How to scale for the desired stimulus in a CrossFit workout

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How to scale for the desired stimulus in a CrossFit workout


If you had one shot

Or one opportunity

To do a workout prescribed

Even if you won’t hit the time cap

Would you throw wisdom to the wind and go for it

Or actually scale it?


His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy

There’s vomit in his throat already, mom’s spaghetti

He’s nervous, but on the surface looks calm, clearly not ready

To lift this overloaded barbell, but he keeps on forgetting

What coach wrote down, the scaling… just too proud

He opens his mouth, the grunts force their way out

He’s chokin’, how, everybody’s smokin him now

The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!”

Just like me rapping — just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

Just because you can do a workout or a movement prescribed (RX), doesn’t mean that you should. Loading up a barbell with RX weight that’s 90% of your 1RM for an AMRAP, or choosing to do a gymnastic movement as it’s written despite not yet mastering that skill — not only puts you at risk for injury (another topic for another time), but means you’ll totally miss the mark on the desired stimulus for that workout. Something that, had you scaled appropriately, could have been avoided.

Now hear me: I am not suggesting we scale to avoid movements we don’t like or that fall in areas where we are weak; we aren’t aiming to lean only into our strengths here. That’s not what CrossFit is about. Our aim, always, is to improve our fitness. And a huge contributor to that in the gym is to meet the desired stimulus (one that is almost always communicated in class by the coach) for that specific workout. As an athlete, there are a couple things required for this to become a regular filter:

Leave your pride at the door.

Y’all, nobody gives two craps if you can do a workout prescribed. I promise, no one is going to their coworkers with the big news in CrossFit that you did this morning’s sprint AMRAP workout RX. “But Brett! It’s fun! I like the tiny victory!” Hey man, I get it. But the risks of letting your pride get in the way of your fitness largely outweigh the reward:

  • When you attempt to do a workout prescribed, and it’s just not in your wheelhouse yet, more often than not you’ll lag behind — putting yourself in a position to either cut reps to make the cap (cheat), or go too slow and get a DNF. Nobody cares if you win, but everybody cares if you cheat.
  • Your coach(es) will be frustrated and disappointed with you. We’re literally here to help you improve your fitness, and we promise you will still get stronger if you drop the weight on your barbell. Like I tell my 2 year old, “Please listen and obey” haha. There’s a time and a place for heavy barbell work and strict gymnastic movements, and a light sprinty workout ain’t it.
Be self-aware!

Take stock of your abilities to cycle a light barbell, cycle a heavy barbell, run short distances, run long distances, do gymnastics things, row/bike, etc. There’s a reason why we log our results in Wodify after every class — not just to see where you stack up, but so that you can have great measurements for where you are on this fitness journey! Log your scores every day and make notes! When you see a long running day coming up, look back and see what happened last time and check your notes. This way you can gameplan well and be aware of how you’ll need to scale… or not! Be aware of where you are, and be okay with being there. Your RX time will surely come. 

Let’s work to improve our fitness in 2020 through the wisdom of scaling for the sake of the intended stimulus each and every day at CrossFit Renew. You’ve got this! 

Who wrote this post...

Brett Myles

Brett Myles

Brett, who’s been coaching at Renew since 2014, played sports throughout his adolescence, and has competitive baseball to thank for his shoulder problems. Being 6’4, Brett loves all the Tall Guy things: rowing, biking, wall-balls, and anything with a barbell. So it feels right to say that his favorite benchmark workout is Grace. In the gym, you’ll never find Brett not listening to rap music. Outside the gym, Brett loves to spend time at home with his lovely wife and three little kiddos, or wrangling other people’s kiddos as the Student Ministry Director at the Austin Stone Community Church.

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