Scaling allows athletes of varying levels to do the same workout. Scaling is part of CrossFit’s universal accessibility. But scaling is not just a means of easing a workout for a newcomer; it is a tool that your coaches use to make sure that the workout has the appropriate effect on your body. Coaches can progressively scale movements like muscle ups and they can scale distance, reps and weight so that clients can maintain proper intensity and finish in the correct time domain.
When scaling complex movements, coaches are trying to do two things. First, they are trying to make sure that the movement that you will be doing is a movement that will get you closer to the RX movement. For example, if you cannot do a muscle up the best scale is a 2:1 muscle up progression. It is the movement most likely to prepare you in strength and technique for the muscle up- it mimics its range of motion most completely. If you are not ready for muscle up progressions, pull-ups and dips are a great combo scale for the muscle up as those are the foundational movements that you must be stronger in to finally get your muscle up.
When scaling reps, distance or weight, coaches are thinking about the time domain that the workout should be performed in and advising the athlete on weights that will allow them to accomplish the workout within a certain range of time. Lets use Fran as an example. Fran is 21-15-9 Thrusters (95/65) and Pull-ups. Many top tier athletes can accomplish a sub- 3-minute Fran. I do not expect most of our athletes to accomplish Fran in less than 3 minutes, but when I program Fran- I am programming a very short time domain- under 10 minutes preferably 5-8 minutes. If Fran is taking you longer than 10 minutes, you are actually doing Heavy Fran. If I program Fran with 135/95 Thrusters and Chest to Bar Pull Ups, I am programing a WOD that I expect most to take 12-15 minutes. Don’t do the 95/65 if those weights are heavy for you (the equivalent of 135/95 to Cody and Edith).
Fran’s RXed weight is considered ‘medium’ in CrossFit. If a 95/65-pound thruster is heavy for you, you should scale it even it you can do it. If you do not scale it, you are not using the programming to your advantage. Regular Fran should be almost non-stop- that is the level of intensity you should achieve, and this level of intensity is important in developing muscular endurance and stamina in this metabolic range. If you are breaking up your thrusters and pull-ups much at all, then you are using too high a weight and you are not performing at the intended intensity.
By going too heavy or too long too often, you are not achieving the kind of stress we are trying to create on your body that our purposeful programming intends. This can set you back in your progress or, at very least, make you less well rounded.
There are a few exceptions to the general, above rule, and those exceptions have to do with skills. You will gain strength through the lifting program, and with the proper intensity levels you will gain power by staying in your intended weight domain (light, medium or heavy), but sometimes, you need a WOD to kick your skill into high gear. If an athlete can do single kipping pull-ups but cannot string them together, we often tell them to do them in the WOD regardless of the extra time it will take. This is the same for butterfly kipping pull-ups. When you start learning butterfly kipping pull-ups, you should start subbing them into your regular WODs even if you are going to take longer. Annie’s double unders is another example. If you have a few double unders, you should try to complete Annie RXed instead of going for the fast and easy single under. Working on skills outside of the WOD is important, but you must also work on your skills under stress, and in this case it is okay to let the time go on a bit in favor of gaining skill.
I know you want to RX the weights, but doing ‘heavy’ WODs all the time is not the way to develop your body. If you find yourself taking twice as long as most of the class, you need to scale your weights, reps, or distances- not because you are taking to much of our time, but because the workout you do in that time domain actually has a different effect on your body- you are doing a different workout than the others even if it is the same movement. So unless you are a newcomer in a class with just Cody, Tawna, Maron, Tyler and Jon- if you are not coming in within 4 minutes of the average time, you need more precise scaling.
Your coaches are there to help. Talk to them about what the expected time domain is for the workout, and don’t be afraid to scale mid-WOD if you overestimated your capacity that day.