What is Scaling?

CrossFit WODs are typically programmed as Rx’d (as prescribed). Scaling a WOD allows any athlete to complete the same workout, irrespective of skills and level of fitness, simply by changing the required weights and/or movements in order to deliver the same level of intensity. Scaling essentially means that the intensity of the workout are altered according to one’s fitness level.

The ability to scale workouts in CrossFit is what makes it so inclusive. It is the reason why everyone, no matter what level of fitness, can do CrossFit. There is a scaling option for every exercise. Weights, movements and even workouts can be scaled appropriately.

  • Scaling a workout allows everyone to complete the WOD at their own level.
  • Both movements and weights can be scaled.
  • Everyone can benefit from scaling a workout at some point in their CrossFit journey.
  • There are ways to scale a workout in a safe manner.

Understanding Scaling

Many who are new to CrossFit assume that they need to be wildly fit in order to do any workout, particularly those written up on the whiteboard. This is often what actually prevents many people from trying CrossFit. Scaling is what makes CrossFit available to any fitness level.

Everyone can benefit from scaling a workout. Novice CrossFitters initially need to learn how to move properly and with confidence by scaling their workouts. Intermediate to advanced CrossFit athletes can work on both their strengths and their weaknesses by scaling the WOD. Even the most advanced athletes will occasionally scale a workout if they are working through an injury or simply if they are trying to tone down workouts to help recovery.

How to scale correctly

Many CrossFit boxes will write up a workout with both the Rx and scaled options. For those who are still uncertain of how to best scale the workout for their abilities, it is always best to ask a coach for help.

A correctly scaled workout will preserve the desired outcome of the workout.

Scaling while preserving the desired outcome means that one (or more) of the subsequent must be adapted:

Reps or Rounds:
Scale by carrying out fewer rounds at the prescribed intensity and weight, or by completing fewer reps of a particular exercise.

Complete the same reps and rounds but drop the prescribed weight. For some athletes this might mean swapping a weighted movement to a bodyweight movement, while for others this could be removing 5-10lbs off the prescribed weight, so that they can complete the workout at the desired intensity.

If there is a movement or skill that an athlete has yet to master, the workouts can be scaled by substituting the movement with a movement that is similar to the Rx’d exercise. For example, if the WOD has pull ups these can be scaled by using an elastic band, completing ring rows, essentially finding a way to complete the exercise that maintains a level of intensity. For metabolic exercises – such as rowing, cycling or running – scaling may entail a decreased distance or intensity level.

When do you need to scale workouts?

It is always safe to assume that a workout or movement should be scaled when trying it for the first time. Additionally, it is wise for athletes to scale workouts where they feel they cannot maintain correct form throughout. The goal with any given workout is to maintain high intensity and perfect technique.

  • The prescribed weights are close to 1-rep max
    If the WOD calls for high repetitions of a weight that is close to maximum effort it is best (and safest) to scale the weight.
  • The workout contains a movement that an athlete cannot execute
    It goes without saying if the workout calls for a movement that an athlete has not yet mastered they will have to scale accordingly.
  • Difficulty stringing together multiple repetitions
    If the workout calls for a high number of a certain movement that an athlete is unable to string together at high reps it may be best to scale. For example, for those just learning double-unders if the workout has very volume it might make more sense to do a scaled version. Consider this with other movements like toes-to-bars and pull-ups, as well.
  • Physical limitations
    If an athlete has any physical limitations, these may be related to injuries or a number of other factors, scaling the workout will make it more attainable and leave them with a sense of real satisfaction.
  • For those who are new to CrossFit
    It is always safe, and advised, to start off by scaling workouts and progressively work up towards Rx’d WODs.
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Steph Contomichalos

Stephanie is a sports enthusiast, an avid crossfitter, wakeboarder and yogi. An advocate for women’s sport who strongly believes in the use of sport as a tool for development. She is currently living in Athens, Greece where she runs a hiking and yoga wellness retreat.

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