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The Power of Scaling
Written By Bryce Smith

The misunderstanding of scaling 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. It is not smart to add strength to dysfunction, or it is bound to lead to injury and inefficiency. Scaling 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 scaling 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 males and 155 pounds for the females. We could make this workout 315 pounds for males 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 leading to diminished work capacity. We are in a constant state of scaling. Let’s look further at a few other examples. 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.

Scaling is a means to prevent us from getting into a staring contest with the floor because the floor will win, and keep up 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 and get from the athlete you are now to the athlete you would like to become. Scaling is how you finish workouts feeling like you got punched in the mouth by the Fatigue Fairy. 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. Scaling 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 scaled. Be proud of where you are and happy that you are on the path towards becoming a better version of yourself.

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Kyle Blackman

Had a convo with Bryce about the 21-15-9 thruster/pullup/burpee workout we did a week or two ago. I told him I’d done it 2-3 times prior at the RX weight (135lb) and it always murdered me and I never finished within the 15min time cap. He recommended scaling and trying to hit the first set unbroken as a goal in order to stay moving instead of destroying myself and having a staring contest with the bar. So I scaled. I ended up doing the first set unbroken and was able to push myself through the entire workout right up to… Read more »