Scaling/Modifying Workouts – part 2

In Scaling/Modifying Workouts part 1, we started with WHY you should scale and modify to your current ability. Now we get down to brass tacks – HOW and WHEN to modify.


If you are unfamiliar with clean and jerks, you should scale the weight to get the mechanics and consistency down. Same goes for things like double unders. Scale the reps down to half so you can get the double under practice or scale them up and do double the amount of single unders. If you are injured and have a broken arm, do one-armed jumping pull-ups or dumbbell thrusters with one arm. Make it work for the intent of the WOD. (hint: that’s what your coach is for!)

Sometimes you are familiar with a movement, but heavy weight sacrifices form. For instance, “Diane” calls for 225# deadlifts. You might know how to deadlift, but if it means rounding your back, scale the weight. With that said, if the intent of the WOD is to do heavy deads, then DO heavy deads, but relative to you.

Sometimes you can handle the movement, and even the weight, but you are gassed after one round. A workout like “Kelly” is 5 rounds of running 400m, 30 box jumps, and 30 wallballs. You probably can do all of these movements, but if it takes you 2 hours, you’ve lost the point. Scale the reps to 15 each, or do 3 rounds, or a combo of those. Keep the intensity so we don’t see “85 minutes – Rx!” on the board.

Not as much of a problem for those who belong to a box, but for those at a Globo gym or home gym, you can scale equipment. For instance, if you don’t have rings, scale a muscle up to 3 pullups, 3 dips. You still preserve that stimulus of pulling your bodyweight up and pushing your bodyweight up.


If you can maintain form, go for the heavier weight. It will make you stronger. Just make sure your time domain doesn’t go out the window.

If you are simply trying to get the fastest time in the box, don’t. Challenge yourself and be honest if you can do the work. Maybe you won’t be the fastest, but you need to do what is best for you and your adaptation to get stronger and faster.

Don’t ask to do 2 rounds of a 5 rounder just because you don’t feel like doing the rest. (Wo)man up and do it.


When I first started CrossFit, I would scale EVERYTHING: Weight, reps, rounds, movements. I had to teach myself what a “clean” was, I didn’t have the strength to move anything remotely heavy, and I didn’t have the cardiorespiratory endurance to do most WODs fully. As an example, check out my Fran times and the weights used for thrusters (Fran as Rx is 21-15-9 of alternating thrusters at 95/65# and pull-ups):

3/31/08 – 5:20 @ 45# – two months after starting CrossFit. I could do pull-ups, but 95# was way too much
7/24/08 – 5:15 @ 65# – bump up in weight but maintaining low time (more power output)
10/10/09 – 4:24 @ 95# (Rx’d) – consistent with training, esp. strength training
4/2/2015 – 2:33 @ 95# (Rx’d) – seven years later…

If you told me back in 2008 I’d do a sub-3 minute Fran, I would have said you were crazy. It only took 7+ years of training all sorts of lifting, gymnastics, and in-between to get it!


While I recommend scaling to keep the intensity, you should also not use it as a crutch. Figure out what your weaknesses are and work on them. How many of you still scale pull-ups in a workout? Many factors can cause this: body fat %, lack of strength, lack of gymnastic skill, etc. Use the WOD to change up how you’re doing pull-ups so maybe one day you’re doing strict banded pull-ups, but the next time a pull-up workout comes up, you’re only working on beat swings/kips without worrying about getting your chin over the bar. This is also why we offer private skill sessions – to work 1:1 with a coach to do more specific work tailored to your needs.

While the Rx is nice to get and a great goal to have, don’t sacrifice long term progress for short term success. The fact that you finished a workout does not matter as much as HOW you got there.

To give you some perspective, Jason Khalipa, winner of the 2008 CrossFit Games, had to scale his very first CrossFit workout: Fran. He did jumping pullups x2 and completed it in 12 minutes.

What are your thoughts on scaling? Do you chase that Rx? What are some things you need to work on to get that Rx?

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