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Chris Wood 06-23-2009 07:31 PM

Scaling/Relative Intensity
I thought I should post this here after posing this "question" on Dutch's blog. I'm frankly surprised that there hasn't been more discussion here on Pierre's article. Then again, many folks here train similarly to what Pierre recommends. I'd love to hear folks' thoughts on scaling and "Relative Intensity."



Thank you for your blog. I’ve been following it for a while, and I’ve found it very informative. Your recent posts have been very helpful.

I wanted to see if you have read Pierre Auge’s article on scaling and “relative intensity” in this month’s Performance Menu. He provides a compelling argument for scaling to maintain intensity while building one’s strength base. In addition, I wanted to see if you’ve seen Clea Weiss’ scaling article in this month’s CFJ. Although not as “scienc-ey,” she also makes an argument for scaling and maximizing power output.

In response to Weiss’ article, Tony Budding posted these thoughts on scaling:

"Absolutely not. If that were the case, then anyone with a Fran time over 6min would have to scale if they happen to workout with Speal, Rhabdo, Bionic or any of the other beasts."

"Scaling is very simple on the one hand (reduce weights, reps, and/or rounds), but extremely complex and subtle on the other. Scaling is about effectively improving the work capacity of your clients across broad time and modal domains. Sometimes you need to keep it light and fast. Sometimes it’s immensely beneficial to go as Rx’d and slog through it even though you’re the last one done by a long time."

"Be wary, be very wary, of simple rules, mathematical formulas, and catchy phrases. Human performance is immensely complex. There is no substitute for common sense, careful experimentation, and constant refinement."

"Anything can be a good idea for a starting point, but beyond that, any single approach is limited. CrossFit’s prescription for achieving fitness is constantly varied, functional movement executed at (relatively) high intensity. For optimizing a broad, inclusive fitness, we need to vary everything, including our approaches to scaling…."

"My position comes from an immense respect for the complexity of human performance. I don’t think we can know nearly enough to get really specific. Now, if you’re training a single athlete for a specific sport (say an Oly meet), maybe you can get really refined. But if you’re looking for an adaptation in GPP, it’s way too complex."

"For example, look at the Deadlift/Doubleunder workout from the MidAtlantic Regional Qualifier that was also used for the Last Chance Online Qualifer (talking 2009 CrossFit Games qualifiers here). The workout is 3 rounds for time of 10 deadlifts (275/185) and 50 Doubleunders. I think this is an excellent workout and wouldn’t hesitate to use it in my affiliate if I had one. Obviously, many if not most affiliate clients would have to scale this workout. Addressing your question, though, what is the specific purpose of this workout? I don’t think you can say. For someone like Eric O’Connor, this is a metcon-concentration (mental focus) workout because he’s strong and super competent in the DUs. If someone is super strong in the deadlift but struggles with the DUs, this workout becomes a skill-development session. For an athlete great at DUs but relatively weak in the DL, this becomes a strength workout. And, for someone good (not great) at both DLs and DUs, this becomes a grinder incorporating strength, stamina, endurance, skills, focus, etc."

"Honestly, I think this is all damn-near ideal. It’s brilliant programming that allows nature to determine much of the impact and outcome. In fact, if you had predetermined that this workout was to be “X” and scaled everyone such that their weaknesses were accommodated, you’d have done a major disservice to them. So much of GPP is being prepared for anything. The reality is that anyone who is capable of performing all the main site WODs as Rx’d, even with “mediocre” times, is very well prepared for the general demands of life (barring the extremes of course). Most of the typical clients who come to affiliates would benefit from improvements in all ten physiological adaptations (endurance, strength, stamina, etc.). Most of the main site WODs work most (if not all) of the ten. There are obvious exceptions of course, such as the 1RM strength workouts and the 5K runs. But they are and should be a minority of GPP training."

"Another piece, which perhaps more specifically addresses the question of when to slog through, is to look at your clients individually and see what they need. When I was one of the regular trainers at CrossFit Santa Cruz back in the day, I would often force our regular women to scale heavier than they wanted. Why? Because they were comfortable going lighter and faster (and they were already getting plenty of that). Their movements were sufficiently stable that they could handle going a bit heavier. And, their aversion to going heavier was an impediment to their overall fitness. Amy Tompkins above is an example of the other direction. She likes going heavy and needs to experiment with lighter and faster."

"Bottom line is life just isn’t that simple. Formulas and overly specific rules, in my experience, miss out on this robustness. Again, anything can be a good starting point, but there’s no substitute for the watchful eye of a caring and discriminating trainer."

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you balance scaling, intensity/power output, and when it’s advantageous to “slog through” WODs as Rx’d.

Steven Low 06-23-2009 09:18 PM

Pierre wrote a great article. I agree with it in almost all respects especially if you're trying to strength/power bias your programming. For everyone who is not already strong and athletic I think this is the way to go. Gant's hybrid, Rut's MEBB, and CFSB all reflect this style of programming somewhat.

I disagree with Tony in some respects though. Skills like DUs are best developed when fresh. Once you have to the technique down well THEN you can develop it when you're tired. If you're doing the DL/DU workout, and you suck with DUs then it's going to be a slogfest... and you're probably getting CRAP practice at DUs because you're trying to go fast in workout, but you can't string together.

I would say step back and practice your DUs when fresh. Take as much time as you need to rest to get good reps so you can get the rhythm down. This is exactly like handstands... you can't get good at holding freestanding if all you do them is when you're tired. Your form is going to be terrible, and you're not going to learn it correctly.

This mirrors my view on ALL skill based or complex movements like the Oly lifts. Metconning them when you don't have the skill base to do them well is a TERRIBLE idea. I don't think SDHPs should be taught at all because they detract from movements like Oly (most new people will always try to muscle them up with their arms because their posterior chain is weak with poor glute activation).

While I do think if you're doing CF you need a few workouts where you're going to have to slog through I think they come up waaaaaaaaay too often on the mainpage as well as in most of the affiliate programming I've seen. Maybe once every week or two weeks grinders are fine. Otherwise, what's the point? Getting good at grinders?

None of the regionals or CF games workouts have been grinders yet except maybe a couple... but even then the top performers are finishing in less than 15 mins... nowhere near over >20 like most people are doing 2-3+ times a week. It's useless waste of training time IMO.

I probably have one of the fastest 30 MUs time just because I'm strong (I pretty much don't train endurance at all). I definitely could improve my time significantly IF I focused on metabolic work for pullups/dips/muscle ups, and that would be ideal if I was competing. But strength is one of those things that makes everything easier which is why I think it's more important to bias for strength/power for most people.

Shrug. Just my thoughts.

Chris... are you the guy from CF BWI? If so, nice to meet you.. kinda. I showed up at the competition at BWI just for fun, but I didn't really talk to anyone or compete (aka random skinny asian guy). :)

Allen Yeh 06-24-2009 05:25 AM


Originally Posted by Steven Low (Post 59362)
(aka random skinny asian guy). :)

That would be VERY skinny...


Had to do it!

Chris Wood 06-24-2009 06:41 AM

Re: Scaling/Relative Intensity

Thanks for your reply. I think Pierre makes another convincing argument for strength/power bias programming. Thanks to this forum, my local affiliate (our owner is a former FB player and USAW coach), and others, I'm a big believer that strength development is key for the novice/intermediate athlete.

I agree with your thoughts on the DU. Reading into your post, can I assume that you would focus on OL and slow lifts for power/strength development, gymnastics for skill development, and low-skill movements for metcon?

I also agree that slogging 2-3 X/week is counteproductive. I've focused on longer metcons only 1-2 times a month, with shorter metcons and strength/OL/skill work.


I've seen Stevens videos. Can you sneak a GOMAD into his diet? :)

Steven Low 06-24-2009 10:49 AM


I agree with your thoughts on the DU. Reading into your post, can I assume that you would focus on OL and slow lifts for power/strength development, gymnastics for skill development, and low-skill movements for metcon?
Yeah, more or less.

Focus on strength/power with the high skill movements such as C&J/snatch/muscle ups/other gymnastics stuff. Metcon ONLY with low skill lifts. Don't want to distort any technique gains made especially with the novices for the lifts.

Focus on getting powerful/strong and really fast, then maybe 3-4 months before competition work on increasing metabolic capacity to the max.

And unfortunately, no GOMAD for me. I was drinking lots more milk, but it was giving me acne as I am allergic to something in it (I think the casin possibly?). So I just dropped it. :(

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