Workout of the Day

A Brief Conversation on Scaling


I’m a big fan of scaling. That might seem like an odd thing to focus on and be a “fan of,” but it really is a powerful (albeit simple) idea. Scaling is what allows the 23 year old competitive field athlete and the 74 year old retiree to do the same workout side-by-side and derive equal benefit. The idea is that, yes, their movements will look somewhat different, they won’t be moving the same weights or at the same speed, and they may complete a different number of reps or go for a different length of time; but they’re both engaging in equally challenging and stimulating efforts for their personal level of fitness on that day. But, like any good tool, proper application is key. So let’s make a few brief distinctions to set things straight.

Scaling is not a status, it’s a tool.

Often “scaling” gets interpreted as an unspoken mark of status in the gym. You’re either a “scaled person” or an “RX person.” Not only is this an inappropriate and unnecessary distinction to draw, it misses the point entirely. “Scaled” and “RX” are not, nor should they ever be, statuses applied to individuals.

The whole idea is that individual workouts are scaled to individual people. This means that while someone’s individual fitness may require them to scale back a skill-dominant movement⏤let’s say a freestanding handstand push-up⏤they may also need to scale up (in load, reps, etc.) a strength dominant movement such as the deadlift. The person is neither “scaled” nor “RX,” they are an individual who is able to derive benefit from the tool of scaling.

Scaling is a moving target.

We can look at pull-ups as a great example of how this key principle is easily forgotten. The use bands looped from the bar to under the athlete’s feet is a common scaling option for pull-ups. The problem is that most athletes tend to use the same bands day in and day out. “Oh, I always just use a red and a blue.” This takes us back to the weird, looming “status” idea. And it misses the point of scaling entirely. Scaling should not be the same each day.

If you require the same exact scales for the same movements, loads, etc. day after day, that means you’re not improving, and that means something (perhaps the application of scaling?) isn’t working. Have the conversation with yourself and with your coach. When’s the last time you changed the bands you use for pull-ups? Or the last time you tried that skill- or strength-based movement that you “can’t do”? Tried a new movement you haven’t done before? Pushed the speed up a notch? The idea with scaling is that the stimulus remains relatively the same, which means that as you improve, your scales should adjust to keep the challenge alive. You should not have “one purple and one red band” indefinitely emblazoned on your metaphorical sleeve. It is not who you are; it is a tool.

In the same way that scaling should be gradually changing in a big-picture sort of way, it is also a tool that is particularly useful for changing from day to day. Slept weird on your side and managing some shoulder pain today? Scaling is your friend. Particularly sore, tired, stressed? Scale. While we would of course like everyone’s scaling trend to be perpetually in the direction of more load, volume, speed, skill, we recognize that life happens. Bad days happen and good days happen, and proper scaling lets us address the workout exactly as we are today, not as we were last week or will be tomorrow.

Right about now this scaling business might feel more confusing and challenging than ever before, and in a sense, that’s because it is. It’s a constant work in progress, and it’s not as simple as knowing what bands to grab every time you walk into the gym and see pull-ups on the board, or knowing what movement to substitute for things you assume you can’t do. The good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. Your coaches are there to help.

See you in the gym!

- Preston Sprimont


  • Supersetted:

    • DB Z-press - 3x10

    • Bent over DBL KB row - 3x10

  • 20 min AMRAP:

    • 10 DBL KB front rack walking lunges (5/leg) (106/70)

    • 20 sit-ups

    • 100m KB farmer’s carry (106/70)