The Power Of Scaling (a.k.a. Modifying)

The misunderstanding of scaling, or modifying, workouts has come to an all-time high. Scaling is part of the beauty of CrossFit because it enables workouts and programming to be tailored to anyone’s ability. At the end of the day, the best ability is availability and if you get hurt striving to perform the prescribed movement, or lift the suggested loading, you are not enhancing your fitness level in any way, shape, or form. You are simply being irresponsible.

It is important to optimize movement patterns in a controlled setting first before we add load, intensity, or complex skills. Adding strength to dysfunction is a recipe for injury and inefficiency. Modifying a workout is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not for the weak and the untrained and does not mean your workout was less worthy because you scaled.

If you look at the big picture, we are all modifying our workouts all the time. Let’s face it, we could always add weight to a bar. Let’s look at the workout Diane for example. The prescribed workout is 21-15-9 deadlifts and handstand push-ups. The suggested loading is 225 pounds for the men and 155 pounds for the women. We could make this workout 315 pounds for men and 205 pounds for women, but this would sacrifice intensity and mechanics. We would see slower times, and most likely athletes reaching mechanical failure at a faster rate. Both of these outcomes will ultimately lead to diminished work capacity.

We are in a constant state of scaling. Where might we see other examples of this phenomenon? Fifteen-foot rope climbs are a scale for twenty-foot rope climbs, and a scale for rope climbing with a fatter rope. Muscle ups are a scale for weighted muscle ups. And double-unders are a scale for triple unders.

Adjusting our workouts appropriately will prevent us from getting into a staring contest with the floor — the floor will always win — and keeps us safe and healthy. Just because single-unders may not be called for in a workout today, does not mean that they are not going to be programmed tomorrow. I know plenty athletes who are awesome at double-unders, but have a hard time with single-unders. Does that mean that they are too fit? Absolutely not.

Scaling is how you maintain quality movement with high intensity. It is also the way you move from the athlete you are now to the athlete you would like to become. Scaling maintains the intensity of the stimulus in the workout, it leaves you feeling a good tired when you are done and yet it also leaves you feeling ready to come back for more. Using a lighter load, or a band enables you to keep moving forward and making progress rather than staring at the bar for minutes at a time. Modifying is how you learn to move more efficiently and build confidence to eventually lift heavier loads. First, learn and master the mechanics with proper techniques and consistency, and then add intensity.

Never be ashamed of scaling and never write off your score because you modified something. Be proud of where you are and happy that you are on the path towards becoming a better version of yourself.