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How to Scale Heavy Sprint Workouts

When we scale workouts, we start by establishing the workout stimulus based upon a hypothetical fit athlete.

This strategy works well for setting a standard in group classes, and it also requires us to consider the programmer's intent of the workout. Most of the time, this process works well in maintaining the stimulus, providing safe options, and making workouts accessible for a wide range of athletes. However, a few types of workouts are particularly challenging when it comes to scaling effectively.

Short workouts present a unique challenge for proper scaling, significantly when scaling them for newer athletes. First, it is easy to over scale loading stimulus because most newer athletes lack the technical capability to lift specific weights efficiently. Second, it is easy to set newer athletes up for failure in sprint workouts because we become focused on time domain and intensity. Focusing only on time domain and intensity can prevent the athlete from having enough time to practice the movements they struggle with inside of that workout.

For example, take a look at this workout planned for the end of the week:

For time: 21-15-9 deadlifts (275/185#) Strict ring dips

Fitter athletes performing this workout will finish it within the 4- to 7-minute range. However, we think it's best to take workouts that fall into the sub 10-minute range and give all athletes up to 10 minutes to complete it. Expanding the time domain works particularly well when the workout includes higher skills, strict skills, and heavy weights. Not only do newer and many intermediate athletes struggle with these types of movements, but also have a tough time performing them at volume. Therefore, they need time to practice them in a given workout.

These workouts should test and build top-end strength. If we scale it too much to get all athletes in the 4-minute range, newer and intermediate athletes will likely over scale loading for both movements and miss out on strength benefits. We can run into a similar problem if we cut the volume too much. For example, you could have your athletes cut volume to the point where they use the Rx’d movements and weights but still finish at 4 minutes. This still might deny the athlete the chance to spend enough time building strength at volume and speed.

With workouts that typically fall in the low portion of sub 10-minute workouts, consider the following options:

  • Give athletes a range to finish the workout, and allow them to take up to 10 minutes to complete them.

  • Balance maintaining the volume and loading difficulty of the movement.

  • Try to increase exposure to higher volume strict movements through bands and other types of assistance.

  • Heavy weights indicate a loading an athlete can repeat for 5-7 reps throughout the workout. This load shouldn’t be so heavy that athletes resort to singles. The loading shouldn’t be so light that athletes can perform 10+ reps in a row every set.

Continually experiment with different scaling tactics for all levels of athletes. Use the whiteboard brief to outline how long the workout should take (in a range) and what the workout should feel like in terms of loading, speed, and complexity.

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