Scaling Workouts – Not Just For Beginners

The mantra of CrossFit is that all workouts are infinitely scalable. There is a misconception that this means making the workout easier. It isn’t. Scaling a workout is about preserving the intensity without risking injury. There is no way a beginner should do “Murph” as required; however running 400M and doing five rounds of five band-assisted pull-ups, 10 push-

Greg thinks maybe he should scale this one!

Scaling workouts isn’t just for newbies. Even experienced CrossFit athletes need to scale workouts.

ups and 15 squats, followed by a 400M run preserves the intensity of the workout. Conversely if you can blast through “Murph” in less than 30 minutes you need to increase the intensity by using a weighted vest.

Not long ago our gym posted CFG Open 12.2. This workout is a snatch ladder proceeding from 75lbs/45lbs to 135lbs/75lbs to 165lbs/100lbs and finally 210lbs/120lbs. The ladies had no issue scaling, understanding that mastering correct technique was more important than the load. I wish I could say the same for the guys. This is exactly the type of situation where injury will happen. Fortunately our coaches insisted on scaling and the guys got an intense, injury-free workout.

Everyone has to scale a workout at some point. In the spring a couple of friends and I did the “Lumberjack 20,” a long Hero workout that mixed heavy lifts with burpees, pull-ups and running. We all scaled loads in order to preserve the intensity of the workout. It was still a challenge even if I dropped the required 85lb overhead squat to a more doable 65lbs.

When it comes to scaling a workout everyone is different. Beginners often do not know what they are capable of and can be too conservative. This happened recently with a new member and wall balls. I started out suggesting doing only 50 reps of the 150 required, but by the 40th wall ball I told the member to do 75. The increase in volume was because he wasn’t struggling with them. Of course the change mid-workout elicited a rather dirty look, but I’m over it.

There are some rules when it comes to scaling. If you have to ask what a movement is then you need to scale the workout. That tells us that you haven’t been practicing the movement beyond what is required in a workout and are not proficient with the technique. If you are sore or injured you must scale a workout. That should be common sense, but it isn’t.

If you don’t want to scale workouts there are several things you can do. First, practice your skills. Handstand push-ups, pull-ups, pistol squats and double unders just take time to master. Second, get strong. You will never rx “Fran” if you cannot lift more than the required weight for thrusters. Similarly, skipping out on snatch and clean progressions means you will never develop the proficiency necessary to lift heavy loads. Finally, keep working your basic lifts. Building a heavy squat, deadlift and press will increase your fitness exponentially.

You need to look at scaling workouts as one step in your fitness progression. At first you start with less weight and fewer rounds, but as your strength and proficiency improves you repeat the same workout, but add more weight or do all the required rounds. Before you know it you’re hitting the workout requirements with ease. That is the beauty of the infinity scalable nature of CrossFit.

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