To Scale or Not to Scale…?

Why We Scale

by Matt Lloyd


The Crossfit journal puts it like this: “CrossFit workouts are scaled to preserve the intended stimuli despite athlete limitations such as experience, injury, illness or range of motion.”

A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue developing increased work capacity despite limitations.

Don’t take it personally. You have limitations. No one has mastered every movement at all the load, speed, range of motion variations available . So we the coaches set you up to achieve the goal of a specific WOD based on your personal skill set. We do this by modifying the weight, volume or movement of a particular workout while maintaining the original intent and time domain.

We can scale a workout in several different ways. Firstly we can scale weight or volume to maintain a specific time domain ( how long the workout should take / the intensity of the workout ) . If the WOD calls for 30x 135lbs clean and jerks , we can lower the weight to 115 lbs and maintain the reps or have keep the 135lbs and have you complete 20 reps instead of 30.

The reasoning behind this is less obvious than you might think. Often athletes confuse the ability to complete a workout with ability to reach a certain intensity in the workout. The latter being much more important.


Here are two workouts and scaled versions of them.

Coach Glassman says to remember this potent but simple saying: “The poison is in the dose.”

Simple enough right? The problem arises when athletes neglects the intent of a workout when considering the scaling option.

To understand intent and intensity you need to understand fitness.


What is fitness? and how this correlates to scaling?

“Total fitness, the fitness that CrossFit promotes and develops, requires competency and training in each of these three pathways or engines. Balancing the effects of these three pathways largely determines the how and why of the metabolic conditioning or “cardio” that we do at CrossFit.

There are three metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human action. These “metabolic engines” are known as the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway. The first, the phosphagen, dominates the highest-powered activities, those that last less than about ten seconds.The second pathway, the glycolytic, dominates moderate-powered activities, those that last up to several minutes. The third pathway, the oxidative, dominates low-powered activities, those that last in excess of several minutes.

The motivation for the three standards is simply to ensure the broadest and most general fitness possible. Our first model evaluates our efforts against a full range of general physical adaptations, in the second the focus is on breadth and depth of performance, with the third the measure is time, power and consequently energy systems. It should be fairly clear that the fitness that CrossFit advocates and develops is deliberately broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist. “ – Crossfit main site ( read more on this @ )


So when we offer your a 8 min AMRAP , or a 20 EMOM or you attempt Grace you are doing a workout specifically created to illicit a change in a specific metabolic pathway. Deviating from that specific pathway alters the effect of the WOD.

Which brings us back to scaling. Lets use “Grace” again as an example.

“Grace” 30 Clean and Jerks @ 135/95 lbs for time

This workout is designed to be completed in a certain amount of time, staying firmly in a specific metabolic engine or pathway . We are aiming for this WOD to be completed in roughly sub 7 min, aiming for about 4 min. You might not know what time restraint we are looking for in a particular workout but your coach does.

Read more about grace @

Obviously these times are done by elite athletes and the very peak of there fitness.

To use myself as an example, at the RX weight it would take me around 10 min to complete RX Grace. The result of my specific skills, and limitations puts me in a different time bracket and thus effects my relative level of intensity and ultimately altering which metabolic pathway i will reside in for the WOD. The result is the programming that our coaches take so much time and effort to develop is changed and the individual athletes fitness suffers ( although you may end up working very hard anyway ) . The remedy is to scale the weight or the reps down to maintain the intensity.

Intensity is one of those words people misuse. Intensity is defined as extreme degree of strength, force energy, or feeling. The magnitude of a quantity. CrossFit puts that into more understandable terms in its definition of Intensity: Intensity is exactly equal to average power.” —as said by the fine folks over at CrossFit Invoke.

When your coach says to scale , they are not saying you can’t lift a certain weight , although they could be, what they are saying is- we are looking for a certain intensity and that the weight or the volume has to be altered so that you can maintain that desired intensity for the workout.

“Be impressed by intensity, not volume.” —Greg Glassman

Trackback from your site.

Leave a comment

View Our Schedule

Best Gyms
in Denver