In CrossFit it's a very powerful thing, to Rx a workout.
"Rx." In other words, getting through a workout as it was written, using the prescribed repetitions and/or amount of weight, is often a great accomplishment. It’s motivating. And it's addictive. Almost to a fault.
See, for some, the white board is inspiration and fulfillment. For others, it’s a hang-up. We can see CrossFitters do things that are actually counterproductive in order to write “Rx” next to their name or be able to say they did the workout prescribed. If it weren’t so unsafe it’d be almost comical… like something out of a Seinfield episode. Scaling can definitely carry a negative connotation.
In reality, scaling is a necessary tool for smart training and personal progress.
The CrossFit Journal put together a piece on this in 2009. Read it here. “Scaling correctly will increase work capacity more efficiently than attempting to complete workouts as prescribed before you’re ready for them.”
Also, CrossFit BrandX has been providing free scaling options on the CrossFit.com workouts for years. What they do is similar to what Amplify trainers can help with in terms of weight utilized for newcomers, etc.
The hard and fast rule on scaling workouts is mechanics, consistency, intensity. If we as trainers see that a person has mechanics (moving through ROM correctly, having control of their movement, using safe and effective technique) and consistency (keeping mechanics throughout WODs, holding form even when fatigued, not throwing all cueing out the window once the clock starts) then we add intensity with rep schemes and/or weighted movements. In truth, this is where adaptation can truly take place and fitness benefits are realized.
When scaling, there are a few major items to consider:
1.) If a workout calls for a certain time domain, then attempt to meet that criteria. Like, if "Grace" turns into 30 single reps with a minute rest between them, you’ve missed the point. If you just set a *world record on "Diane," maybe it's time to move to a new handstand scaling option. Ensure that the body system being taxed is the correct one. The exception to this rule-- there always is one-- will be mentioned later.
2.) Maintain the movement stimuli. In layman's terms, keep the exercise looking the same. Use the same (or similar) muscle groups, if possible, and keep the range of motion intact to follow through on what has been programmed.
3.) Know what the rep count will be. Lowering the rep count may work, but is usually not the answer. Changing intensity in terms of rounds or the time frame may be necessary, but even better is altering the movements themselves like number two above states. That said, one of the biggest mistakes and a major cause of both acute muscle soreness and potential overuse injuries is pushing through too many repetitions while already fatigued.
Check out the short video below. What do you see? Yep. Issues with ROM. And a good eye will catch the men being scaled correctly and those who could have used a little more assistance with their scaling options. Right?
The Chief WOD Demo
We can also see things go the other way with scaling… members getting too comfortable with the easier options. I.e.: getting hooked on using an assistance band or a lighter kettlebell, always subbing the same movement for handstand push-ups, never attempting to get on the climbing rope or put double unders into a MetCon.
If this is the case, it will pay to have a give and take with your trainer. Discuss any plateaus and see if it's something to worry about or not, since those do occur as a natural part of life in the gym. Also, take note on how a workout session went with increased reps or load. And share that with the trainer, if needed. Finally, be willing to hear criticism. If it's recommended to you that you are doing/using something as a crutch, be willing to spend more time in a workout (this is the exception to Rule #1 from above-- let the clock go for once). Try something heavier or slightly different if that's the case. This helps in moving forward, and keeps the body adapting to new stimulus. Your muscles, connecting tissues, energy system and central nervous system will thank you because you’ve improved. Oh, not right away... no, you'll suffer for sure. But in the good way. See, CrossFit doesn't really get any easier, you just become fitter. This allows more workload to occur. Pain? No. Discomfort... YES.
It is possible to scale UP, of course.
Scaling up is more of an athlete-to-athlete case, individualized according to our differences and needs. Perhaps a topic for another time, but in short, similar to what was already discussed: this is an option if you are in need of more strength, progress has plateaued a bit, or are looking to hit certain competitive milestones. If scaling up would be safe and sensible, form must be locked in, or this will again be counterproductive and impede on any fitness benefits looking to be gained.
So, check yourself and your ego, listen and do something about it if a trainer is telling you your form is off, and scale (or "un-scale") as needed in order to keep yourself healthy and on the right track towards a fitter you.