Removing the Stigma of Scaling

By: Coach Joe Lednicky

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Scaling is GOOD.  Seriously, though.  Not only is it good, it’s GREAT.  At ECCF, we encourage our athletes to scale.  If you want to continue to see progress, grow as an athlete, hit heavier lifts, work towards more advanced movements, avoid injury, build resilience and enjoy a lifestyle of fitness forever, we need to see scaling in a new light.

In the early days of CrossFit, there was a stigma around scaling a workout.  Being “scaled” or “modified” felt like it was frowned upon. It felt like if you didn’t get an Rx by your name, your workout was somehow “lesser than…”.  Most gyms even had 2 sides of the board: scaled on one side, and Rx’d on the other. While a negative view of scaling was created, that wasn’t the original intention.  The intention was to encourage growth. The original Rx’d was developed to give athletes something to strive towards. With time and training in the program, coaches wanted to see their athletes getting stronger, advancing to higher level movements and continuing to progress.  So, pushing for that Rx’d workout was encouraged! But along the way, some negative results crept in.

First, athletes would jump to Rx’d weights and movements before they were ready.  Too much weight, too many reps and not enough focus on good movement. At it’s best, this would lead to feeling beat up by workouts, missing the intended stimulus or cutting corners.  At its worst - injury. Second, athletes would value their place on the leaderboard above improving their fitness. Rather than a training (growing) opportunity, every day’s WOD was a competition of egos.  Where you placed on the leaderboard became more important than things like a good workout, or hitting the intended stimulus! Third, when athletes were ready to move beyond Rx’d, they wouldn’t. Why would they?  They’d arrived! So why not compete at Rx’d and try to be top dog?

Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely want to see our athletes progressing.  Moving up in weight, getting rid of the bands, getting more ROM on those Handstand Push-Ups - these are all good things! But, going Rx’d shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should always be to move with excellence as you push your own limits. 

Let’s look at an example of proper scaling for 2 different athletes.  Athlete 1 (Jimmy) & Athlete 2 (Sophia) come in for a Monday WOD and they see the following on the whiteboard:


5 Rounds For Time:

200m Run

12 KB Russian Swings 53#/35#, Rx+: 70#/53#

12 Pull-Ups, Rx+: 4/2 Bar Muscle-Ups

Jimmy has been a member at ECCF for 4 Months.  He had a blast in Fundamentals and has been seeing some great progress in his lifts and conditioning.  Jimmy loves the weights but still struggles with some gymnastics movements. He is often the last to finish his workouts, which isn’t his favorite.  He’s injury free, although he’s still sore from Coach Deeter’s brutal Friday workout!

Sophia has been a member at ECCF for 6 years.  She has fully drunk the Kool-Aid and comes 5 days a week to her favorite class.  She has seen a lot of progress over the years! She usually Rx’s her workouts with a few rare exceptions.  She is fast, fit and loves to push the pace! She has always wanted a Bar Muscle-Up but has yet to get her first one.

Okay, now let’s take a look at how both athletes should scale today’s WOD to help them best meet their fitness goals!

Jimmy’s Scaled WOD:

4 Rounds For Time:

200m Run

12 KB Russian Swings 62#

6 Banded Pull-Ups (green band) + 6 Jumping Pull-Ups

Now let’s look at the reasons for Jimmy’s scaled choices.  First, we brought Jimmy’s WOD down by 1 round.  We’ll encourage Jimmy to continue to push the pace in his workouts, but until he is able to build up his engine, it is good for him to reduce the volume to hit the intended stimulus of the workout!  Next, we’ll encourage Jimmy to scale up his Russian Swings!  His swings have been looking and feeling great and he’s been swinging the 53# KB with ease, so let’s go for it!  Lastly, we’ll continue to work on building Pull-Up strength (strict banded) while also pushing the pace of his workout (jumping). 

The aftermath: Jimmy finishes in the middle of the pack, is super stoked to have swung the 62# KB and feels like he’s making progress towards his first Pull-Up.  Great work, Jimmy! Fistbumps from everyone!

Jimmy then logs his results so that he knows exactly what he’s done for the next time he sees these movements. 

Sophia’s Scaled WOD:

5 Rounds For Time:

200m Run

12 KB Russian Swings 44#

4 Banded Bar Muscle-Ups

Let’s look at the reasons for Sophia’s scaled choices.  First, while it took some convincing (and a promise that we’d let her fly Rx’d tomorrow!), we were able to persuade Sophia to work on her Muscle-Up instead of cruising through today’s 12 Pull-Ups.  While Sophia is scaling, she’s scaling up in order to work on her weakness and work towards her long-term goal!  Then, while she grabbed the 53# KB at first, we decided to take it down 1 notch so that she could focus her energy into the Banded Bar Muscle-Ups.

The aftermath: Sophia feels great about her workout!  She was able to push hard on the Run & KB Swings with quick transitions.  And great news! During the WOD, her Banded Bar Muscle-Ups were feeling so strong that she was able to link her first 2 together and she got one after class with less bands!  She’s pumped and feels like her first Bar Muscle-Up is finally within her reach!

Sophia logs her results and records her Bar Muscle-Up firsts on the PR Board!  Fistbumps from everyone for Sophia!

Both Sophia & Jimmy had a great Monday workout.   They both hit the intended stimulus of the workout by scaling the workout appropriately to their unique fitness needs and goals.  They left the gym feeling like they got more than just a great workout - they are seeing tangible evidence of their progress.  Plus, they got to do all of this with expert coaching and their amazing ECCF community of athletes! What could be better?

So, you see, we need to change the stigma of scaling.  Scaling isn’t a bad thingScaling, done correctly, is a wonderful thing!  The question shouldn’t be “did you have to scale your workout?” and should instead be “how did you scale your workout to meet the goals of the workout and work towards improving your fitness and meeting your goals?”  Your Coaches are all on board - you’ll hear us talking more and more about scaling your workout appropriately. And, we’re here to help! Ask us for our recommendations - you know how we love to talk!  

Get after it, ECCF!  We can’t wait to see you in the gym!