Progressing not scaling

At Threshold Training, we often write group class workouts with prescriptions about the load, movement, and given intensity the workout is designed to be performed at. We write down specified movements, loads, and intensities to give you a sense of how it should feel (i.e. light, heavy, sustainable, challenging, difficult to repeat, etc.). That being said, when loads, movements, or intensities are prescribed on the board, it’s difficult to have a one-size fits all approach. For example, a 1:45/500m pace on the rower is not sustainable for a steady state workout lasting 25 min for someone whose 500m row time trial is 1:55. To the same token, someone who can do a max set of plank push-ups for 5 good reps will not be working at a repeatable effort in a workout with a total volume of 60 plank push-ups. It’s counter-productive to the point of the workout. The challenge is knowing how to individualize the workout for you. This is the coach’s AND athlete’s job TOGETHER. To know this, we need to know at least 2 things:

#1: What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish? How can you progress these with today’s workout? Answering these questions will help you personalize the workout of the day. Take the time to self-reflect about what you’re working towards. Adjusting the workout on the board to PROGRESS towards your goal(s) is likely more valuable to you than just “scaling because I can’t do it as prescribed”.

#2: How are you feeling today? Check in with yourself. Ask yourself what you’re feeling like today. Did you wake up today and feel like you’re rearing to go? Are you feeling like you have a sense of purpose and are in control? Do you feel like you’re dragging and just feel depleted? Are you irritable, unfocused, and boiling? Is that pain in your shoulder you’ve been having really bugging you today? Understanding and ACCEPTING where you’re at today is a key step into performing a workout that is PRODUCTIVE for you.

 

Now, let’s go over an example involving a strength portion of a workout:

Part of today’s workout calls for the following: 5×3 back-squat @ 85% of 1RM with 2.5 min btw sets. These sets are designed to be heavy, but doable with the goal of working on top end lower body strength.

Step #1: What is your goal? I’m an outdoor enthusiast and love to hike, bike, and kayak in the summer. My goal is to complete a hike up the Adirondacks this summer. I’ve only done back-squats a couple of times since completing on-ramp, so I’m unsure what my 1RM is. I tend to lift my hips up faster than my chest, but it’s a work in progress.

Step #2: How are you feeling today? It’s a miracle that I’m doing air squats because I’m exhausted and emotionally drained due to work and family circumstances.

How could we approach this workout? Let’s decrease the load and increase the volume and tempo. Let’s perform the following:

6×5 back-squat with :02 sec pause at the bottom. Progress in load for 3 sets, then keep the same load on the bar for the last 3 sets.

Rationale: We chose to vary the intensity (load) at which they will work due to how their body is feeling while increasing the time under tension. The increase in volume will also give them more reps to practice the movement pattern. The load they’re using won’t require a high level of muscle recruitment from their body’s system, but they will still be engaged with the movement because this athlete will need to focus on raising their hips and torso at the same rate when rising from the bottom of the squat. Thus, we’re progressing towards their summer goal by helping improve lower body stamina, improving their squat mechanics, and taking into account how their day is going all at the same time.

 

Okay, great! This makes sense. Let’s do another example that relates to more of a “conditioning” type of workout while integrating steps 1 and 2.

Today’s workout calls for the following:

Athlete’s choice –

 

10 min AMRAP:
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 air squats

OR
5 HSPU
10 pull-ups
15 total alt. weighted box step-ups

OR

5 HSPU
10 total alt. pistol squats
15 pull-ups

 

This workout is designed for us to accumulate as many rounds as we can in 10 min of 3 movements. None of this movements are monostructural (i.e. run, bike, row, ski) and have more of a muscular endurance component to them. This is why this workout is challenging. Each workout option increases in complexity and skill. Regardless, we’re still after a metabolic effect in that you can move through most movements with unbroken reps at least to begin. In order to do that, we need to make the movement EASY enough so muscle failure is not reached TOO EARLY in the workout. We would like you to keep the same rep. scheme if possible and are looking for each round to take about :60-:90 sec. So, with that said, here we go:

 

Avatar #1

Step #1: What are your goal(s)? I’m training for a 10k run this year. I would love to supplement my training with some strengthening work to help my running ability. My lower body endurance is great and I just PR’d my back-squat to 135 lbs. My upper body endurance has been improving as well. I’m able to perform 8 perfect plank push-ups in a row, but tend to get to failure around 12. I can accumulate about 30 kipping pull-ups before I start to get to singles due to fatigue.

Step #2: How are you feeling today? I feel like 1,000,000$. I’m rearing to go.

 

How do we approach this workout? Let’s choose option #2, but with some variants built in. We will perform it as the following:

10 min AMRAP:
5 banded plank push-ups
5 kipping pull-ups + 5 ring rows
15 box step-ups with a 15 lbs DB in front rack position

 

Rationale: This athlete’s lower body endurance is unlikely a limiter for this workout. Thus, this workout will be centered around their upper body capacity in order to meet the intended stimulus of the workout. They have a foundation of skill and endurance with the push-up and kipping pull-up, but may not have the stamina to perform this workout as its written. That said, our variants will allow them to prevent muscular failure too early within the workout while achieving a metabolic effect. Additionally, they’re also able to work on single leg muscular endurance, which will aid in their lower body stamina for running. Adding the DB load in front rack will add an extra challenge their balance and lower body spatial awareness (you can’t see the box when you put the DB in front rack. Trust your feet!).

 

Avatar #2

Step #1: What are your goals? I’m here to move, get in shape, and lose weight. I haven’t been moving a lot recently other than walking due to my recent knee injury, but walking has only got me so far. I’m looking to invest in myself and am looking for a change. Most of these movements are new to me in that I have not done them, but I’ve heard and seen them demonstrated before. The movements look intimidating to me because I’m unsure if I have the strength.

Step #2: How are you feeling today? I’m dragging today. I’m not sure how my presentation went at the office, one of my family members out of state got COVID and is not doing well, and I got a flat tire while coming to the gym.

 

How do we approach this workout? Let’s choose option #1, but with a change in sequence and movement intensity. We will perform the following:

10 min AMRAP:
5 plank to pike walk-ups
10 ring rows
0.15 mile air bike @ 150-200 watts

 

Rationale: Keeping the athlete’s main goals in mind, we’ve adjusted their workout to allow them to personalize their intensity with each movement. We adjusted the squats for the bike to be sure they get a low intensity metabolic response while respecting the fact that their knee may not be able to handle high volume air squats or single leg step-ups and that they’ve had a long day. The bike will allow them to work as hard as they want. To the same token, we’ve chosen the plank to pike walk ups and the ring rows to prevent muscular failure, allow for continuous movement, and allow for a personalization in intensity. At the end of the day, this athlete was able to keep moving through the workout without knee pain, was able to have fun in class with friends, and felt like they were not limited by a specific movement.

 

Avatar #3

Step #1: What are your goals? I’ve been doing functional fitness type workouts for the past 2 years and have been enjoying it. My main goal is general physical preparedness and I’m not currently “training” for anything in particular. I love the variety of workouts I’m doing at the gym. I appreciate practicing new skills and love my gymnastics movements. I can do kipping pull-ups and HSPU in multiple sets of 7-10. My single leg strength is not bad, but needs some work. I have some difficulty balancing on one leg, but step-ups feel easy.

Step #2: How are you feeling today? A little fatigued, but excited for the workout. Looks fun!

 

How do we approach this workout? Let’s choose option #3, but with a slight difference. We will perform the workout as the following:

10 min AMRAP:
5 HSPU
10 pull-ups
15 alt. single leg squat to a 20” box

 

Rationale: This athlete will be able to move through more complex gymnastics movements based on their training history and capacity with the movements. This athlete could be limited by their kipping pull-ups or their single leg squat strength if we asked them to perform the proposed workout as written. Therefore, we changed the sequence to prevent pull-up failure as long as can. We also adjusted their single leg squat depth so they could work within a range of motion they could control and slow down the movement to make sure they’re balance appropriately.

 

Remember, these workout variations are just options. There are other ways you could have approached these workouts and could still arrive at a workout that met your needs. At the end of the day, we’re all choosing to go to the gym for one reason or another. These reasons likely change as your journey progresses. Some athlete’s goals may not be centered around their 1RM back-squat, weight loss, or completing a 5 mile hike. Some athlete’s goals may be more related to have something consistent or routinely in their lives or to have a social network of support for something that’s challenging for them.

 

So, the next time you read a workout, choose to progress, not to scale.