To Scale or Not to Scale = To do Rx or not to do Rx
I often get the question from varying levels of CrossFitters about “When is it appropriate to scale a WOD?”
First, we need to understand what is the basic philosophy of CrossFit. CrossFit defines itself as “constantly varied, functional movements at high intensity”. To extrapolate this further, let’s look at 2 phrases within the definition:
Functional Movement – every movement in every WOD is meant to make you enjoy a greater quality of life. Whether it’s playing with your kids all day, picking up a large bag of dog food, planting your garden, etc., you will be able to perform these tasks better and with considerable less risk of injury after being a dedicatedCrossFitter for 1 year. (Read Article for More: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_Fernandez_QualityOfLife.pdf) In addition, to the level of quality that you adhere to that squat depth, tight/flat body position in your push up or lock out of your arms on a push press, is the same level that you increase your “function”. No one starts out squatting to the full depth that is asked (hip crease below the knee cap), but it’s the athlete that continues to push towards greater depth from 1 week to the next that will benefit most.
High Intensity – we are simply talking about speed. How fast can you do it? This is YOUR intensity.
It’s adhering to both principals at the same time – functional movement (or correct movement/full range of movement) at (or with) high intensity that propels results in athletes. You may have an athlete that is technically strict in all movements but is never pushing his/her speed because it’s not 100% technically correct. On the other hand, you can have an athlete that is so focused on speed that he/she won’t challenge themselves by adding weight or doing the movement at the strict standards. Neither will reap the full benefit until they intentionally merge the two.
So here are some additional guidelines to consider when scaling your WOD:
What is the spirit of the WOD?
) Is it meant to be a heavy weight WOD? WODs that are low reps but heavy will make you just as fatigued as running as sprints. You might be breathing heavier at different times. Heavy days are usually meant to push you where your muscle fatigue comes on the 7th of 10 reps. In essence, these WODs are meant to give all you have until your arms, legs, etc. feel so heavy you can’t lift them at the end. This is also why we have days where we plan to find your 1 rep and 3 rep maximum so that you can scale your WOD based on your ability.
) Is it a Skill-Based WOD? No matter if it’s a high rep or a low rep scheme (pull ups, push ups, clean & jerk, snatch, rope climbs, etc.) certain skill work is meant to be more technical accurate. The more accurate you are the more efficient you will be and achieve more gains by utilizing the correct muscle groups. However, it’s important to keep moving so that your intensity stays consistent along with your technique staying strong, minor deterioration. For example, maybe you can do 10 perfect push ups but on the 11th you begin to snake your core and on the 20th you lose full range of motion where you aren’t putting your chest on the ground and extending up. I would suggest scaling your push ups from your knees, against the wall, or hand release so that the two technique makers are met (tight core and chest to the ground, driving up to full extension).
3) Is it a Sprint WOD? For instance, a “FRAN” WOD is meant to be an all out sprint that the most fit athletes finish in 2:30 and has a time cap around 8-10 minutes for the less fit athletes. There should be NO stopping to breathe, drink your water, etc. The time cap is meant to signal to everyone that you don’t stop till there is no time left.
4) Is it a Pace WOD? There are WODS like “EVA” (5 Rounds of 800 meter run, 30 KB swings, 30 Pull Ups) thatis meant to be competed in a range of 30 minutes – 50 minutes. These WODs are meant to be steady and consistent where each round has a similar split. Scaling options could be number of rounds, distance of run, weight of KB, and so on. The goal is to keep moving where your split doesn’t deteriorate.
In my perspective as coach and trainer, I observe that both errors take place amongst most people. Those who go too heavy to just say they were RX and those who go too light to finish first or not get “bulky”. Do you want the most bang for your buck?!?! Do you want the amazing afterburn that CrossFit allots its athletes? If you aren’t sure if you are one of these athletes, here are some key signals.
People are too heavy when… they have frequent stops in aWOD, where they stop to breathe repeatedly, put their hands on their knees for more than 5 seconds and deviate drastically from proper form. The goal is to keep your workout intensity. If you are stopping often then you are losing your intensity, get back on the bar! There’s nothing wrong with scaling in the middle of a WOD. I respect those who aim high and are humble enough to realize they miscalculated. Any coach will be happy to help you scale during your WOD if you let us know. If you’re constantly finished a couple minutes behind everyone you should re-consider your loads.
People are too light when… they typically finish 1st or exceptionally faster than the WOD was designed. For example, if your WOD is supposed to be completed in 10-15 minutes and you finish in 8 minutes then it’s likely that you aren’t going heavy enough. You may be one of the fastest athletes in your class but your WODs from day to day should challenge you where you finish in the top one day, middle of the pack another day, and possibly last on the 3rd day. The point is that your WOD isn’t probably challenging enough if it doesn’t push you to fatigue and your not gaining optimal fitness because your not gaining power.
Again, scaling during a WOD is OK. What is NOT OK is to cheat range of motion, depth, or weight to help you speed up so you can “WIN” in your class. The beauty of scaling is that it allows everyone to compete with himself or herself. However, if your intensity (weight or speed) is compromised just so that you can “WIN” then you are missing the point of your WOD. This is also why you should have a Log Book to help you decipher if you need to push yourself or pull back.
*inspired and co-written by Amy Baird