Guitars And Workouts…

When I was getting up close to my 45th birthday and pushing 215 pounds… I knew I had to make some changes…

I used to be an avid cyclist, riding usually close to 200 miles a week, and that kept me down between 175 and 185, but it had been a few years since I’d ridden regularly, and it showed.

I actually like exercising, and I’d tried a few of the usual gym chains and tried to get into a routine but it really wasn’t working out. I also tried a couple of Crossfit gyms because I liked the idea of combining weight training with endurance training and the variety on a day to day basis.

Fortunately, after a few shaky starts, I started to get into a groove (which means I found the right coach/teacher), and can now tell you that not only am I back around 180 or less, I feel better than I have in years… but that’s not really the point (I just didn’t want to leave you hanging with that.)

You see, one of the main things about Crossfit is that every WOD (Workout Of the Day) is scalable – and that’s a really important concept.

If the workout involves doing 10 bench presses at bodyweight, and you can’t do even 1 at your bodyweight, 2 bad things will happen:

  1. You will fail the workout, and feel like this is too hard and likely quit.
  2. No matter how hard you try, you won’t get a very good workout or make much progress getting fitter because you won’t actually do anything. Pushing on a bar that’s not going to move isn’t doing much for you in the long run.

On the other hand, let’s say that you are realistic with yourself and say, “There’s no way I can do that, but maybe I could do 10 at half my body weight?”

When you do that, 2 GOOD things will happen:

  1. You will probably succeed at the workout, and feel better on the other side. That good feeling leads to more workouts and more progress!
  2. You will get a good workout because you will actually do work. Your muscles will work, go through their range of motion, and you will get your heart rate up and enjoy al of the benefits of your exercise session.

But… you might think, what if you can’t even do half your body weight?

No problem, do an empty bar if you have to, but scale to what is difficult and not impossible.

When you play guitar, you can scale what you play in a few different ways:

  1. If the rhythm figure (strum pattern, riff, etc.) is too hard to you to do while changing chords, just play quarter note down strums on the down beats and worry about changing the chords.
  2. If the lick is too fast, slow it down. If it’s still too fast, slow it down more. If it’s still too fast, slow it down more (get the idea?)
  3. If you feel like you can’t count out loud while you play, slow down and put the counting first and make the notes match, not the other way around.
  4. If playing a full barre chord is too hard, play just the lowest 2 or 3 notes and let your first finger mute the rest of the strings out.
  5. If there is a certain chord that is too hard, try substituting a similar chord that might sound just as good (E7 in place of E9, for example.)

And there are probably dozens of other little ways you can make certain songs or lessons easier as you need to. Later on, you can scale them up, but you’ll actually improve faster by keeping things reasonable now.


  • Art

    Reply Reply December 12, 2018

    Hmmmm,, I guess it sounds like ok advice. I am self taught but, maybe it’s a fault, but a perfectionist. Which, btw, means songs like Prince Let’s Go Crazy or The Doors Roadhouse Blues takes me a good week to learn. Make no mistake, I’m a 58 y/o retired guy, so when I say a week I mean playing it 500 times a day and recording it, listening to my mistakes and correcting as needed. After 3,000 times recording it in a week and listening to my mistakes it suddenly just falls into place. Problem is ya better keep playing it a a few times a day then. Give a song a two week hiatus and it’s almost like starting over. But that hiatus means I was learning another song

  • Suzanne

    Reply Reply October 18, 2018

    It’s always good to read about someone else’s practical, self -compassion in relation to how they build on a skill or practice.
    Thanks Griff!

  • michael hechler

    Reply Reply October 18, 2018

    Thanks Griff, point taken 🙂

  • Jameel

    Reply Reply October 18, 2018

    Thanks for the great advice! It took me 3 straight months every day to this point to put all the notes and timing together for the 2 solos in Clapton’s Crossroads. Breaking it into really small chunks and practicing each chunk til I got it down was the only way. At times even the small chunks seemed overwhelming but I never gave up. Still not quite up to Clapton speed but it still sounds killer even at 80%. Your courses and advice are fantastic!

  • Doc W

    Reply Reply October 18, 2018

    So I’m not the only 68 year old that has problems with speed… Good to know… and great advice Griff..

  • jean dominique

    Reply Reply October 17, 2018

    That is BGU is so valuable.,except for voice singing

  • Tony D

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Great advice Griff, thank you. I’ve been working on the improv Jerry’s for a bit now and getting the lick #, the chord and the counting all organized has been a chore. Today after reading the blog, I slowed the backing track to 50%. Guess what, I can now do all 3. I’ll continue at 50% until I can do it with my eyes shut and having a snooze. thanks again Griff
    cheers Tony

  • Joe W.

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    With regard to Griffs advice to slow down, I strongly recommend Video Surgeon and Song Surgeon. I am working on BGU2 solo #3 which has some difficult licks timing wise. I started at 60% working on licks 1-4. I am now up to 80-85% on licks 1-7. It gives much feeling of accomplishment to play it correctly regardless of the speed and feels even more awesome as you improve your speed over time. I use the Video surgeon until I get the entire solo down then switch to Song Surgeon with just the backing track. I’m constantly getting that awesome feeling of accomplishment as I am able to move the speed bar higher!

  • Eel1948

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    In the words of Bob Wiley…….”Baby Steps”

  • Sonny L

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Wise words. I’m 69 and seemingly can’t get a groove going in the gym or on the guitar. I’ve lost my callouses and can’t seem to get my rear off the couch

    • bobjnm

      Reply Reply October 16, 2018

      Sonny, you just described me, except instead of the couch, it’s this stupid computer.

      When I get to the gym, I do well. It’s just getting to the gym.

      When I put down the laptop and pick up the guitar, I can practice. It’s just putting down the laptop.

      I’m starting to see a pattern. Bye!

  • David

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Thanx Griff, you are the first teacher (physical or in books) that has been generous enough to tell me that full barre chords are not the holy grail. Fret what you can. The rest will be muted anyway and therefore won’t ruin the chord (to any important degree). One day these muted notes might begin to actually “sound”. And if they don’t — so what? It’s only rock n roll. Why didn’t I get this earlier.

  • Ian h

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    This is superb advice for a guitarist like me who has come to the game late(67) but has always loved and wanted to play acoustic guitar. No surprise, I get frustrated from time to time trying to master even the simplest things at times. Sooo I break it down, slow it down, adapt. It keeps me playing, advancing and loving this instrument. This blog post is a great affirmation that I am on the right track! Thanks!

  • DaveyJoe

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    inch by inch anything’s a cinch! Thanks Griff!


  • Maurice

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Thank you.

  • Elio

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Great advice! As long as you are doing something withing reach, you are contributing toward your end-goal in some way.

  • Jim Wiggin

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018


  • Rick Mills

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    A lot of beginners have trouble with the F chord try F major 7 an Don’t play the top string, same thing.

    • CW

      Reply Reply October 21, 2018

      Rick, try to incorporate your fret hand thumb on the bass F note using Fmaj7 chord

  • John Sewell

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    I ordered your learn classic guitar or blues on line last year as a down load . I should have ordered the DVD’s.
    What happened is my computer crashed . And lost it all . I can’t remember how to get back into my account. Can you help me and or can I get the DVD’s.
    Thanks John 216-544-0519.

  • Russ

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Excellent. This is probably the most important concept I have learned and wish someone had told me in the beginning. Otherwise, my guitar playing would have ended at the F chord.

  • Evan Miller

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    I face both dilemmas. I can’t do as much in the weight room anymore, and my chord changes aren’t as proficient as I would like. Your advice is very helpful.
    Thanks much,

  • Dave McKenna

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Once again Griff, you have let the genie out of the bottle for me. A simple idea yet very practical. Wonder if you could make us a short video that might apply this to Doc Watsons Deep River Blues? I have tried for a long time to find a way to do the chord changes on that song but every time I just throw my hands up in despair and move on to something else.
    Keep those cards and letters coming! Thanks for all you do for us.

  • Scott Weil

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    I have been playing for 18 months and have done each of the 5 things he listed as I learn and get more comfortable. Adding a 6th technique, sometimes when a song is a bit too complicated, I will just play the bass note of each chord to get the feel for the progression, then power chords, then full chords. What is wonderful here is that I felt like I was cheating, cutting corners a bit. Griff is giving us permission to do this, saying its part of the natural learning progression.

    • Ray Schwanenberger

      Reply Reply October 16, 2018

      Scott I too have taken Griffs recommendations had had good success. Your suggestion of base notes, power chords to full chords is a fantastic idea. Thanks

  • Pete B

    Reply Reply October 16, 2018

    Wise words Griff. Do what you can nearly do, NOT what you can’t YET.

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