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BoxLife Magazine

Should you scale your next workout?

By Maria Roselle

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August 14, 2017

When workouts are written “as prescribed” (recognized by the “RX” annotation that many gyms use), they are the hardest variation of that workout.  Some boxes go a step further and introduce scaled versions of the same workout, labeled Level I and Level II (or whichever annotation is preferred). By doing this, it gives athletes of varying fitness levels the option to utilize weights and movements that they can realistically do while keeping the workout challenging. However, there comes a time when the workouts start to become easier and they need to be scaled less. How do you make that jump from one level to the next?

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After doing CrossFit for some time, there’s a good chance you will be able to complete the workout as prescribed. If not, you will have the experience to know exactly how to scale down in order to make the workout challenging but manageable—the way it is intended to be performed. For those of you who are newer to CrossFit, it’s not always easy knowing what weights to use and how to scale various skills.

I constantly see new athletes who are getting stronger day after day and still using the same weights and modifications they started with when they first burst out of foundations. When I ask why it’s usually because they thought the next level would be too difficult. However, they have made their workout too easy and are finished 5 minutes before everyone else. They are staying within their comfort zone and are therefore not going to gain as much from the workout. In fact, they will suffer for it.

A great example of this can be seen through ring dips. We all know that regardless of how strong you are and how long you have been doing CrossFit, ring dips can dominate you. Mid-way through the workout you hit muscle failure and start to struggle to string three together, when you are capable of much more when you’re fresh. However, this is an exercise you can make too easy.  Like I said, you will be hitting muscle failure. An athlete using a band and doing all of the prescribed reps unbroken is not challenging themselves. Yes, I want them to get through the workout, but I don’t want them to do it with a smile on their face. I want them to struggle. I want them to have a sense of accomplishment after the workout. This is how they will one day get unassisted ring dips. This is how they will get results.

So how do you know when it’s time to scale up?  
Here are some signs to look out for:
– Finishing first on the majority of workouts.
– When you’re able to hold a normal conversation immediately after the workout.
– Feeling like it “wasn’t that hard” and you could probably do it again after a two minute break.
– Doing everything unbroken, when you see everyone taking breaks after several reps.
-Lack of sweat and muscle fatigue

If any of the above describes you, take some chances and scale up when you are able to.  Try adding 5 to 10 pounds on your lifts or a harder modification on a bodyweight movement.  If it’s hard and you need to take breaks…well, good–it’s supposed to be. Worst-case scenario is that you’ve scaled up too much for a particular workout and you need to bring it back down in order to complete the workout.  If this happens, don’t worry. Keep making the minor adjustments to continually challenge yourself until you reach the RX level.

Keep your eye on someone who always goes RX.  If you feel like you are struggling just as much as they are, you are probably modifying appropriately. If you watch them and feel thankful that you’re not experiencing the same pain, you probably need to up your game a little.

When to scale down:
Sometimes workouts are programmed to condition the athlete with lighter weights so they can move fast through them. Other times the intention is to provide more of a strength aspect during the WOD.  The best advice is to ask and listen to your coach.  Sometimes you might be able to perform the workout with the RX weight, but that particular weight is supposed to feel light to perform it fast.  Take Fran for example: Fran is done with ‘light’ weight and the entire workout can be done in less than 5 minutes.  The coach should explain this to you so you can find a suitable weight.  If Fran is taking you 12+ minutes, you’ve scaled incorrectly, and completed a totally different workout to what was prescribed. What was meant to be a quick sprint to challenge your metabolic conditioning has now turned into more of a strength and endurance workout.

Take your chances and get outside your comfort zone, since you’re not supposed to be there anyway.  There are going to be times that you will not choose accurate modifications, and that’s ok. It’s a learning process.

Maria Roselle

About Maria Roselle

I come from an athletic family, so sports have always been a big part of my life. Although I was not actively involved in competitive sports during high school or college, I grew up doing gymnastics and later coached it for several years. This, along with my degree in nutrition, got me interested and involved with fitness. I really enjoyed being active, but found myself getting extremely bored at the gym, spending entirely too much time there. Elliptical…legs…treadmill...tri’s…etc. –not really the most exciting workout regimen. I found CrossFit in 2009. Certifications/Experience: CrossFit Level 1 CrossFit Olympic Weightlifting CrossFit Kids CrossFit Mobility and Recovery CrossFit Nutrition USAW Club Coach USAW 2011/2012 National Competitor View all posts by Maria Roselle →

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