Scaling and Modifying Workouts

Jamie Hardman
May 17, 2022
Scaling and Modifying Workouts

Scaling and modifying are something we as coaches mention often. If you’re an “I RX no matter what!” person, this read is for you.

Scaling can be simply explained as following the stimulus for the workout and using movement modifications (while listening to the needs of your body). If you pay attention, your body actually tells you a whole lot. Coach Kannon talked about warming up last week and your body usually tells you everything you need to know right before your workout including what to scale!

Modification options are widely available for CrossFit movements which is one big reason CrossFit is for everyone. Communicating with your coach about what’s going on for you will help them choose the most equivalent scaling option for you. It’s our job to provide a safety net for you during your workouts but it is your job to communicate what your needs are that day because everyday they should be different.

Choosing your own scaling options without communicating with your coach can often cause progression plateaus. How long have you been doing banded pull-ups but still can’t get one strict? How long have you been doing chest-to-bar instead of bar muscle ups? These examples are not to call anyone out, I promise; they are movement and scaling options we see often and sometimes for years with the same athlete. We are here to be asked questions and promise to give you answers in your best interest as an athlete. I know it’s easy to assume the modification for yourself but please do ask. I know I do, even as a coach, in every class I go to that I know l or wonder if I need a scaling option.

How do you know if you should RX a workout? There aren’t many athletes that RX day in, day out without modifying here and there and if they don’t, you better believe their recovery is top notch and they haven’t always been that way. Doing RX is (for most) the ultimate goal but not if it’s detrimental to your everyday life activities. CrossFit provides functional fitness but what good is that if you threw out your back on deadlifts and now can’t pick up a sock off the floor? That’s why we are serious about programming stimulus and percentages. Log your numbers in SugarWOD (ask Coach Dan how if you don’t know what that is) and calculate accordingly. Most athletes don’t “max out” often and there is good reason for it. All of the accessory work, high reps with low weight, and varying stimulus are what you need to improve your capacity as an athlete. This might mean that your one “forever” weakness requires extra programming from a qualified source or extra work outside of class on your end but you truly have to be willing to put your ego aside and forego an RX... or two.

Modifying movements is for everyone and the modification should be providing the same stimulus as the rest of the athletes in the room. Scaling doesn’t mean easier; it means that it’s the movement that your body needs most to stay healthy and to reach your goals. If you’re injured, don’t stop coming. All movements can be subbed and modified for your personal needs.

What’s the difference between scaling/modifying and adapting? Adaptive and scaling workouts are often confused. In my certification courses it has become very clear to me that they are not one-in-the-same. If an athlete has a permanent limitation (i.e. below the elbow amputee, bionic elbow, seated athlete (one who uses a wheelchair)) then their modification options are termed “adaptive” movements/workouts. This allows the athlete to perform movements at their varying levels as RX. If you want more info on this check out the Adaptive Training Academy and the CrossFit Adaptive Division or send me a message. Inclusivity for all humans is on the horizon for CrossFit and that brings my heart so much joy. Should we have adaptive athletes at our gym, it would be ideal to have all athletes do the same workout from time-to-time so no one is excluded or doing different movements from the rest all the time. Even not being an adaptive athlete, I know it makes me feel good to do some workouts everyone can do like ones with jumping pull-ups for example. The adaptations also follow the workout stimulus.

Following the stimulus of the workout is something a coach should present to the class during the whiteboard talk of the hour. You need to know if you’re supposed to be breathing fire, completing maximum unbroken reps, or pacing accordingly to be in it for the long haul. If you’re not sure, ask. The modifications we offer will meet the goals of the workout.

The goal of RX is the ultimate functional fitness, which hopefully brings you to successful results on the daily leaderboard and in competitions. If you’re RX in daily classes and have done The Open RX or things like that you should likely also be competing at that same level. If you’re not sure which level you should be competing at, chat with the coaches who work with you everyday. It’s good to challenge yourself in that atmosphere. You’ll learn so much about your strengths and limitations, and you’ll have more experience with movement weaknesses to come back to the gym and work on. We’re here to help you get to the top, so use us and scale as needed to help you progress along the way. Be kind to your body, you’re going to want to use it at full capacity for as long as you can. We can help you do that.

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