Importance of Scaling

 In Blog

The dreaded “S-word.” None of us like to hear it; we certainly don’t care for being told to do it. Yet this simple word is the basis of CrossFit’s style of programming.


Most of us believe that if we have enough requisite skill level with the particular movements of a workout then we should go RX, especially when it comes to external load (e.g. weight on the bar). This holds true regardless of how heavy the RX weight is compared to our maxes. And as fun and challenging as it is to grind through a tough workout using a really heavy weight there is one very important question you need to ask yourself, or better yet, your coach, before you start throwing weights on the bar— what is the intended training stimulus of the workout?

CrossFit is defined as constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity. Of these three, some would argue that the intensity level of the workout is most important. But how does the program designer ensure that the intensity level of a certain workout is the same for everyone across the board? Quick and simple answer —scaling. Scaling the movements/weights so that you can finish the work at the desired intensity level and within the intended time frame is the best way to ensure you are getting the appropriate training adaptation. Ignoring these factors just for the sake of clicking the RX button could cause you to train a completely different energy system than the program intended, which could lead to less than optimal results in the long run. As an example, let’s take a look at a potential metcon for a CrossFit class:


Thrusters Toes-to-Bar

RX: 95/65

In this example, let’s say that the intent of the workout was maximal intensity with a sub-5 minute completion time. If you were to complete this workout at your highest intensity level, you would be training your VO2 Max energy system (following Training Think Tank’s energy systems training model). This would essentially require all reps to be unbroken for the entirety of the workout; thrusters most importantly. If you embark upon this workout and decide to load the bar with the RX weight but have to drop the bar two or three times every set, you are likely not training at your VO2 Max intensity level. Now, instead of finishing in sub-5 minutes with extremely high intensity, you finish in 9 minutes using more of a work-rest pattern. The intensity level has dropped and the time frame has been extended, therefore you are training an entirely different energy system. This could disrupt the overall design of the training program and cause you to experience less optimal or slowed training adaptations.

Of course, some of us will not be able to complete the workout at the ideal intensity level even after scaling. If this is you, do not be discouraged. It is expected, especially for those that are newer to CrossFit, this will occur to some athletes and that is okay. Over time you will develop the required amount of local muscular endurance and aerobic capacity to be able to complete these workouts at the desired intensity. But for those that are developed enough to perform at the intended intensity level and don’t because you chose to go heavier, you may want to rethink your decision. Completing the workout as intended will lead to better adaptations to training in the long run.

So, before choosing to do RX for the sake of doing RX, talk to your coach. Find out what the intent of the workout is and whether or not they think you should complete it

RX. Sometimes it may be more beneficial for you to go a little slower so that you can break mental barriers in regards to heavy weights, or for you to do RX gymnastics skills so that you can develop the muscular endurance to do those skills at a higher intensity. In the end, the coaches you work with day in and day out will know what’s best for you specifically and can help you make the proper decision. No matter what, be smart about your training and make sure you have fun!
—Coach Jonathan

By Jonathan Poole at Unstoppable Athletes

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