What is Customizing?
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt

A big part of Invictus-style of coaching and programming is the level of agency and freedom to personalize that we encourage our members to have – maybe you’ve heard me talk about it before… “CUSTOMIZE YOUR WORKOUT”.

Customizing is essentially taking opportunities in group classes to individualize the training session to better align with what you need or want. If Invictus was Burger King, it’d be our way of saying “have it your way”.

Why are workout customizations Important?

Customizing is important because while we try hard to write thoughtful programs at Invictus, there’s NO WAY that our daily whiteboard program is EXACTLY what each of our 400 members need…seriously, no program can promise that. We work hard to write one of the most inclusive and effective GPP (general physical preparedness) programs in the world, but an easy way to extract more value from this foundation is to customize your daily program when appropriate. In many industries, customizing is the NORM, because we’re not all carbon-copies of each other nor do we all want the same thing. 

Go to In-n-Out? 

Get a double-double…but not everyone wants lettuce or tomato, or monster style. If you really know what you’re doing, you can order off the “secret” menu to further customize your lunch.

Go to a car dealership?

Start with the base model, but if you are the adventure-type, add-on the 4×4 drivetrain, oversize wheels, and rugged interior liner VS the high-roller that wants all-leather trim, sun-roof, and self-parking capabilities. Customizing is the standard.

Go to the Fitness industry?

For a long time, “getting what you want/need” in the health and fitness industry was relegated to private 1:1 training sessions. But honestly, there’s a lot of benefit of training in a group setting that you lose in 1:1 spaces. It’s time that we normalize (and teach clients) how to customize workouts in the group training space! This isn’t CrossFit circa 2011. We can evolve beyond the binary constructs of “Rx and Scaled” and embrace the concept of “getting what you came for” while pursuing performance alongside others.

Below is a roadmap to elevate your group fitness experience.

Same Needs & Different Needs

You each vary on a multitude of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Prior training and sport history
  • Biological age and sex
  • Injury history, ROM, motor control
  • Sedentary or active lifestyles
  • Levels of personal and professional stress
  • Diverse performance and health goals

And that doesn’t even cover how you’re feeling that day, week, or month depending on what’s going on in your life – menstrual cycle, sleep schedule, dietary changes. So, customizations are a way for each client to evaluate, assess, and balance the intention of the workout with their own personal needs and intention for training that day.

*Notice, I did NOT say that customizations are a way to do less work, to make the workout easier, or to avoid something you’re bad at.

*”What you want” copy credited to Coach Sam from Invictus DC

Are customizations the same as scaling?

Naaaw, brosephina (surfer voice, here). That’s antiquated thinking. Customizations aren’t about scaling, they are about individualizing. Words really do matter. Think of customizations as a 360-degree, nebulous construct that can morph and adapt to any need you have.

Customizations can be PROGRESSIVE

Examples: changing a gymnastic skill to a more technical movement – strict pull-ups to rope climbs, static dips to ring muscle-ups, strict handstand push-ups to deficit handstand pushups. In rare cases, increasing weight.

Customizations can be REGRESSIVE

Examples: changing a skilled or technical movement to a version you have the strength to perform correctly to maintain the stimulus. Feet on box HSPU versus SHSPU. Or sandbag clean instead of a barbell clean. Eight calories on an Assault Bike instead of 15.

Customizations can be SUBSTITUTIVE 

(Did I just make that word up? Maybe.)   

Examples: You’re injured (acute or chronic) and know that certain volume, load, or movement patterns flare up the problem. Make a change – if back squat isn’t a good loaded squat variation for you, there are plenty of other ways to get legs as strong as an ox that better align with your body. Or maybe you came into class yesterday and did a lot of DB snatches in Motor class and they are programmed again in Performance & Fitness. Coach can make a lateral substitution for you.

How to Customize Like a Pro

  1. Get clarity on your goals, your current ability, and your biggest areas for growth/weakness. 
  2. Then get clarity on the type of training you need to do in order to actually meet those goals. 

Step 2 usually requires speaking with a coach. They can help you to understand opportunities you can look for to interject customizations into your group classes. 

For example: last month I talked to member Annette. As she ages, she wants to maintain her strength and coordination and admits that she doesn’t bounce back from injuries quickly anymore. We discussed the vital importance for women over age 40+ to incorporate strength training in the rep range of 3-5 periodically for hormonal response. Now in class, sometimes she adjusts reps and sets to provide this stimulus, or she chooses Muscle class more frequently than Performance & Fitness depending on the stimulus of the day.

Factors to Consider to Customize Appropriately

Consider your Injuries

Have a back injury? Maybe you can still deadlift without pain, but is doing so in a high-volume setting under mounting fatigue (i.e. – in conditioning WOD) the smartest way to train for you personally? Probably not. There are many other ways to get a similar stimulus with less risk to your back health. Talk to your coach and they can proactively guide you here. This would be a SUBSTITUTIVE CUSTOMIZATION.

Consider Your Short & Long Term Goals

Do you have a body composition goal, or a skill you want to improve? When applicable, insert work into your session that aligns with the skills and strength you’ll need to develop to attain your goals. Again, if your coach knows your goals, they can proactively guide you here.

Consider Your Readiness to Train

Consider how to balance your readiness to train today (what you need/want from the workout) with the workout’s intention. Maybe you’re barely sleeping because of work deadlines, or your partner just had a baby, or you have been going on bingers celebrating college graduation. Sometimes our body needs movement, but not intensity. If you walk into the gym on VO2 max power interval day or 1RM back squat test day, you may need to adjust your training volume or work-to-rest ratios to better suit what you need. The vice-versa is also applicable. You walk in ready to slam PR’s on a day where we’re hitting doubles at 80%…adjust the reps and GO FOR the heavy single!


I went to a coaching development seminar a while back, and at the start of the weekend, the keynote speaker said, “Make sure you get what you came for this weekend.” He was encouraging us to be active participants in our own professional development rather than passive consumers; Ask the questions you have, steer the conversation where you want, engage in the breakout sessions. This involved critical thinking with the material presented and some honest self-reflection throughout the weekend. I suggest you take the same mentality to your pursuits in health and fitness. Honestly…why would you settle for anything less? 

So, in the words of Logan Gelbrich from Deuce Gym in LA…“Get what you came for,” when you walk into class at Invictus.

Still uncertain of how to do this for yourself? Drop us a comment and let’s talk. I’m passionate and creative about helping clients unleash greater purpose and understanding in their training and how to train others.


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Trista Becker
Trista Becker
March 12, 2023 3:40 pm

How can I incorporate Crossfit with other sports like (on the water) rowing?

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