Stimulus, Scaling, and The Desire to Improve

By: Coach DP

Coaching the last few years has allowed me to pay more attention to the internal decision making of athletes when it comes to scaling weights and movements in a workout. Whether we are talking picking a heavier load than we probably should have, scaling down a movement that we are more than capable of, pacing ourselves a little too much, or taking a break mid cycle. There are hundreds of these little conversations we as athletes have during a class. It’s become a favorite part of my job, watching all of you have those conversations with yourselves.

It is important to remember that each workout that is programmed has a specific stimulus that the programmer is trying to achieve with each one of us. A simple example is the time domain of a workout. There are three general energy systems in the body, each one of these systems has a time domain that they apply to. So when a coach is programming a two minute sprint or a 15 minute cycle, not only are the time domains very different, but the stimulus to the body and energy system used are changed as well.

Scaling is what makes CrossFit beautiful, and what makes it universal and accessible. The example I always hear regarding this is the deadlift. It is a movement that is just as important to my grandma as it is to the Lions new offensive tackle, Greg Robinson. The only difference between the two is scale. Both of these humans need to be able to lift things off of the floor. For grandma, it’s the bag of groceries that has all of the ingredients for a delicious 4th of July pie in it (fingers crossed for strawberry rhubarb). For Greg, it might be 500lbs for reps, preparing for the upcoming season protecting Matt Stafford. In both examples, the movement is the same……. It’s a…….. hip hinge! Yes, good job for those of you who got it. If you didn’t, stop reading and do 15 burpees. J

What I’m trying to get at, is that as coaches and programmers, our mission is to have each one of you get the same, intended stimulus from the workout that day. I know that at Reviver we don’t use the term “RX’d” very much but doing what is written on the board, as it is written, can and should be a goal for some athletes. Competition with yourself is fantastic, and the desire to improve makes coaching fun for me. But don’t forget about the stimulus. Don’t let the goal of doing exactly what is written on the board turn 45 seconds of work with 1:15 rest into 1:30 work with 30 seconds rest. By the same token, don’t shy away from a little more sweat than you are used to, or a movement that you are right on the cusp of mastering. Growth comes from struggle and the grind sharpens the axe.

As a coach I’m here to provide the context on what this workout should feel like. I’m here to arm you with the tools to make the right decisions for movements and loads. Use us coaches to ask questions, to see if maybe we can try taking a band off the pull up bar this time, or move from a 14# wall ball to a 20#. My challenge to you is to know your fitness and attack workouts appropriately within that. The trick is using scaling to lock into that stimulus that the coach described and run with it.