The Importance of Scaling Correctly

by Coach Steve

If you have been at CrossFit Inner Loop for any length of time, you have certainly heard the term “scale” as related to modifying the Workout of the Day (WOD). We often include notes about scaling within the written WOD itself, otherwise coaches will most certainly mention scaling options for various movements. Most of you also understand by now that scaling applies to not only the prescribed weights that are written, but to any movement in and of itself — whether that means substituting a different movement entirely (e.g., ring rows instead of pull-ups), or modifying a portion of the full movement (e.g., knee-assisted push-ups). Essentially, scaling means any deviation from performing the workout, including the understood standards of each movement, “as prescribed”  or “Rx.” With the Whiteboard and most people’s competitive natures, it is very easy to get caught up in performing the workout “Rx.” We wanted to clarify in this post why performing a workout “Rx” should NOT be your primary focus. Scaling is incredibly important — not only to ensuring your safety, but also to increasing your fitness! We want everyone to understand why it is not only important to scale in general, but to scale correctly.

Let’s back up. As a CrossFit Inner Loop athlete, the first thing you should ask yourself when you walk into the gym is “Why am I here today?”  The answer to that question should fall in line with your initial reason for starting CrossFit and your effort in the workout should reflect the goals you set for yourself (goal setting is another topic we will address separately).  For the vast majority of our members, what it boils down to is increasing your fitness level; i.e., by increasing your fitness level you will therefore be working to achieve one or more of your specific goals. CrossFit defines fitness as “increased work capacity across broad time, modal, and age domains,”(1) where work capacity is the ability to perform real physical work — as measured mathematically by the equation: Force x Distance / Time (which is average power). This is WHY we both control and record things like weight (Force), # of rounds/reps (Distance), and finish time (Time) — because, mathematically, each of these three elements can affect your work capacity — we need to first measure things before we can improve upon them. So as you can see, if you increase your work capacity then you will be increasing your fitness level. This means that one of your primary considerations, when figuring out if and how to scale a workout, should be what will help you maximize your work capacity.

Another primary consideration in scaling is ensuring that you are meeting the intended effect of the workout. You may not be aware of this, but all of the programming at CrossFit Inner Loop is developed by our coaches on a macro level; meaning that the workouts are thoughtfully planned out over a period of time to ensure both variety and progression for all athletes. This allows the coaches to put emphasis on developing different metabolic pathways and to help athletes develop new skills and strength linearly. Each workout we program has an desired stimulus (e.g., anaerobic, aerobic, etc.) — which often (not always) goes hand-in-hand with an intended time domain. Proper scaling of weight and movements can help with meeting the intended effect, meaning you are actually following the intended programming we have developed, and should be used as often as needed. If you are ever unsure of the intended effect of the workout, or how you should scale to achieve it, please talk to  your coach — this is one of the reasons they are there!

To reiterate both of the points above, scaling is not just for new athletes who may not be proficient in specific movements, or for those who are injured or have mobility limitations. Scaling is for everyone!  Scaling should not make the workout “easier,” allowing for you to finish way ahead of others, but should allow you to move through at a level of effectiveness to maintain the intention of the WOD.  Scaling takes many forms, and while you can scale a WOD up (Rx+), most athletes will need to scale down to achieve the intended effect. In the end, scaling correctly will increase work capacity more efficiently than attempting to complete workouts as prescribed (before you’re ready for them). Additionally, properly lowering the weight to achieve a faster time (in line with the intended time domain of the WOD) will actually yield a higher level of power.(2)

Rx’ing WODs should not be a goal you set for yourself, but rather a byproduct of achieving your goals through effective scaling.  And at the end of the day, clicking that blue “Rx” button when you log your workout results does NOT mean you are closer to achieving your goals, and can actually be detrimental if it was done at the cost of your work capacity. If you come to CrossFit Inner Loop to increase your fitness, scaling may be exactly what you need to see results faster.

(1) CrossFit’s New Three-Dimensional Definition of Fitness and Health


Categories: WOD

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