One Of Your Greatest Tools in CrossFit: Scaling


As we progress as CrossFit athletes, we continue to learn tips and use tools to help grow in our fitness capacity. We spend time working on our kip, practicing our speed under a bar, and learning that painful hook grip. We research to find the best speed rope, lifters, and wrist wraps. All of these to help improve our performance.

But there’s one tool we often overlook, and in some cases...avoid. Scaling.

Scaling a CrossFit workout is simply adapting or modifying a prescribed workout to suit the needs and abilities of an athlete. Scaling a workout could include decreasing in weight used, reducing the amount of rounds/reps in a workout, or modifying a movement(s).

Scaling is a part of the beauty of CrossFit. It allows any programming to be modified to meet the abilities of any athlete. At the end of the day, the best ability is your availability. If you injure yourself trying to perform a prescribed movement or life a prescribed weight, you’re not enhancing your fitness in anyway - you’re just being irresponsible.

Scaling is a means to prevent us from getting into a staring contest with the floor and keep us safe

The reality is we are all scaling something. A majority of the workouts prescribed are written for the top 10% of athletes, and even those athletes are likely having movements scaled for their programming. Look at handstand push-ups (HSPU) for example. A kipping HSPU is a scaled version of a strict HSPU, which is a scaled version of a freestanding HSPU, which is a scaled version of a freestanding HSPU on your fingertips. Very few people in the world are capable of such a thing. We are all scaling!

Technique is the Priority

Emphasizing technique is essential to making athletic gains. In fact, at CrossFit Level 1 training classes, the primary focus is on teaching and reviewing solid technique in the nine foundational movements.

Technique – like its cousins mechanics, form, and style— is not at odds with intensity but is essential to maximizing power and thus fitness. Proper technique is the mechanism by which potential human energy and strength are translated into real work capacity.

In the CrossFit Journal article “Scaling: How Less Can Be More,” Clea Weiss discusses how scaling down the prescribed weight of a workout can produce higher power output – that is, increase intensity:

The work and power output calculator on the Catalyst Athletics website shows that a 5-foot-10, 180-pound athlete who completes Fran with 95 pounds in nine minutes has a power output of 98.2 watts. If the same athlete scales the weight down to 75 pounds and completes the workout two minutes faster, his power output actually rises to 115.7 watts. So using less weight can sometimes be better.

Scaling is a means to prevent us from getting into a staring contest with the floor and keep us safe. It’s not about being weaker, slower or less experienced than others in the gym. It’s an absolute critical component of making CrossFit work. It’s a tool we use to adjust the workout so you get the desired stimulus - which makes CrossFit so effective - which makes you fit - which makes you happy - which is when we know we’ve done our job.

Thing to Keep In Mind When Scaling:

  1. Only scale what you need to
  2. Don’t scale too much
  3. Don’t change the stimulus
  4. Know the difference between pain, injury, and discomfort
  5. Check your pride
  6. Trust your coaches