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Stop Being Scared of the Scale by Coach Erin

Imagine dropping into a gym and being told that for the day’s workout, you’ll be required to complete the WOD at the same weight and skill level as CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser. Oh, and you’ll be time capped based on his finishing time. Uh oh.

Often times in the gym, we develop the misperception that they should be achieving workout equality: every athlete performing the same workout, using the same weights, with the same level of movement, the same amount of reps, etc. In reality, to maximize our performance and skill development, our goal should be achieving workout equity: utilizing individualized, personalized weight, movements, skill level, and reps in order to perform a workout successfully. Equity means everyone has access to the specific knowledge, skills, and resources they personally need to succeed.

Every workout is programmed to have a unique “intended stimulus:” some workouts are meant to be quick sprints, others long endurance, some test your strength with heavy single lifts, while others test your ability to cycle high volume reps. Meeting the intended stimulus assumes that we are also moving with 1) mechanics (technique, ability to move safely and efficiently), 2) consistency (consistent mechanics, consistent performance) and 3) intensity (relative to an individual's physical and psychological capacities) during our workouts. If we fail to scale for these components, it can result in lost stimulus, poor mechanics, inconsistent performances, and low intensity.

Coach Dave just provided us a great article last month on how to adjust or scale workouts for an injury. But, injury isn’t the only occasion when you should consider scaling. Our ability, experience, and situation all play a role in how we should be approaching a workout in order to preserve stimulus, mechanics, consistency, and intensity.

There are a few different methods that we can use when scaling:


This is the most popular approach to scaling and refers to adjusting the weight of a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc relative to your strength and technical skill. Remember, just because you can lift that weight, should you? Can you do it for x amount of reps and rounds with sound mechanics and virtuosity (“Doing the common uncommonly well” -Greg Glassman)? And, can you do it quickly?

Range of Motion

This popular approach involves limiting your range of motion and is often used in response to limited mobility or to increase the safety of a movement. Examples include using ab mats to shorten the distance of a HSPU, completing kettlebell swings to eye level, or completing wall balls to a lower target. This is an especially appropriate option when dealing with injuries.


We often apply this approach during complex, technical gymnastic movements (HSPU, HS walks, muscle ups), but can also be applied to complex movements like the snatch. We can break parts of a complex movement into pieces by isolating portions of the movement. Can’t handstand walk? I bet you can bear crawl (and I bet you it will still suck). Or, maybe you just can’t figure out the timing on the second dip in your push jerk yet - time to push press!


This scaling method is often overlooked and underutilized. Maybe you’ve been working on your kipping pull ups - using a band is too easy, but you don’t think you can rep out the 20 pull ups per round that the WOD requires. This is a perfect opportunity to scale the reps - do you think you can do 10 solid kipping pull ups every round? And do you think you can rep those out just as quickly as the fastest athlete completing their 20?


Another frequently overlooked and underutilized scaling method. Let’s say your skill set has a bias towards strength and the WOD calls for heavy deadlifts (YES!), with 800m runs in between (NO!)...and a time cap (YIKES). If you think that the run is going to limit your ability to finish the workout and maintain intensity, consider adjusting the distance so that your intensity and timing is comparable with your peer athletes.

The next two weeks of Benchmark testing will be a challenging, but hopefully fun, way to prove to yourself and your community what you’re physically and mentally capable of. After they’re done, I challenge you to integrate scaling into your training to further refine, improve, and increase your mechanics, consistency, and intensity. I guarantee you if you do, your future performances will reflect it. Don’t be afraid to ask why, when, and how you should be scaling at your next whiteboard talk because our goal as your coaches at CrossFit Stealth is to develop your work capacity to do more work in less time. Here’s to moving well, moving more, and moving quickly!

Coach Erin

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