Experience Level and Pre-Scaled Workouts
An efficient method for scaling at affiliates is designing pre-scaled versions of daily workouts. Pre-scaled workouts are simply an outline to expedite scaling for a class setting. A general approach is to offer versions for intermediate and beginner athletes.
It’s important to remember that experience level is just one of many factors, so the naming convention does not necessarily dictate who will use which scaled version. Additionally, coaches may need to pick elements from multiple scaling levels to preserve the programmed stimuli for a single athlete. For example, a coach has an injured “experienced” athlete who normally does Rx movements and loads. The coach might need to choose movement patterns from the beginner scaled version and a rep scheme from the intermediate scaled version to accommodate this athlete. It’s also important to remember the impact of age. Intermediate-level loads and reps may be appropriate for an experienced masters athlete.
Because I’ve used the beginner/intermediate/experienced naming convention, I’ll offer definitions to help a coach identify which scaled version is appropriate for athletes in a class.
Beginner—Beginners are still developing ROM, body awareness and consistency in the nine foundational movements. They are identifying goals and learning how to develop plans and timelines to achieve them. Beginners need specific guidance on how to scale most elements in workouts. They are likely lifting submaximal loads (not going for absolute 1-rep maxes) due to continued development of movement patterns. Technical lifts require consistent coaching. The beginner is developing basic body and positional awareness to apply to gymnastics and body-weight elements. These athletes generally need scaling in at least one element to preserve the desired workout stimuli. Athletes at this level have been consistently doing CrossFit for fewer than 18 months.
Intermediate—Intermediate athletes can consistently perform the nine foundational movements pain-free and at full range of motion while adhering to all points of performance. The intermediate athlete has clearly defined goals, a method to achieve those goals and can often outline how he or she needs to scale workouts These athletes are still developing baseline strength (1-rep-max jumps of 10+lb.) but know maximal loading for all major lifts and can quickly identify if and how they need to scale loading. Technical lifting form is consistent. They are working through clearly defined progressions for gymnastics and technical body-weight work. These athletes have strict versions of pull-ups, handstand push-ups and dips, and they have the body awareness to develop kipping. They have a good idea of appropriate scaling for gymnastics elements based on their progression. Intermediate-level athletes have been consistently doing CrossFit for roughly 18-36 months.
Experienced—The experienced athlete meets the description of the intermediate athlete with some additions: Experienced athletes are refining form, mobility and training methods to increase maximal lifts (including technical lifts). They have mastered all basic gymnastics elements and are working on advanced movements (planche, lever, more complex rings elements, presses to handstands, etc.). When healthy, they do not require scaling for daily workouts. Experienced athletes have been consistently doing CrossFit for more than 36 months.
Returning Athlete—This is generally an intermediate or experienced CrossFitter who has taken a layoff from volume eccentric training for one month or more. These athletes are at risk due to their previous abilities in CrossFit but lack of recent exposure to volume. Despite likely protestations, these athletes need a period (likely two weeks or more) of scaled volume to reduce the risk of rhabdomyolysis.
Tables 3 and 4 outline a sample workout scaled for two individuals with differing needs.
About the Author
Jeremy Gordon, CCFC, was the head coach and CEO of CrossFit Hampton Roads from 2008 to 2015. He began CrossFit in 2005. Jeremy coaches at CrossFit Hampton Roads and provides online coaching for competitive-level CrossFit athletes. He is the proud husband of Nicole Gordon (CrossFit Seminar Staff) and parent of two phenomenal kids. He is a 17-year veteran fighter pilot flying with the Virginia Air National Guard.