less obvious one).
The concept of scaling in gyms generally manifests itself into three categories: Scaled, RX and RX+. The truth about training though is that everyone needs something a little different. However, when programming for a main floor, it is unrealistic to provide individual training for each athlete. The result being a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program that is “adjusted” within the Scaled, RX, and RX+ model.
The Value of Scaling in Training
If we take a deeper look into the value of scaling, we see that every training session can be tailored to fit a particular type of adaptation for each athlete.
Take for example someone who is starting a tactical athlete program. Day one of training wouldn’t be a 12-mile ruck with 75 pounds of gear; something more appropriate would be 4-5 miles with 45 pounds.
Scaling is doing the RIGHT movement based on your goals and desired end state.
For some, the end state is an hour at the box, and for others, it is a lifelong pursuit. Regardless, it leads to the identification of the difference between working out, training, and competing. These are three terms that are often misused synonymously and as such have skewed the way scaling is used. Commonly, people scale in whichever way allows them to place first on "the leaderboard".
If your strategy is to apply a competition mindset EVERY DAY to your workout or life, it will be as effective as doing a triathlon every day in preparation for a triathlon. Sounds silly, but we are guilty of this more often than is realized.
Scaling Life Appropriately with Sara Lee
Sara Lee, along with being an awesome and inspiring individual for many people, is a coach at Southwest Barbell and Fitness in Lawton, OK. Sara explains scaling the best when talking about her own struggle of crushing both life in the Army and being a competitive weightlifter:
...I spent so much of the last year trying to RX+ my life. I believed I could balance a full-time job, coaching, writing programming, being a multisport athlete, traveling, and having a personal life. Never mind recovery in any respect, because only winners get sprinkles and I’m young enough my mind and body will be resilient with no attention. “False”. Like everything in life all the hustle eventually came back around to a full weekend napping on the couch because I was mentally and physically exhausted. Wash, rinse, and repeat...
Despite all the time being put in to each activity, I wasn’t getting better at any of them. It was like being in a perpetual maintenance phase with a few glimpses of positive progress, basically just enough to trick my mind into thinking what I was doing was working.
Regardless, the last year was filled with a breadth of experience and one very valuable lesson. Trying to max out each aspect of my life was not necessary. I needed to do what all competitive people irrationally hate and “scale” my life. I needed to honor and accept that sometimes less is truly more when it comes to achieving intent.
The concept of scaling doesn’t just take into account adjusting for weaknesses but genuinely being able to answer the question of "what is best for me right now?"
Training is designed to address weaknesses. It is a mindful practice of a technical skill that is requisite for success. If you find yourself in a position where you are mentally exhausted from your day then I encourage you to scale in a way that does not compound stress.
If you are ready to be present in your time and truly train, then I encourage you to scale in a way that will produce positive adaptations. You train every day in the gym, and your scale is your pathway to improvement. YES, this will mean that you may struggle a bit and not place as high on your whiteboard, but you are at least GETTING BETTER. The best athletes in the world don't spend their time reinforcing their strengths, day in and day out, they dedicate it to making their weaknesses as negligible as possible. Sara puts it the best when she says:
Let us take a moment to cut the bullshit. The real reason we like to “RX” our lives is for recognition. We all like the atta-boy that comes with doing something well.
The best will focus on what they need to do to make themselves perform better, NOT feel better. Sometimes this means ramping things up, sometimes this means cutting back; the best athletes SCALE appropriately.
Fitness and Movement Scaling at SOFLETE
The question of how or what to scale is a frequent conversation amongst the coaches at SOFLETE. While we cannot coach each one of you in person, use this small litmus test to develop your own appropriate scaling options and when all else fails...ask us.
- What is my limiting factor in doing a particular movement? Strength, technique, time...all three?
- If it’s strength, lighten the load to a manageable weight that meets the intent and can be performed as safe and proficiently as possible.
- If it’s technique, this is a tricky one. Sometimes you NEED a little bit of weight to provide the right about of resistance, lest you get that false positive of being able to muscle through a movement and think “I got it”. Remember you aren't just building strength or stamina here, you are also building neural pathways that “teach” your body how to do a particular movement. IF you aren’t proficient, EVERY BAD REP is a step in the wrong direction that will have to be corrected later.
- If it’s time, every workout has an intention and that intention ISN’T ALWAYS to finish. Look at your training for the day and choose a section that focuses on the area you want to improve. That way if work or life cuts in, you still achieved your purpose.