Simple Scaling Solutions to Make the Most of Gymnastics Movements
Written by Travis Ewart

There are somewhere between 650 and 850 muscles in the human body and every single muscle has a particular job. Some muscles are larger than others and some are super tiny, but they all work together in an incredible symphony of movement. As with an orchestra, different instruments produce different sounds at different octaves and similarly, different volumes.

Music can be mesmerizing but also obnoxious. I love watching and listening to live music and maybe you do too, but have you ever gone to a show and there is that one instrument that is just WAY too loud and drowns out the rest of the instruments? So annoying!

As a bodyweight movement coach, I often see this happening within an athlete’s body, where the dominant muscles are drowning-out the smaller (yet significant) muscles and then relying on the larger muscles to do the work. As it is not the objective of the band to make as much noise as possible, it is also not necessarily the completion of a movement that should take precedence over how a movement should be completed. Enter scaling.

Here are some examples of common problems and the way they should be scaled:


Problem(s): Push-Ups performed without full extension of the elbow or complete descent; head lifting before arms press and back arching (rather than the midline holding taut.

Solution/Proper scaling option: Raise the height of the hands significantly (from floor to a 30” box).

Why?: Placing your hands on a slightly higher surface than the floor will not amount to much advantage over the floor at all. Don’t be embarrassed! The smaller and less dominant muscles will be able to work more, proper positioning will be much easier to maintain over the course of the sets, and for those of you who want a less bulky look and a more “cut” physique, doing more reps with lighter weight will help heat up the muscles and burn the fatty insulation beneath your skin.

Ring Rows

Problem: Lying horizontally beneath the rings causes too much weight for the majority of athletes while performing higher reps. Lats, infraspinatus teres major and others should be exercised during the ring row, but lying horizontally causes most people to default to their greedy upper trapezius.

Solution/Proper scaling option: Angle your body about 45 degrees and then perform the row. Squeeze downward with your elbows and pull the elbows together to lessen the distance between them at full contraction (as if you are trying to get your elbows to touch behind you). Have your workout partner lightly press on your upper trap to see if it is flexed or relaxed, as relaxed indicates that you are working the correct muscle group.

Why?: A Ring Row is not an upper trap exercise. Many bodyweight movements in the programming are designed to provide work for the accessory muscles that do not get as much daily attention. If you are trying to build a strong and complete body to last you through the years, defaulting to dominant muscle groups is going to leave you short in the long-term.

Strict Pull-Ups

Problem: Not getting full range of motion will not strengthen muscles to perform at all degrees of joint movement. Struggling during a pull-up can cause arm imbalances – as well as abdominal, oblique and lat imbalances, to name a few. When you default to the strong arm and zig-zag up through the pull-up, it leaves one side of your body working more than the other thus building more strength on the dominant side.

Solution/Proper scaling option: SCALE! Place a barbell on the rack low enough so you can touch your chest with your feet on the floor and use your legs to help you through the movement. Using your legs instead of a band will allow you to get that extra help when you need it, move in correct tempo, and achieve full range of motion.

Why?: In CrossFit you will find many instances where you need to be able to perform pull-ups. Familiarizing yourself with a quick and easy (yet effective) way to scale your pull-up, will give you the workout you came to do and, maybe most importantly, give you confidence knowing how much strength you are gaining by gauging how much help you are giving yourself!

Many gyms provide challenging workouts for their members in hope that if a visitor comes to join for the day, they are challenged as well. These programs are usually designed for the advanced athlete and in turn, are assumed to be responsibly scalable for the newer athlete. Taking responsibility for providing yourself with a fulfilling hour of exercise is your own and without doing so, you may be putting your body in jeopardy of injury, overuse and even demoralizing your ego. Remember that these workouts are sometimes humbling, but they should never be demoralizing and make you regret coming to the gym. That feeling can lead you to a place where you do not look forward to improving yourself, and that is not good for anyone!

So next time you see movements you are unsure of, ask your coach what is the focus of the exercise and how to achieve that. You may not be strong enough YET to crank away at ring rows while staying out of your upper trap, but with good technique and scaling your movements appropriately, you will get there and at the same time look and feel great!

Looking for more progressions for some of the more complicated Gymnastics movements? Check out our new Invictus Gymnastics Program! 

The Invictus Gymnastics Program is geared towards all level of athletes. The program consists of drills to help athletes improve in skills often seen in CrossFit, like handstand walks, muscle-ups (bar and ring), handstand push-ups, pistols and more. The program will help athletes not only improve their current gymnastics skills but will also help them become more efficient in their skills to avoid injury. And don’t worry, the sessions are broken into levels (Level I, Level II and Level III) so you can choose which level best suits you. The sessions can be added as a supplement to your current training program three days per week or as a stand-alone program.

Also Check Out…

4 Reasons You Struggle With Toes To Bar

Handstand Push-Up Negatives Explained

Follow The Steps – Don’t Be Too Eager To Progress

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