Know Thyself - Scaling Intensity


CrossFit: constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity. Intensity is one of the best things about CrossFit, taking us through the “Pain Cave” and out the other side, and bonding us to each other as we lay on the floor after a tough workout. As coaches, we try to push our athletes to higher levels of intensity. We talk quite a lot about scaling movements so that we can retain the stimulus that was intended in the WOD. But what about scaling intensity? “WHAT?!” you may be thinking, “Intensity equals results! The entire point of CrossFit is to be as intense as possible!” While this is true, I believe there are specific times when scaling intensity can be incredibly valuable for those who might be injured, sick, exhausted, or have chronic illnesses that flare up from time to time.

For example, I have Type 1 Diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disorder where my body doesn’t produce insulin. Because of that, my blood sugar is pretty difficult to manage. I plan my food intake and give myself insulin multiple times a day to keep my levels as stable as possible. But another thing that affects blood sugar and is much harder to calculate is stress, including the body’s stress response from an intense workout. Sometimes I start a WOD, and within 15 minutes my blood sugar skyrockets, leaving me lethargic, dehydrated, and groggy. Other days I come into the box and my blood sugar is already 2 or 3 times above normal. At these times I have a choice: I can throw in the towel and go home, or I can really listen to my body and scale my intensity accordingly. I like to say, “stress is stress,” whether it’s from problems at work, going on a trip, nerves before a competition, getting too little sleep, or doing an intense workout, and I have to manage my stress levels responsibly in order to take care of my mind and body.

There are other conditions that are affected by stress as well, such as thyroid disorders, adrenal fatigue, mental health issues and more. If you have any issues like this, I implore you to PAY ATTENTION to yourself, and scale accordingly. If your body is already operating on a high level of stress, I suggest that you still come to the box, move your body, and get that endorphin rush that comes with working out and hanging out with our great DCF members, but take ownership of yourself and let your coach know what’s going on. This may be one of the hardest and most humbling practices you do at CrossFit, to quiet your ego when everyone around you is blazing through a workout, and you’re taking it “easy,” but I’d rather have you healthier in the long run than at the top of the leaderboard today.

Obviously there is a fine line between taking it too easy and going too hard, and you’ve got to find your balance there. We coaches WANT intensity for our athletes, it is truly what builds positive results. We might keep yelling at you to push harder or to pick up that barbell, but I want each of you to remember that YOU are responsible for YOU, nobody else is. Own yourself, protect yourself, and empower yourself. If your body or mind needs it, scale your intensity. I’m in this for the long haul, and I want you to be too.

-Coach Sonja Rootvik