Training Tutorial: how to scale your exercises and workouts?

Let’s say you know how to perform a few exercises for your workouts and you’re now ready to scale them up. What are the easiest ways to safely do that on your own? Unless you’re comfortable moving to other, harder progressions, you can make the same exercises harder.

You can do so in 3 ways:

  • volume: you do more of them than you normally do (ie more reps or more series)
  • intensity: you scale up the force required to complete them
  • complexity: you incorporate other variables that renders their execution more difficult. Incorporating balancing is a classic example

Let’s illustrate these fundamental concepts with some examples:

Scaling up a normal 1km flat walk on a road:

  • volume: do 2kms instead of 1km
  • intensity: 1km uphill
  • complexity: 1km in a forest outside the paths

Scaling up 50m foot-hand crawl:

  • volume: 100m instead of 50m
  • intensity: complete them at twice the pace
  • complexity: complete them balancing on a thin ledge

Sometimes, you can combine intensity and complexity: complete the 2 exercises above while carrying a child, or any weight for that matter, and you both drastically increase not only the intensity by having to carry this additional weight, but also complexity as you now have to manage a shifting weight and alternate your carrying techniques.

Choosing to increase volume or intensity is most commonly done by adjusting weights, or the number of repetitions or series. This might be intimidating and you might not know how to adjust them by using the appropriate progressions.

Adding a touch of complexity may be easier. A good goal for each session could be “maximize complexity without compromising quality”. For example, if you are going to do some series of plank in your workout, why not try them by balancing on a line one the floor. It can even be an imaginary line if you don’t have one to use, or you could use the back of a bench, the ledge of a sidewalk, etc. if you do want to have some real stakes.

Doing the plank this way gives you all the physical benefits you normally get from doing the plank. At the same time, you also train your sense of balance and you recruit a lot more stabilizer muscles throughout your body. They’re obviously more challenging and you may have to only do balancing planks on your first series, then switch to normal planks.

You now get a lot more fitness and health returns out of the same training time.

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