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The Gymnastics-Inspired Move Your Body Craves When Sitting All Day

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Recently, however, CrossFit took a page from the gymnastics handbook and added scales to a workout of the day (WOD). But what the heck are they, and what are their exercise benefits?

What Is a Scale?

Turns out, there are two main variations of the movement: The front scale and the back scale. Both movements involve balancing on one leg and lifting the opposing leg out in front (front scale) or back behind you (back scale) while keeping your core engaged and arms in a “T” out to the side.

While it may look simple, it’s not. “They’re a challenge,” says Stacie Tovar, co-owner and coach at CrossFit Omaha. You’re not just standing on one leg haphazardly. Rather, your whole body is engaged. “They’re the perfect skill to practice and improve in the areas of flexibility, strength, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy,” she says.

In addition, “both are simple bodyweight movements that can be done anywhere with no equipment,” says Emily Breeze Ross Watson, a two-time Crossfit Games team athlete. Whether you’re a gymnast, CrossFit athlete, or neither, you can incorporate scales into your workout routine to enhance your fitness. Learn everything you need to know below.

How to Perform a Front Scale

A. Begin by standing with feet hip-width apart. Extend arms out to the side in a “T” so they’re at or above shoulder height.

B. Locate a point directly ahead and concentrate on it to maintain a neutral position for your neck and head. Pull your shoulders back and down to engage your lats and draw your belly button toward your spine to activate the core.

C. Shift your weight onto the right leg. (“Grab the ground with every surface of your foot, including your toes and heels,” says Tovar.) Then, by squeezing your glutes and quads, gradually raise your left leg straight up in front of you while keeping it straight.

D. Lift the leg as high as it can go, then maintain that position while keeping your back straight, chest lifted, arms extended, and shoulders engaged.

Sustain your position as much as you are able to, targeting a duration of 30 to 60 seconds in one go. Afterward, alternate your limbs and replicate the action.

Front Scale Form Tips

-Consider tucking the rib cage under to effectively engage the core. Maintain an upright chest and pull the shoulders back to prevent curving the spine forward.

-Lift only as high as you can without sinking the chest, bending the base leg, or twisting the arms.

“If your knee starts to bend or your chest dips forward, lower your leg until you can maintain perfect posture and alignment,” says Breeze.

How to Perform a Back Scale

A. Begin by standing with feet hip-width apart and arms extended in a “T” shape at shoulder height. Activate the quads and arms in this position, advises Tovar.

B. Shift your weight onto the right leg and firmly plant the entire foot on the floor. Gradually lift the left leg straight back while keeping the head as upright as possible, according to Tovar. As you lift the leg, hinge at the hips to lower the torso slowly.

C. Continue lifting the back leg and lowering the torso until the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder form a straight line parallel to the floor, or until the trunk or limbs start twisting from side to side or the right leg begins to wobble—whichever occurs first, states Tovar.

D. Engage the glutes and quads, extend the fingers out to the sides, and pull the shoulders back and away from the ears to activate the lat muscles. Maintain control for as long as possible, aiming for 30 to 60 seconds. Then, switch legs and repeat.

Back Scale Form Tips

-Focus your gaze on a point about six feet in front of you to assist with balance.

-Contract your quads and glutes when you feel your balance waning.

-Ensure that your torso does not dip below the level of your back leg.

-Lift the back leg only as high as you can without twisting your torso or arms to the side.

How to Modify the Exercise

…No pun intended. Unable to bring your leg parallel to the floor with proper form? Don’t worry: “Even if it’s just a few inches off the ground, if you can stand on one leg and raise the other leg either in front or behind you…congratulations! You are performing a scale!” says Tovar.

Instead of lifting your leg to a 90-degree angle in front or behind you, you can practice raising it just a few inches off the ground in each direction, she suggests. “You can also hold onto a wall, countertop, etc. to help maintain balance.”

The Advantages of Scales

What makes scales so fantastic, exactly?

Strengthen your core and enhance balance: Firstly, they can aid in strengthening your core, improving balance, and enhancing stability, says Breeze.

Enhance ankle mobility: Scales also provide a low-impact way to improve ankle mobility and strengthen the muscles surrounding the ankle. “Ankle mobility is crucial for performing squat movements correctly and efficiently,” states Breeze. If you have tight and/or weak ankles, when you perform any variation of squats, your ankles may lift off the ground, which over time can lead to pain in the knees and hips. “Ankle mobility is even important for everyday functional movements such as walking, running, and going up the stairs,” she explains.

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Enhance your posture: “When executed correctly, scales can aid in cultivating postural consciousness,” states Tovar. Scales will educate you on the positioning of your limbs in relation to your midline—which is exceptionally crucial for improving your posture and enhancing compound, intricate movements such as the squat clean, squat snatch, and overhead squat.

Evaluate muscle imbalances: Since scales are a unilateral exercise—meaning you work one leg at a time—they also provide an opportunity to identify any muscle asymmetries and mobility imbalances. For example, if you find it significantly easier to perform a scale on your right leg compared to your left, it indicates that your left leg is weaker. Or, during a back scale, if you can bring your right leg closer to parallel with the ground than your left, it implies that your left hip flexor and hamstring are likely tighter than those on the right side. Incorporating more unilateral exercises, such as pistol squats, forward lunges, reverse lunges, side lunges, and, yes, scales(!), is an excellent approach to rectify these muscular imbalances.

How to Incorporate Scales into Your Workout

Scales are classified as skill-based exercises, meaning that while they require precision in movement, they won’t exhaust you cardiovascularly. That’s why Breeze suggests adding scales to your warm-up “to prepare for a workout involving numerous squats” or as “skill-work after your main workout to enhance balance, core strength, and ankle stability.” (By the way, if you haven’t tried a barbell backsquat before, here’s how to do it).

Once you have mastered front and back scales, you can experiment with more challenging variations, such as side scales, front-to-back scales, back-to-front scales, scale holds, weighted scales, or even scales on a balance beam. Since these variations are more demanding, you could incorporate them as exercises within a circuit or an EMOM-style workout.

While you engage in zero-equipment gymnastics movements, you might as well attempt the L-sit or handstand push-up.

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