Scaling Workouts is not a Sin

“If you can’t do all the reps in one set with this weight, you need to go lighter!” I know I’ve said it 100 times and I’ll probably say it 100 times more, but there’s a reason for the saying that pierces all of y’alls ears: intensity.

Intensity is the good stuff. The stuff that really matters. The stuff that has more effect on your fitness than anything else. What exactly is intensity though? Glad you asked because, no, it’s not what happens when someone grunts really loud as they’re lifting. And it’s certainly not what happens when someone gets stuck on the high rings even though she’s scared to death. No. Intensity is the variable most commonly associated with maximizing the rate of return on your efforts. Huh? Come again? Exsqueeze me? I baking powder. (if you don’t get that last reference, you only have your youth to blame.)

Intensity has long been a buzz word in the fitness community that has 10 different meanings if you asked 10 different people. The body builders may tell you it means grunting really loud right before you lift something. The distance runners and Orange Theory enthusiasts may say it’s the measurement of your heart rate during exercise. But…if you’re watching a scary movie, doesn’t your heart rate go up a little? Are you getting fitter sitting there watching Michael Myers chase after the dumb teenagers while you’re drinking coke and eating M&Ms? No.

Intensity was defined long ago by exercise physiologists as power output. Now, what is power? Well, physics 101 says power is (Force x Distance)/Time. So, what is intensity? How heavy was the thing you moved, how far did you move it and how LONG did it take you? (Force x Distance)/Time. How fast and hard.

Now, circling back to why scaling is important. If I decide to do “Fran” (21-15-9 of Thrusters with 95# and Pull-Ups) with my busted elbow right now, how long might that take me? Well, for the sake of the argument let’s say, with my current limitation, I’m going to guess it would take me sometime between 45 minutes to an hour. I still did all the reps and the full range of motion but it took me that long. Now, let’s say I scale myself down to one arm thrusters and ring rows. I’ll probably get that done in 4 minutes tops. So, which workout do you think produced the higher power output? Yup, the scaled down one and that one also kept me safe.

Yes, it’s important to challenge yourself. However, it’s more important to finish the workouts within the cap. The caps are on workouts for a reason and that’s to ensure everyone hits the stimulus we’re aiming for. Fran is a 10 minute workout AT THE MOST. If I turn it into a 1 hour workout, I’m completely missing out on the desired power output we’re looking for.


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