Before we begin, let us examine two terms: Exercise and Training.
Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces today — right now. Each workout is performed for the purpose of producing a stress that satisfies the immediate needs of the exerciser: burning some calories, getting hot, sweaty, and out of breath, pumping up the biceps, stretching — just punching the physical clock. Exercise is physical activity done for its own sake, either during the workout or immediately after it’s through. Exercise may well involve doing exactly the same thing every time you do it, as long as it accomplishes the task of making you feel like you to want to feel while you’re doing it.
Training is physical activity performed for the purpose of satisfying a long-term performance goal, and is therefore about the process instead of the workouts themselves. And since the process must generate a definable result at a point in time removed from each workout, the process must be planned to produce this result. Training may also be the best way to achieve the goals that many people seek through Exercise.
— Mark Rippetoe, Author of Starting Strength.
Here is another term to add to our lexicon: WOD
A WOD is an acroynm for Workout Of the Day coined by the CrossFit community. Although some WODs might certainly qualify as Training; most WODs fall under the category of Exercise.
Now How to Scale Workouts Properly
1. Assigning “prescribed” weights is a disservice to athletes. Each athlete should have his or her own weight based off of his or her own training max and/or the athlete’s one rep max.
Attention all WOD programmers: Prescribed weights is NOT training — at least not good training.
First of all, prescribing weights in workouts or WODs, when training, isn’t really “training.” Essentially, doing a prescribed weight–and doing it as fast as you can at weight totals you may or may not be able to manage–is ignoring the long term purpose of achieving the goals you have set for yourself.
If an athlete wants to maximize full potential, he or she needs to train, not exercise. Training has end goals in mind and effectively gets athletes to reach those goals. A WOD without this purpose really cannot accomplish meeting goals the way a properly structured training plan will.
So assigning a workout on the white board with a prescribed weight is really a disservice to the people paying a $100+ a month to be “trained,” don’t you think?
Let us look at an example: Bob has a one rep max (1RM) front squat at 405 lbs and Dave has a one rep max front squat at 215 lbs. The workout of the day calls for 30 front squats at the prescribed weight of 205 lbs. Now ask yourself this, “Is this really the same workout for Bob and Dave?”
For Bob, this is a speed workout and for Dave, this is a strength workout. So in this programmer’s master plan — did he or she design today’s WOD to be a speed workout or strength workout? Or did he just google, “Cool WODs” and call it a day?
Maybe the programmer is assuming his average Rx male athlete has a one rep max front squat at 315 lb and therefore he or she is designing the workout for these men as part of their “training plan.” If this is the case, then the WOD should be 30 front squats at 65% of your 1RM (205 = 65% of 315). Now Bob will do 30 reps at 265 lbs and Dave will do 30 front squats at 135 lbs. And now they are training. The programmer has the end goal in mind and knows what he or she is trying to accomplish with this workout of the day. And instead of reaching just his average male Rx lifter with the WOD, he is reaching all his athletes who are spending the same hard earned money as that average Rx’er.
Does this mean gyms or boxes should never have prescribed weights? Not necessarily. There are actually two reasons prescribed weights might make sense.
Reason 1: Measurement. Using prescribed weights in a particular workout can be a benchmark to measure progress and/or reach a particular goal. And insofar as this is true, the workout is no longer part of a training plan. So in the situations of such workouts, it makes sense to have prescribed weights.
Reason 2: The weight is super light. If a workout calls for 100 swings of a 35 lb kettlebell and this is a male Rx workout — then this is clearly a light enough weight to understand what the programmer had in mind; moreover, the difference between this movement for both Bob and Dave is very minimal since it is a relatively light weight for both of them.
I can hear the programmers now — but it’s the athletes’ responsibility to scale their own weights!
My first response to that is — do all of your athletes have the expertise, training, and more specifically the understanding of what your end training goal is with this WOD? No. And what exactly are they paying you for if they do have this knowledge?
And secondly, you know damn well the Daves in our above scenario want to do Rx and if they can front squat 205 lbs, then they will squat 205 lbs no matter what. Dave doesn’t care if it takes him twice as long; he is competitive and he wants to Rx.
2. Why do so many CrossFit boxes NOT train?
To paraphrase Mark Rippetoe (ironically he used to work for/with CrossFit), CrossFit is about the now and not the future. In many CrossFit boxes (there are a few exceptions), the end goal is to exercise NOT train.
“Training” and “Exercise” are different things entirely. Training is the process of directed physical stress, which results in an adaptation that satisfies a performance goal. — Mark Rippetoe
In CrossFit, the goal is often to destroy the exerciser that very day. The workout is designed to be constantly varied, and this ensures your body will not be able to adapt. So of course you will feel the burn, and of course you will feel like you worked out harder than you ever have before, because your body is taking on new and challenging movements.
When Stephanie first decided she wanted to be a CrossFitter, I was lost on how to design a training program to accomplish improvement in so many movements (I had been programming for her for several years). This was before I realized CrossFit by nature doesn’t really train people. They exercise. It took me months of copying and analyzing the WOD on the main site (crossfit.com) before I came to the conclusion that there is actually no rhyme or reason to the training.
What about Outlaw and similar programs?
Outlaw is indeed training. Coaches are now beginning to take a non-trainable sport and build a training program for it. This is very impressive. But what is more impressive are the athletes who can follow programs such as Outlaw and not get injured, burnt out, or eventually just quit altogether. It’s a tough program, and seemingly, only the tougher survive.
What about the Games Athletes?
From what I can tell, many of the Games athletes do not actually do CrossFit. I watched an hour long documentary once on Rich Froning and Dan Bailey training — the documentary followed them over a few days and focused primarily on their training. Not once did they WOD. Rich did make a comment that he does about two met-cons a week. Two! How many CrossFitters only do two met-cons a week? Froning indicated this was more of a test on his conditioning. This reminds me of Steph’s SFCW’s. She has her athletes train 3-4 days a week and add in two to three more conditioning WODs. This is probably what CrossFit should be.
But CrossFit is for the most part, about today and not about your future goals.
3. Why We Need to Train
Most athletes have future goals. This is how we measure our success; how we measure progress. But how can we best achieve personal records?
In order for the body to improve the body has to adapt to the resistance it is being put under. Adaptation by its very nature is a long term process. So to improve at a particular movement or lift, you have to develop a long term strategy to focus on those areas in order to best prepare your body to meet its genetic potential in that particular goal.
Sweat angels, torn hands, and soreness are NOT indicators of progress. Progress is measured in one simple way — the weight totals increasing.
Most lifters will achieve strength gains early in their experiences with any workout program; however, a plateau is only a matter of time. And the closer an athlete gets to reaching his or her genetic potential in a particular lift, the more important proper training will become.
And do not confuse technique improvement with strength improvement. An Olympic lifter with improved technique will see huge gains even without strength gains.
I believe that when one has a concrete training goal – for example, “press 300 pounds, box jump 45 inches, and run a 6:30 mile” – training becomes more focused and goals become real. — Jim Wendler
A while back I convinced Steph to lessen her WODs and increase her training. She chose an adapted Wendler-style powerlifting training program and pretty much put all CrossFit on the back burner. Her daily workout centered on four lifts — high bar back squat, deadlift, bench press, and strict press. All of the weight totals were based off of her training max, which is roughly 90% of a one rep max. She did this program for 20 weeks.
Results: to no one’s surprise her squat, deadlift, and bench press dramatically improved. All of these lifts are pretty raw. She wears a standard weight belt on the back squat and deadlift, and knee braces on the back squat.
Stephanie before our 20 week training program:Squat: 225Deadlift: 235Strict Press: 75 with poor formBench: 135Stephanie after our 20 week training program.Squat: 260Deadlift: 305Strict Press: 100 with much better formBench: 155
Squat: 275Deadlift: 315Strict Press: 100Bench: 165
I should also point out that I am not a powerlifting coach. I have worked with athletes in these lifts for over 15 years but I am not a master at technique in terms of how a powerlifting coach would get his or her athletes to maximize their perfect technique. My primary purpose as a coach is to assure these lifts are done safely. Therefore, my instruction focuses solely on adjusting the lifter to proper anatomical positioning. Moreover, I am not focused on things such as the powerlifter’s arched back in the bench press.
Neither Stephanie nor I were very surprised to see her improvements in these classic strength based powerlifting lifts. But somewhat surprisingly, all of her Oly lifts improved as well. Steph has a mild form of spina bifida and her hips don’t really open properly so Olympic lifting is a tremendous challenge for her. But after our 20 week program, she improved in both her snatch and clean as well.
Her snatch went from 105 to 115 with zero technique improvement. And her clean when from 135 to 155 during our training plan. Again, her form is not great–just pure strength getting it up.
But What if My Goal is Simply to Look Good Naked?
Let’s be honest, isn’t this why most of us got in the lifting game anyway?
Recently on a Barbell Shrugged podcast, the crew were discussing how to accomplish aesthetic gains — look good naked. Not surprisingly, the advice given was to not focus on aesthetic goals but to focus on strength goals and the aesthetic goals will follow. I could not agree more.
When we focus on things like six pack abs or vascular arms, we get away from what truly works. And aesthetic goals are almost never easily met.
This is especially true for women.
Immeasurable or non-specific goals – “get in shape” or “I just want to get stronger” – are a great way to shortchange your training and set yourself up for failure. — Jim Wendler
You can achieve your aesthetic goals by focusing on your strength goals.
The only way you can build the body you want is through strength training — Jackie Perez
You can watch the podcast here:
Training to Get Strong & Athletic (and Look Good Naked) w/ Jackie Perez – EPISODE 142
Coming soon we will bring you tips on how to scale certain lifts properly — push ups, pull ups, and more. You will not want to miss this so sign up for a FREE subscription ABOVE in the right hand sidebar.