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  • Writer's pictureFarran Mackay

Unlock your coaching potential: Dynamic scaling

Differentiation is an essential skill in the role of a coach (read this for more information on that topic). It's not about making things easier or harder, but rather about creating a training that is challenging and rewarding for all participants in the context of working towards a specific goal. However there is a powerful and underused tool that experienced coaches can use to implement differentiation in a workout, dynamic scaling.





What is dynamic scaling

Dynamic scaling refers to adjusting a workout in real-time based on an individual's current abilities, limitations, and goals. Unlike traditional scaling, which involves making a fixed adjustment to a workout prior to starting, dynamic scaling allows for greater flexibility and customisation for each individual member


Examples of dynamic scaling

Dynamic scaling in a workout can either be applied across a round (each round will be the same), or across a workout (each round will be different). The most crucial element of dynamic scaling is that both coach and participant have agreed upfront that this scaling can be changed in real-time during the workout.

Original WOD

Dynamically scaled WOD

Across a round

​12' AMRAP 6 Strict Handstand Push-ups 9 Cleans 12 Kettlebell Swings

12' AMRAP 3 Strict Handstand Push-ups 3 Deficit Pike Push-ups 9 Cleans 12 Kettlebell Swings

Across a workout

​5 RFT 400m run 3 rope climbs 10 Deadlifts 10 Push press

​5 RFT 400m run 9 Floor Climbs (round 1, 3 and 5) 3 rope climbs (round 2 and 4) 10 Deadlifts 10 Push press

In the first example, the participant maybe has 5-6 strict handstand push-ups, but if they were to do 6 strict handstand push-ups across multiple rounds they would probably spend a lot of time staring at a wall. Dynamic scaling can be applied to allow the participant to practice the movement (under fatigue) while still meeting the intended stimulus of the workout. Therefore it is agreed with the participant that instead of 6 strict handstand push-ups, they will do 3 strict handstand push-ups and 3 deficit pike push-ups. It is also agreed with them that if the stimulus/time domain is not being met, that they change the rep scheme (e.g. 2 strict handstand push-ups and 4 deficit pike push-ups).


In the second example, maybe the participant can do 2 rope climbs with no issues but the 3rd is where the challenge is for them. If they were to face that challenge 5 times in the workout, then the risk woud be high that they would spend a lot of time staring at the rope. Similar to the first example, dynamic scaling can be applied to allow the participant to face that challenge during a workout, while still meeting the intended stimulus. Therefore it is agreed with the participant that instead of 3 rope climbs every round, they will do that for rounds 2 and 4 of the workout and for the other rounds they will do 9 floor climbs. It is also agreed with them that if, for example, the 3 rope climbs are going well they can do them for more rounds.


In both cases both the coach and the participant have agreed what the scaling is and under what circumstances during the workout it should/could be adapted.


When can dynamic scaling be implemented

To successfully implement dynamic scaling in a CrossFit workout, certain prerequisites should be in place to ensure that the dynamic scaling is appropriate and successful.


The coach

  • Coach's knowledge and experience: The coach should have a solid understanding of the movements, and progressions. They should be skilled in identifying a participant's fitness level, strengths, and limitations, as wel as in providing appropriate scaling options.

  • Know the participants: The coach should be aware the fitness levels, experience, and limitations of each participant prior to the training. This may involve 1-on-1 conversations, as well as observing the member during different types of workouts over longer periods of time.

  • Clear communication: The coach should be able to clearly explain the Workout of the Day (WOD), the intention, and the various scaling options available. Effective communication helps ensure that participants understand the purpose of the workout and the importance of selecting the appropriate scaling option.

The training

  • Time and attention: The training should be structured to allow the coach to have the ability to devote time and attention to each participant, offering feedback and adjusting scaling options as needed during the workout.

  • Movements: The movements usually considered for dynamic scaling are "high skilled" movements where often a participant may have the (partial) skill but not yet the volume or virtuosity of movement.

  • Scaling options: Dynamic scaling is more easily applied when the scaling options do not need time consuming changes in equipment (e.g. changing weights on a barbell during a round)

The environment

  • Variety of equipment: A well-equipped gym with a range of equipment is essential for providing scaling options. This may include a selection of weights for kettlebells, dumbbells, etc., resistance bands, boxes, and other tools to assist in modifying exercises.

  • Education on scaling: Members should be educated on the importance of scaling, how it relates to their long-term fitness goals, and how to self-assess their abilities. This will help them understand that scaling is not a sign of weakness, but a tool for achieving progress safely and effectively.

  • Supportive culture: A positive and inclusive atmosphere where members feel comfortable scaling exercises and asking for assistance is crucial. Encourage members to support one another, regardless of their fitness levels or scaling choices.

The participant

  • Ego: The participant is capable of "leaving their ego at the door". As such they are comfortable with not completing a workout RX, even though they may have the skill, as well as not being concerned about the score written on the whiteboard.

  • Education: The participant is aware of the importance of dynamic scaling and also how it specifically relates to their long-term fitness goals. They are aware that scaling is not a sign of weakness, but a tool to help them reach their goals both safely and effectively.

  • Scaling options: Members should be able to successfully perform the scaling options under fatigue.

  • Self assessment: The participant must be capable of listening to their bodies, and be honest about their current fitness levels. This will help them choose the appropriate scaling option and to dynamically adapt it where necessary.

It is only when all the above prerequisites are met should a coach consider implementing dynamic scaling for a participant.


How to implement dynamic scaling


Assuming the prerequisites are in place, here are some steps a coach can follow to implement dynamic scaling in a lesson:

  1. Plan ahead: Asses the workout and the participants to identify possibilities for dynamic scaling.

  2. At the whiteboard: Clearly explain the WOD and its intended stimulus to the class. Present the various (fixed) scaling options for each exercise, with clear guidelines on when they should be chosen.

  3. Pre-workout: Discuss with each participant the scaling options. For those participants that meet the requirements for dynamic scaling, agree on the scaling approach including when it should be dynamically adjusted.

  4. Workout: Monitor progress and provide feedback. Observe your participants' form, technique, and intensity and offer real-time feedback and make any necessary adjustments to scaling options.

  5. Post-workout: Check in with each participant. For those who used dynamic scaling reflect with them how it felt, what would they do the same, and what they would do differently the next time

  6. Track progress: Keep a record of each participants' performance and scaling choices, so you can monitor their progress over time. This will help you make informed decisions about future scaling and programming.

By implementing dynamic scaling in your CrossFit lessons, you'll create a more inclusive, safe, and productive training environment for all your members, regardless of their fitness levels or experience.


Win-win

But it's not just about creating a personalised training - dynamic scaling, and differentiation in general, can also help build a sense of community and support within your lesson. When athletes feel like they are understood and valued, and that their training needs are met, they are more likely to stick with the program and achieve their fitness goals. In other words, increase member retention!


Take your coaching to the next level


At Virtuous Coach Development we can support you in all aspects of coach development at affiliate, team, or individual levels. By relying on our expertise and experience, you will gain the knowledge and skills specific to your needs to bring your (or your teams) coaching to the next level.


Feel free to schedule a call to have a chat over coffee (or whatever you want!) about your affiliate, team, or your own coaching.


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