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How you can scale a CrossFit Workout effectively for older athletes




The importance of the trainer’s ability to effectively scale the program for an aging athlete cannot be overstated. The Masters Quadrant provides a general guide for the trainer in relation to big picture coaching priorities, but it is the day-to-day decision making in relation to scaling that creates success for the client. CrossFit Training provides an excellent online scaling course (oc.crossfit.com/scaling), which offers a foundation for developing an understanding of what is required for effective scaling.


The principles of scaling are universal and unchanged in relation to an aging athlete. However, as we have stated, a masters athlete requires a more conservative approach to scaling. If the trainer gets it wrong, it can have a significantly greater negative impact on an older athlete, particularly if that athlete is in the injured or unfit quadrant, than it might on a younger athlete. As with training a kids population, effective scaling for masters athletes requires great care and preparation.


It is important to recognize that masters athletes may require scaling indefinitely, and the ability to provide a variety of scaling options can be a critical factor in maintaining motivation. The availability of multiple scaling strategies can offset the frustration that is often associated with slow progress in an aging population.


Scaling Recommendations:

  • If in doubt, err on the side of caution with less volume and lighter weights.
  • For shoulder impingement in hanging movements, use rings instead of the bar to allow for a more neutral grip.
  • For shoulder impingement in overhead pressing movements, use dumbbells instead of a barbell to allow for a more neutral grip.
  • If reducing range of motion, use targets and depth markers for movement consistency.
  • Loaded lunging can be an effective substitution if squatting is not possible.
  • Sled drag, sled push and farmers carries are effective ways to maintain hip strength if squatting or deadlifting is not possible.
  • The trainer should periodically reassess the athlete to ensure that habitual over-scaling does not occur. Unless injured, the general strategy should be to move the athlete toward the full program but on a more gradual timeline than a younger athlete.


Make the Athlete Self-Sufficient


It is critical to athletes’ ongoing motivation to have a method for managing their own scaling on a daily basis in order to be self-sufficient and not feel like a burden on the trainer. Providing a scaling and substitution table can be a very effective way to achieve this. The table acts as a cheat sheet that allows the athlete to look at the daily workout and then modify it accordingly based on the guidance in the table. Periodically, the trainer would review the athlete’s progress and update the table. This process can continue ad infinitum or until the athlete is performing workouts Rx’d and no longer requires scaling.


An excerpt from a scaling and substitution table is presented below as an example:


Reference: CrossFit Masters Training Guide