The Importance of Scaling Workouts

Every exercise, every workout, and every training session is designed to provide a certain stimulus. Whether the goal is to build strength or increase endurance, each and every portion of your training has a purpose and should be attacked in a certain way. With CrossFit, we have Rx or prescribed versions of every workout. These workouts are meant to be completed in a certain fashion and everyone may not be able to achieve the objective of the workout. This brings us to scaling options, which modify the workout in order to achieve the desired stimulus of the workout. Scaling can include decreasing the prescribed weights or reps or altering certain movements to maximize the workout.

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When choosing scaling options, first ask yourself, “What is the objective or the desired stimulus of the workout?” For example, if the workout is Fran, the Rx version calls for males to perform 21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pull-ups for time. The Rx weight for men is 95 lbs. An elite CrossFit athlete is completing Fran in sub-2 minutes, and a good Fran time is under 4 minutes. With that being said, let’s break down the movements and look at some scaling options. In order to get a sub-4 minute Fran, you have to be moving quickly and efficiently through the workout. If you cannot move the load (in this case 95 lbs.) efficiently than we should look into scaling the weight. Next, we have pull-ups. Can you do pull-ups unassisted? How many can you do in a row? There are 45 reps of each movement in this workout, and the thrusters will affect your grip for the pull-ups. There are many options to scale pull-ups including, band assisted pull-ups, jumping pull-ups and ring rows. Choose the option that gives you the best opportunity for the desired stimulus for the workout. Let’s just say, for example, a male is scaling Fran to 65 lbs. thrusters and jumping pull-ups. If this athlete finishes that workout in 5 minutes, I know that the workout was scaled properly because the stimulus is very close to the workout’s design. A scaled 5 minute Fran time is going to get this athlete more fit when compared to a 20 minute Rx Fran time. This is just one example of one workout, but the point being made is to consider the desired stimulus and then look and the prescribed weights, reps, and movements and then make a determination if you need to scale any part of the workout.

If you decide to scale a workout, you need to consider your abilities, the requirements of the task at hand, and the desired stimulus of the workout. If you need to modify certain movements due to injury, limitations, or lack of mobility then that is always an option. Remember every training program be safe and effective. If the movements are very technical and you need to scale them because you are not efficient at them, again, consider the objective of the workout. You can always spend time practicing movements, trying to increase proficiency with those certain movements. If a workout requires your maximal effort, then “practicing” certain movements while you are supposed to be moving quickly and efficiently through a workout is probably not the best idea. Whenever you are unsure, go back and consider the objective of that specific workout. Can you achieve the desired stimulus of the workout’s design without scaling?  If the answer is no, then consider each movements and scaling options for those movements. Lastly, pick the options that are going to get you the closest stimulus to the workouts design and will still challenge you physically. A scaled workout that achieves the proper stimulus always trumps an Rx workout that does not. There is nothing wrong with modifying workouts to improve fitness. Remember each time you step foot in the gym to work out, the goal is to become better than you were yesterday.

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