One of the greatest aspects of CrossFit is its ability to be “universally scalable”. To gain the best perspective on what that means, let’s take a look at the official word from CrossFit HQ:
While it [CrossFit] challenges the world’s fittest, the CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual, regardless of experience. We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.
The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind. Our hunters, skiers, mountain bike riders and housewives have found their best fitness from the same regimen.
So whether it be a pre-existing injury, mobility/flexibility issues, or just soreness from workouts earlier in the week, scaling options are ALWAYS available! As you progress in your training, you’ll know which scales are best for YOU and YOUR body but until then use this handy guide and your coach’s recommendations to decide how to scale appropriately:
- Load: The most common way to scale! Any time you see a set of parentheses and some numbers separated by a slash after a movement, that indicates the men’s and women’s prescribed weights (looks something like this: (###/###), where the men’s weight is the first number followed by the women’s). These are the weights intended to elicit a specific response and achieve a desired intensity from ELITE CrossFitters. With that being said, it takes experience to learn how to scale loads properly according to your ability and even more experience to perform workouts at the Rx weights. Also, keep in mind that scaling of loads can also refer to gymnastic movements such as pull-ups using resistance bands! Regardless, as you warm up your movements, consider the number of sets, reps, and total volume of other work required for the workout to gauge how much to scale. Additionally, keep in mind the desired relative intensity of the workout such that if you decide to challenge yourself with your scaling in one aspect of the workout, you compensate by scaling back on something else in order to keep your intensity up! And, of course, if you’re not sure, ask your coach!
- Tempo: This is often the most overlooked way to scale workouts because it either isn’t indicated for in workouts or because it happens naturally due to strength, endurance, and fatigue. Regardless, tempo can be one of the most important ways to ensure quality of movement. Tempo refers to the speed in which a movement is performed concentrically (when a muscle is contracted under load) and eccentrically (when a muscle is extended under load) as well as any pauses under or devoid of tension. With so much emphasis placed on intensity in CrossFit, quality of movement can be sacrificed when athletes attempt to move more quickly than they can control themselves and their implements. Focusing on quality of movement by controlling tempo can ensure the safety and progress of athletes of all levels!
- Range of motion/Movement selection: Along with load, this is the most common way to scale workouts. Range of motion scaling refers to the extent to which movements are performed over distances. For example, if an athlete struggles to squat to depth due to previous injuries, surgeries, or pain, partial or quarter squats may be prescribed. For HEALTHY athletes, scaling the range of motion is the least preferred way to scale a workout. Coaches would much rather see athletes address their flexibility and mobility issues so that they can eventually perform all movements through their intended full range of motion. For many, even scaling the range of motion can be troublesome. Instead, we can select a different yet similar movement which the athlete can perform safely and effectively while still achieving a desired effect. Scaling options/substitutions for many of our movements can be found below:
running ↔ rowing ↔ double-unders ↔ burpees ↔ no-chest burpees ↔ mountain climbers
→ pull-up + ring dip
→ ring row
→ handstand push-up negative → handstand hold → push press (see Weightlifting section below for further scales)
→ knees-to-elbows → aggressive kip → v-up
→ lunge → air squat
→ box step-up
→ kettlebell swing (think: hip extension!)
→ clean/power clean → deadlift → kettlebell swings
→ push jerk → push press → press
→ front squat → back squat → goblet squat → air squat
→ wall ball
→ front squat
→ push press → press