(How) Should I Scale my Workouts?
There's an intention in each workout we use at the gym. Some days we get after short, sprinty challenges ("Fran," "Grace," etc.), and some days we go long ("Murph," "The Don," etc.). But there is a goal in the outcome of the task each day. While doing a workout the way it's written (not scaling) can help inflate our egos, we are missing the point when our only goal is to perform each routine "as RXed."
CrossFit has caught a lot of flak over the years for being too intense and pushing people to a place where injuries become commonplace. Unfortunately, in some instances this is completely justified. However, I firmly believe that when we listen to our bodies, heed the advice of our coaches, and exercise humility when we accept scaling options, CrossFit is an exercise program that can help us all get - and stay - strong for the rest of our lives.
Scaling workouts can be tricky, so I put together some basics to help guide you through how to make it work for you. READ ON!
In any given workout, there generally shouldn't be a huge disparity between the first finisher and the last. If the average time for a workout is 15 minutes and you doing it RXed means that you'll be finishing in 25, you'd probably get a better/more productive workout in if you were to scale and finish closer to the rest of class. Taking significantly longer to get through the task at hand basically leaves you doing a different workout than everyone else.
Scale weighted elements by load. Doing less weight doesn't necessarily make the workout any less challenging - instead, it just allows us to keep moving. Remember that the goal of our workouts is to provide intensity. If you pick a weight that's too heavy for you and end up standing around saying not nice things to the barbell for half the workout, you're not getting the intended effect!
Scale technical movements to less complex versions. The CrossFit Training Instagram account does a great job of laying out scaling options for workouts that call for technical movements. Their intention is to make the daily crossfit.com workouts appropriately accessible and challenging to all ability levels. Think of beginning a snatch from the knees instead of the ground to simplify, or to work on lifting your knees to your chest instead of forcing full toes-to-bar as you're building your strength.
Scale by quantity. It's no secret that many workouts we do can call for some serious volume. It is not only acceptable for you to decrease reps/distance on workouts, especially as you're starting out, it's expected! Keep my first point in mind here and aim to finish around the same time as the rest of the class (without giving yourself an easy out).
Last, scaling is not just for beginners! We all get aches and pains from time to time. While it is certainly possible to tough your way through them, it's more productive to just scale the problematic movements back (or replace them completely) so you can still get a productive workout without further taxing what's bothering you.
It would be nice if there were concrete rules to follow for proper scaling, but it is generally an individual endeavor. So, let your coaches help you! Proper scaling isn't only the route to a productive workout, but it's also how you develop proper skills and truly get better at what we do.