Scaling for Safe and Efficient Progress

just another pic of our awesome family

Team, this is an old post, but a good one – the message still stands!  I think most of you are doing a good job of finding the right zone, but give it a read anyways and let us know what you think!!

So I’ve had a couple of rants about scaling over the past couple of weeks and I thought I’d write a blog about it so that everyone knows where I’m coming from. The first thing I’d like you to consider is that I believe there is a point at which intensity, technique, and time blend for optimal gains from a workout. Appropriate scaling is key to being within the boundaries of this optimal zone. Scaling too high in reps, rounds, weight, or all three and the time drags out of the optimal frame, resulting in a loss of intensity in the workout. The reverse is also true as too low a scaling shortens the workout, minimizing exposure to the stimulus. The exact blending point of each workout is different as workouts are structured towards targeting a wide variety of training goals however each one has an ideal frame for the best results.

For example, take the benchmark workout “Fran”. My feeling is that the ideal time for this workout (21-15-9 of thrusters and burpees) is 4-8minutes. If someone scales too heavy, the workout will last a lot longer than 8 minutes and they will sacrifice form on thrusters and rate of work. On the other hand, a scaling that is too easy enables “racing” through the WOD without having to push the intensity too high.

I’m not saying that you won’t want to try up-scaling workouts to try the Elite or Zone 2 or whatever loads and reps. We just want to avoid the situation where people scale too high or too low all the time. The high-scalers will end up dragging workouts on almost always at the sacrifice of good technique and will lose out on the cardiovascular benefits of the WODs. Low scalers will move smoothly through workouts without reaching the momentary fatigue points that really push fitness progress.

The good news is that you have coaches to help you decide on your scaling. In fact, often times they will have a better idea than you do yourself about what scaling you should do. This is because your coaches are experienced outside observers who are not caught up in the emotional component of your scaling decision. Listen, I know how hard it is to scale down from the level you are used to doing – I do these workouts too! Fortunately I often have enough sense to scale when necessary and tone down some of the adrenaline and competitiveness that make CrossFit WODs so unique. It is hard in our “supportive competitive” environment to back down from a challenge, but if your coach suggests it, there is often a very good reason for them doing so, and it’s probably a good idea to take their advice!

Another thing to think about is scaling through the week. When I program a week’s worth of workouts, I use a simple structure that allows me to include the elements of callisthenics, cardiovascular, Olympic lifting, basic barbell and gymnastics training. By nature of everyone having weaknesses and strengths, some workouts will be easier than others. That isn’t to say though that a regular, 5-6x per week crossfitter should always work to their absolute maximum capacity at each WOD. It is important to downscale workouts on a fairly regular basis (once every 3 or 4 for regulars) to keep motivation high and chance of injury low. Use these downscaled workouts to really refine technique and efficiency – both of which will help you when you are really pushing the envelope in tougher WODs.

There is a definite sense of achievement that is addictive and exhilarating when you perform a WOD at a level higher or beat your previous time (or the time of one of your crossfit friends!) but understand that the path to high levels of fitness and health is not a short one. I have trained with weights and cardio regularly for over 12 years with many peaks and valleys and have not come even close to reaching what I believe to be my optimal fitness. The point is that there is no sense in trying to rush towards higher scalings if the result is poor technique, excessive strain on the body, and removal of the stimulus from that optimal blending point of technique, time, and intensity. Scaling higher than your skill and fitness will not get you to higher fitness faster but instead lead to higher chance of injury and slower progress.

Okay, that was the long version… The short version is simply: “check your ego at the door. Listen to your coaches, swallow some of your pride, and perform WODs with virtuous technique and towards their intended purpose.” Optimal fitness and health are a journey, and there are no shortcuts.

Today’s Workout:

Buy In – 2 rounds of: 5 bar dislocates, 10 kbs, 1 length of gym duckwalk

WOD – “Tin Pants”

this is a three – parter:

  • 5×5 Back squat, ramping up to a 5RM
  • 5×3 Push Press, ramping up to a 3RM


  • 5 attempts at max double unders in 60s.  Two minutes rest in between each.   The minute in which you get the most double unders (total, not consecutive) is your score.

Add up your 5RM from the squats to your 3RM from the push press and finally your best minute of double unders for your score.

Cash Out – Foam roll calves, hamstrings, quads, upper back


More Posts

Summer Indulgence

Fresh local Strawberries are now available. These delicious little berries are rich in polyphenols which are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging benefits. Here

It’s a Fight Gone, Whatt?

Good… I hope! Wod tips: Choosing a different starting position can affect your score! We’ve found that starting on the row, or starting on box