The Pros and Cons of Scaling Crossfit Workouts

Scaling allows Crossfit training to be universal. But how do you know when it might be best to scale back the weights or try to RX the workout? How could scaling be helping or hindering your progress and fitness?

Scaling is the practice of altering the exercises within a workout to suit the fitness level of all the different athletes taking part. It allows athletes of all abilities, from professional to total beginner, to complete the same workout together. For example, a workout that involves 3 rounds of 10 muscle ups, 10 150 kg back squats and 50 double unders for a top flight athlete may be scaled to 3 rounds of 10 ring dips, 10 back squats with 30 kg, and 50 single unders for athlete that has not been doing Crossfit for long.

The major advantage is that both athletes are then able to experience a similar level of stimulus from the workout, despite the differences in their level of fitness.

THE NUMBER 1 REASON FOR SCALING IS SAFETY!

One of the golden Rules of Crossfit is: Leave your ego out!

But as with every rule, there are some athletes that often break it. In case of an athlete overestimating their ability during a WOD, it´s the Coaches task to scale the WOD in a proper way to suit and challenge the appropriate level for that athlete.  For example, when a workout calls for heavy deadlifts, many individuals will try to Rx the workout with a weight that is very close to, or else is, their PR, because they have moved that weight maybe once or twice before. As you know, performing a one rep max deadlift fresh and without fatigue is completely different to completing the same lift half way through a 20 minute metcon. The purpose of the deadlift must also be thought about in the wider context of the workout.

scaling crossfit workout
Scaling correctly will help you get the most out of every workout

Some coaches will allow for an athlete to Rx the WOD even with this information in mind. But this can lead to common faults as a result, such as the rounded back and a dangerous hoicking movement because the athlete needs some momentum to get the bar up and into full lockout.

Crossfit workouts are scaled to maintain the planned stimuli (the intention). A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue rising increased work capacity despite those limitations. In simpler terms, by scaling a workout, any athlete is able to get as much benefit from a workout according to their own ability level.

ABILITY LEVEL, QUALITY OF MOVEMENTS AND SCALING

Everyone has something to work on. Think about your gymnastic skills for example. If a movement is performed incorrectly, it could result in injury. Which leads back to reason 1: Safety.

Quality of movement forms the base for developing strength and ability. Without these aspects, every further movement will simply result in poor form. If an athlete RX’s an entire workout with terrible form, then they haven’t really Rx’d the workout at all. They also completely bypassed the benefits it was supposed to offer, and put themselves at a much greater risk of injury.

“Ahead of efficacy is safety.” —Greg Glassman, CrossFit Inc. Founder and CEO

On the other side of the coin, what happens when an athlete is overly cautious? When they still scale yet are probably capable of going RX.

FINDING THE BALANCE FOR SCALING

“Scaling is a great way to improve your weaknesses, but it´s not that easy to program correctly. When scaling about 50% of the people don’t train in that intensity they should”, says Mike McGoldrick from Barbell Shrugged.  

“If you aren’t doing a WOD Rx then you shouldn’t be able to do all the reps in a given set or round unbroken. If this is the case then you scaled yourself too much.”

They´re missing the point of the Workout and do not get the wanted stimulus out of the Workout. Therefore, the Coach needs to explain the purpose of the Workout.

“Scaling: The idea is to challenge yourself with all the exercises, neither holding back on a strength nor pushing too hard on a weakness.” – Clea Weiss

HOW TO SCALE EXERCISES

Crossfit scaling workouts table 1

scaling Crossfit exercises and WODs table 2

HOW SHOULD AN ATHLETE APPLY SCALING TO ACHIEVE THE BEST RESULTS?

“Scaling works takes planning and experience. There are various ways to scale. How to bring the most effective response is both sneaky and complex. You don’t always scale by reducing the duration of workout. Scaling correctly will increase work capacity more efficiently than attempting to complete workouts as prescribed before you’re ready for them. Accurately lowering the weight and achieving a faster time will actually result in a higher level of power.

But it is also critical to scale weight on workouts. You need to assess the point of the WOD. In CrossFit, one-rep max days exist for a reason: to build strength while struggling with a heavy load. If the WOD calls for 30 Snatches at 95 pounds, it’s clearly a met-con WOD. If you turn the workout into 30 single reps with a minute rest between, you clearly miss the point. Lowering the rep count, altering the movements themselves, and doing handicrafts with round and rep prescriptions are other options.” 

Clea Weiss Crossfit Journal


scaling crossfit workout © MC

Crossfit scaling workouts table 1 © Library.crossfit.com

scaling Crossfit exercises and WODs table 2 © Library.crossfit.com

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About The Author

Simon is the Assistant Editor at BOXROX.
He has been Sport addicted since childhood and comes from a swimming and bodybuilding backround to Crossfit, which he does for 4 years now and it still challenging him every day. He tries to combine his passions for sport and writing.

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