Scaling is a HUGE part of CrossFit – some might say it’s the crux of it. Scaling is what allows the workouts we perform to be accessible to people of all ability levels. Now, there are some obvious ways to scale movements – we can use a lighter weight than prescribed when it comes to weight bearing exercises. We can perform fewer reps than prescribed when performing a high-volume workout, because high volume is subjective based on training level. Then, we have some obvious substitutions that people make: can’t do a box jump? Sub step-ups. Can’t perform double unders? Double the reps and just perform single unders. These are standard conventions, so no one questions them. Well today, I am questioning them.
Why do we perform step-ups as a substitution for box jumps? The only answer I can think of is that both movements are performed on a box. When you break the movements down and look at what they’re training, they are not similar at all. Box jumps involve explosive hip action – like many CrossFit movements. They rely on fast twitch muscle fibers, and when cycled for reps, they can spike your heart rate quickly. Step-ups, on the other hand, are a lower intensity movement that don’t have an explosive component. They rely more on type 1, slow twitch muscle fibers. And, when we crank up the height of the box, we don’t even perform the movement correctly. This is because we focus on driving off the bottom leg instead of using the top leg. Suffice it to say that step-ups are not a good substitution for box jumps.
Instead, we should try to pick a movement that mimics the jumping pattern, rather than focusing on the implement used. Kettlebell swings and hang power cleans are a great option here – the action of the hips is very similar to that of a box jump. And cycling a barbell or KB can spike your heart rate in a similar fashion to a set of box jumps.
Similarly, we scale double unders down to single unders because both involve the use of a jump rope. And to be fair, mastering the single under is a necessary steppingstone before learning double unders. Yet, the power output in a double under is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than that of a single under. If you’ve ever attempted to perform a big set of double unders (as in 50+), you know what I’m talking about. Meanwhile, if you’re a proficient rope jumper, performing 100 consecutive single unders won’t even cause you to break a sweat.
So why do we keep scaling to singles? It’s a convention. And, it’s one that we’ve been trying to break at Viking Athletics, by encouraging members to perform a scaled number of double unders, or by working on attempts. For those who have never performed a double under, if the goal of the workout is to elevate your heart rate, performing tuck jumps would be a more appropriate scaling option.
What’s the overall point of this post? It’s to point out that sometimes convention isn’t the best thing to follow. When it comes to scaling properly, we need to first look at the goal of the workout, and make sure our scalings fall in line with it. Second, for movements that we need to scale, we need to look at what those movements TRAIN, rather than what those movements USE. Our scaling options should train the same physical attributes as the originally programmed movement. So, next time you need to scale a movement, think about the goal of that movement, and the workout in general. That should guide your choice. And if you need help, as always, consult with a coach – that’s what we’re here for. See you in the gym.
By Erik Castiglione