Scale Mail

CrossFit incorporates movements from a wide variety of fitness modalities. Some of these movements are easier to perform than others, rowing, for instance, is a movement that an overwhelming percentage of athletes can perform on day 1. However, either do to strength or mobility limitations, there are some movements that may take longer for an athlete to be able to effectively accomplish. There are a number of scaled variations of these movements available to ensure that every athlete, regardless of skill or fitness level, is able to participate in each daily WOD, and benefit from the training.


As an athlete, the first thing you need to remember is that “scaled” does not mean “easier”. Just because a movement, rep scheme, or time domain has been adjusted for your particular skill or fitness level does not mean that you are working any less hard than intermediate or RX athletes. I’ll talk to a member after they’ve worked out and I’ll remark how difficult I thought the WOD was, and often times I hear, “yeah, well I did it scaled so…”, to which in, in my mind, I reply with, “yeah, well I just watched you stare at the ceiling with your hands on your hips muttering swear words under your breath repeatedly so…”. While the WOD itself may be scaled, what is not scaled is the effort you put into the workout, and that is what is most important.

When scaling a WOD, there are several things that need to be considered. Just picking a replacement movement or weight for the sake of getting through a WOD is not the appropriate course of action. I suck at golf, especially tee shots. Now I could just pick the ball up and throw it on the fairway from the tee box and probably end up with a better score, but in the long run, its really not helping me. The same is true for over-scaling. There needs to be a balance between alleviating the criteria of a WOD that is too difficult for an athlete to perform, and ensuring that athlete is still receiving the desired stimulus for that WOD. We’ll take pull ups as an example. Some WODs call for pull ups as a strength based movement to develop upper body pulling strength, in this case we would want a movement that involves time under tension, and ideally, working the full range of the pull up motion. Jumping pull ups would not be a good scale to achieve this desired effect, but properly executed ring rows, banded pull ups, seated barbell pull ups, or eccentric decline pull ups would be. There are other WODs that call for higher rep pull ups done cyclically to jack the cardio up, jumping pull ups would work better in this scenario. When talking to your coach before a WOD about scaling options, ask them what the desired effect of the movement is for that WOD, this will help you and them figure out the best movements for you to be performing.

There are some movements that require more than scales to become proficient at. More advanced skill movements, like muscle ups, toes to bar, and handstand push ups require a combination of scales to develop the necessary strength, and additional time spent learning the kinesiology associated with these movements. Knees to elbow and hanging L-sits work as scale options in WODs, but if there is a desire to ever perform toes to bar regularly, than additional time must be spent learning the correct shoulder and abdominal activation required. Some class programming is geared towards teaching RX movements, but as an athlete, time outside of class must also be dedicated to learning and practicing if you wish to move beyond scales.

Finally, there are weight scales. Some WODs may call for a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell outside your strength domain. When scaling these weights back, again, talk to your coach about the desired stimulus of the WOD. Some barbells are meant to be moved with minimal rest, so the weight you choose should be fairly comfortable to perform the desired movement with. Other instances call for a heavy weight, heavy weights are not generally comfortable, so when you scale for this type of WOD, scale as much as you need to, but no more than you have to. A great way to help yourself, and your coach, decide how to scale weight based movements is to track all of your results from every WOD you do into sugarWOD. One question coaches get all the time is, “how much weight should I do?”. The truth is, as coaches, we dread this question, it is a completely arbitrary question to ask, especially if you have no documented WOD results in sugarWOD. If you are asking “how much weight should I do?” for thrusters, and you’ve never entered your results for front squats, or push press, or Fran, or any other WOD you’ve ever done, than there is no information to base our answer on. CrossFit is a data driven fitness methodology, data that is vital to correctly scaling now, and progressing in the future.

– Coach Atlas