Scaling is relative.

by ~jenniferlynn on May 27, 2015

in CrossFit

Today I did one of the historically hardest workouts that I had ever done in my Crossfit history for the second time; but this time I did the WOD at 20# less. Yesterday, I completed Murph for my third time, both times prior I did it RX, though this week I scaled.

The old me was all about RX. I would long for the day when I could put those letters next to my name, and even would sometimes do a workout prescribed just because I physically could, not necessarily because it was the smartest choice. When I did “Grace” for the first time RX (30 clean and jerks for time) it was at about 90% of my 1RM; for 30 reps, that was a lot. But then I longed for the day when I could snatch 95# just so that I could add Isabel (30 snatches for time) to my list.

I can snatch 95# quite consistently now, but still Isabel is just a dream that seems far away.


Because now I train smarter.

And I realized in the past year, that it is not always about the RX next to your name, or even about the PRs (though will not deny for a second that I don’t celebrate each and every one of them!). But I do them when I’m primed for them, when my body has been working towards a certain goal and when I know that I am capable (though sometimes the Open may be an exclusion to this rule).

Since the Open ended, my focus has been on two primary goals: squats and pull-up work, eventually transitioning to a strict muscle-up. So the WODs? Great for conditioning, still need them in my life to make me feel somewhat able to sustain some cardio, but I am less concerned about doing the WOD as it is exactly written, or less concerned about making sure I am doing the weight RX.

I think this realization was encouraged by following Outlaw, which is programmed for more competitive, Regional-level athletes. Oftentimes, I can’t physically do the RX weight, or the WOD is at a weight so close to my max that it would be silly to even attempt it. So rather than stare at a bar for the length of the workout, I scale accordingly. I consider what would an competitive max weight be for a woman for a particular movement, and then scale my weight based on what my max is. So if a competitive athlete has a 150# max snatch and is doing a WOD at 75#, I should scale my WOD to 50% of my max. Got it?

It’s humbling at times, but the workouts are designed in a way that a chipper should be a chipper, not a one-rep-at-a-time-o-m-g-can’t-pick-this-up-anymore kind of workout. I relate it also to max lifts. Maxes are maxes for a reason, and a PR is sometimes a one-time thing that is not consistent, not often immediately duplicatable, and usually is a perfect-conditions type of phenomenon. RXing WODs is similar; sometimes you can RX a WOD and it is the right time and place; and sometimes it’s okay to scale back given the conditions.

there is no shame in scaling a workout

When I scale these workouts, it is not making me any less of an athlete, nor making it any “easier” for me; rather it is making it an appropriate workout for me, for my fitness level, for me at that point in time. I used to think I was being less of an athlete if I had to scale a weight or scale a movement, but for each person, for each day, the fact that you have made your way into the gym and done a workout at all is far more important than what weight you had to use.

I have been nursing some sort of tweak in my shoulder (ironically, I start training smarter post-Open, and now I end up with some silly injury of sorts..), so each WOD I have been presented with two options: skip it if it contains a movement that I can’t do, or sub a movement to something that I can.

Let me tell you- the amount of lunges and wall-balls I have done lately is ridiculous..

But, back to Murph.

So Murph I subbed ring rows instead of pull-ups. Ring rows are no joke if done properly, and you bet that every single squat rep and push-up was done as a valid rep; no bro-reps. If I was going to scale this workout, every rep was going to count. My time was quite a bit slower than the last two years, though physically – I’m much stronger. I’m less intimidated by the WOD and while my running isn’t spectacular, I didn’t think I was going to die afterwards. But it still was a challenging WOD, and scaled appropriately for me at that time.

Today, I did “Tommy Mac“, a workout with 120 burpees and 120 barbell reps of various movements. The RX was 75#, a weight that I could actually comfortably do, and did in November (though man, mental one for sure!!). I did 55# today (thrusters at 45#) to save my shoulder. Relative to me, and how my body is feeling today, this weight was more than ideal. I did it just about three minutes faster than November, but found it a more than appropriate scale as to not further injure myself, and believe me – any WOD that has 120 burpees scattered throughout will never go on an “easy” list, regardless of weight!

The point is, look at every workout, every gym session independently from the last and to the next.

Set the weight and movements of the WOD based on how you feel, which parts of your body are sore, how your grip is, how your fueling for the day has been, how your sleep was, how much stress you are under. I have gone into too many WODs where I come out on the other side, or in the middle feeling worse than I did when I started just because I put too much pressure on myself when we are here to have fun!

Everybody scales at some point in time to some degree, and everybody wishes they could do more in the moment, but the beauty of Crossfit is that there will always be something more to strive for!

Jen May 27, 2015 at 9:15 am


Jen @ Chase the Red Grape May 27, 2015 at 11:40 am

Yes yes yes! I was talking to David the other day about this exact subject and was planning on writing a post but you said everything I wanted to say! really pleased because it means we are not alone in our thinking!
I just wish that folk could leave their ego at the door and not turn their nose up at scaled. I have seen too many injuries because of pride.
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Amber May 27, 2015 at 11:49 am

Great post! Sometimes I feel like I *should* Rx because I know I can, but I know it’s not always the right choice. This morning’s WOD was a 6 minute AMRAP with 75 lbs snatches. I know I can snatch 75 lbs, but if I had Rxed it wouldn’t have been a sprint for me like it was supposed to be. I did 55 lbs instead and it was a great choice!
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Sandy May 27, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I did a podcast on a few weeks ago on Crossfit. What you’re explaining is what you learn is the crux of Crossfit when you do your Level 1. If coaches aren’t teaching this in On ramp then that’s a real problem. But I think usually it is as you said – athlete egos getting out of control and forgetting that scaling is critical and essential. It’s a huge part of Level 1. In the podcast I liken crossfit to golf. In golf, you have a “handicap” you subtract from your score. It allows you to play with a “better” golfer and even win. If an athlete isn’t scaling the way we were taught and how I went into on the podcast, then they’re not doing the word as they’re supposed to….as you said.

Sandy May 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Oops, worK not worD ; )

Madeline @ Whitewall Collective May 27, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I love this! This is what CrossFit is truly all about! Scaling is the most beautiful part of CrossFit, and training smart so you make the most gains is the best choice someone can make. For years I used to answer questions for CFHQ on how to scale for not only new community members, but for the rest of us too. You’re missing the point if you’re not getting the full intended stimulus of the WOD and just going for broke 100% of the time. And you’ll just end up broken physically and emotionally in the end. Smart CrossFit Girls (and guys) scale. 😉

Sky @ Blonde Freedom May 28, 2015 at 9:28 am

I love this post and am definitely a CrossFit girl who scales. Though I’m slowing getting closer to being able to do RX weights in WODs, I usually choose to scale. I’ve been there a few times where my weight for the WOD was way too heavy for all the reps we were doing. It sacrifices your form and even a little bit of safety. Now I’ve gotten to where I am 100% okay with scaling. I’d rather complete a workout than hurt myself or not be able to do any reps.
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Ailish May 28, 2015 at 7:54 pm

I recently started CrossFit and this post was something I needed to hear. I’m nowhere close to being able to RX weights in a WOD yet so obviously I scale down, but I was kind of feeling discouraged (and like a weakling) because of it. I definitely don’t feel that way anymore though, so thank you for that 🙂
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~jenniferlynn May 28, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Oh don’t feel badly!! I’m over two years in and still scale sometimes!!

~jenniferlynn May 28, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Also check the search bar for “three months Crossfit”- I have a good beginner’s post!

Kristin June 1, 2015 at 10:43 am

Girl, you’re on fire!
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