To scale, or not to scale? This is a question I often see athletes contemplate in class before a workout. Of course, we all want to challenge ourselves every day and put our best effort into the WOD. But that doesn’t mean you have to go RX all the time to get the maximum results. The RX movements, loads and reps are by no means a “one size fits all” prescription, and it’s so important that we scale workouts to our individual levels of fitness. Here are a few things to ask yourself when considering whether or not you should go RX:
- If this safe?: Any given WOD is supposed to be challenging, but doable. Not dangerous! Many times I have seen athletes try to go RX in a metcon because they have done the prescribed movement once or twice before. But this is not safe! Let’s use deadlifting, for example. If your 1RM is 175#, that doesn’t mean you should go RX for a metcon that prescribes a total of 30 DL at 170#! Your back will round, form will fall apart and you put yourself at risk for injury. It’s in your best interest to scale back the weight if it means maintaining safe body positioning as you move.
- Does this fall within my physical abilities?: There will come times when you have to scale a workout because the prescribed variation is beyond your physical capabilities. Limitations in strength, mobility or speed call for scaling back on the load, movements, or number of reps in a workout. For example, the pistol is a very difficult movement that requires a great deal of balance, strength and flexibility. If you lack proficiency in any of these areas, you are much better off scaling to steps ups until you build up your balance, strength and flexibility skills in order to perform quality pistols for multiple reps.
- Am I moving well?: We should never sacrifice the quality of our movement for the intensity of a workout. One thing that is heavily stressed in the Level 1 course is to always follow the character of mechanics, consistency and intensity. Let’s apply this concept to Fran. 21-15-9 Thrusters/Pull-ups. The stimulus here is fast and unbroken rounds. Ask your coach if the mechanics of your thrusters and pull-ups look good for a few practice reps. If so, great! Now, can you maintain those mechanics for multiple reps so that you can move quickly and unbroken for all sets of 21-15-9? If not, it’s best to scale back to a weight or movement that allows you to maintain that intended stimulus (fast and unbroken!). Intensity should only be increased when the athlete has shown that they can consistently move well over time.
The beauty of CrossFit is that it is generally inclusive of individuals from all walks of life. This is because the movements are scalable to fit all physical ability levels—from the new guy in your class who has never done CrossFit, to the pros who compete at the Games. Leave your ego at the door, and pride yourself in knowing that we scale in order to get the maximum results out of each and every WOD. Discipline yourself to strive for consistently excellent mechanics before increasing the intensity. Following this character makes the times when you really can go RX all the more fulfilling. In conclusion, scaling keeps you safe, moving well and ultimately contributes to your ongoing improvement as a CrossFit athlete!