One of the first questions you usually ask yourself as a new CrossFit athlete is- Rx or scaled, and what should I be doing? Simply put, Rx is considered “as written,” relating to the exercises, rep scheme, and weights intended for a workout. I used to think that Rx was my goal every single time as an athlete. With that said, I’ve actually learned that Rx is typically written for the top 10% of athletes in the gym. Everyone else is intended to scale the workout and adjust it to their own abilities.
There are many reasons you should consider a scaled version of your workouts rather than attempting Rx. It’s important to note that your coaches are highly experienced and competent in a variety of scaling techniques. Their job is to help you find the scaling method that is appropriate for you!
This post is meant to be a general guide, but always consult your coach to ensure your scaling selection is best for you and where you are that day.
Everyone has to start somewhere!
I’ll never forget my first group CrossFit class. The workout involved double-unders, and I was having a hard time even getting one single-under at the time! The idea of coming to the gym involves improving. If you could already do everything in the gym, what’s the point of setting goals?
Beginners come in all shapes and sizes! Maybe you’ve never set foot in a gym ever, or it’s been 3 years, or maybe you have been doing one style of exercise recently and want to mix it up. Whatever the case, chances are high that you’ll start out aiming for more awareness and technical proficiency than aiming for a high number of reps or weight.
Beginners are in a unique position to make vast leaps in their general overall fitness. Take advantage of this time of your fitness journey! In the beginning, you will likely have to adjust your workout. Doing so will not only assess where you are starting in terms of strength, stamina, and skill, but it will also convey how your body handles more complex workouts.
There are several ways to scale a workout to meet your fitness needs to focus on quality instead of quantity. Some ways include reducing reps, load (weight), or time; changing the range of motion; or even changing the equipment selection.
Intermediate athletes are those that have been doing CrossFit for about six months to three years. They are familiar with most movements, rep schemes, and have a higher level of awareness of their fitness abilities. Most athletes in this category can complete some portion of the Rx version of a workout, but otherwise are comfortable determining scaled versions of the workout on their own. That being said, you often get “stuck” in the same scaling routine for certain workouts. For example- you may always resort to ring rows instead of pull-ups. At some point, however, you need to be pushed in order to progress your abilities to the pull-up movement.
Intermediate athletes require a little more piecemealing of scaling options. They may have a great amount of strength, but lack cardiorespiratory endurance. Maybe they have significant strength and endurance, but lack the comfort of higher-skill movements (like Olympic lifting). It can be easy to fall into a rut to simplify the parts of the workouts that expose weaknesses. In reality, the portions of the workout should be highlighted in order to improve weaknesses, not accommodate them.
Intermediates get the pleasure of focusing on particular movements or goals in order to see greater improvements in weaknesses while maintaining their strengths. As an intermediate athlete, you benefit the most from targeted homework on specific movements or skills. You can also typically achieve your next scaling method goal quickly with persistence and direction of a coach.
I hear all the time “I want to get a pull-up!”…so if you find yourself saying this, talk to your coach! Ask about what you can do each week to see improvements in your pulling abilities to achieve this goal.
Advanced athletes have typically been doing CrossFit for more than three years. As an advanced athlete, you have accomplished a high level of skill, fitness, and competency with traditional and advanced movements. Athletes in this category typically complete the Rx version, but may also need a “scaled up” version of a workout to make it more difficult or complex.
Advanced athletes may not see as many PR’s as beginners or intermediate athletes.; however, you usually have to think more about the strategy of the workout to improve efficiency. You are typically chasing to shave off seconds of traditional CrossFit workouts. Strategies for scaling here can often involve minimizing rest periods, increase range of motion or difficulty of equipment selection, and continually refining movement quality while increasing intensity.
Look around our gym for example. In every class, you’ll find different people who played competitive sports in high school, college, or even at a professional level. Many former athletes find CrossFit as a way to continue training with intensity toward their goals.
The need for scaling in this category typically involves considering the “athlete brain.” A sense of competition, perseverance, and maybe prematurely biting off more than you can chew. Especially if it’s been a while since you practiced your sport! You may feel like you can jump back into the Rx level of fitness you had then, when in reality, your body needs the scaled level so it can adjust to a change in demand of both intensity and skill.
Depending on your sport, you may be coming to the gym with a strong background of endurance (if you’re a runner) or strength (if you played football). You may need to scale workouts to highlight your strengths and improve your weaknesses!
“I’m hurt, so I’m not going to go to the gym!” Most of us think this is the best way to manage an injury, but this is NOT always the case! Just because your knee may be hurting at the moment doesn’t mean you should stop moving the rest of your body. When in the gym, we have a relatively unlimited toolbox to ensure you still get a good workout while not stressing your injury.
It’s very important to let your coach know any time you are injured. Even if it’s having some part of your body that is nagging or feeling less-than perfect. It’s also important to know when to seek professional help from a doctor or physical therapist. Your coach can help you understand this, too!
Consider what makes the injury worse or better, and how it affects your range of motion. If your knees are hurting- are you able to squat to parallel or even slightly above parallel? Anytime you have an injury, it’s also important to consider if your movement patterns could be the cause of the pain. In the knee example above, are you pushing your knees out when you squat, or are they caving in when you go below parallel? The latter will definitely cause a bit of pain in the squat position!
Several scaling strategies exist to help workout with an injury! Taking advantage of the range of motion you do have, choosing an alternative movement that still achieves the desired stimulus without stressing the injury, or even omitting the movement altogether.
SCALE OR NOT TO SCALE
I hope that after reading this, you are able see that scaled workouts over Rx workouts, no matter your level of experience, are okay. They are sometimes even the better option for you! Scaling customizes the workout for you, improves your weaknesses, optimizes your strengths, and meets you where you are each day in the gym. Scaling is infinite and important for everyone!
Don’t be afraid to talk to your coach for each workout about how you can accomplish the intended fitness goal!