To it’s detriment, CrossFit is very jargony, and one of the most common “CrossFit-esque” words you’re likely to hear early and often is “scale”.
“Did you scale or go Prescribed?”
“What’s the scale for a muscle up?”
“I shouldn’t have scaled as much!” etc etc.
Let’s define and demystify.
What is Scaling? Scale in essence translates to modify, to change usually in the direction of easier, but always toward getting the appropriate response from the day’s workout.
CrossFit workouts are commonly quantified in some way shape or form. Obviously, we don’t say that “HELEN is “Run for a while, then do some Kettlebell swings, and then do a few pullups, maybe like a couple of times total?”, but rather HELEN is:
3 Rounds for time
400 m run, 21 Kettlebell Swings @ 53/35lbs, 12 Pullups.”
Everything is precisely defined. The exact distance, weight and repetitions must be achieved and in doing so as written than and only then you have done the workout HELEN as Prescribed (shorthand HELEN rx’d).
But often you’ll find that adhering to the workout “as prescribed” will be
1)Impossible–Perhaps you don’t have pullups yet.
2) Detrimental–You could run 400 m if you had to, but your plantar inflammation would leave you crippled the next day or …
3) Inappropriate–Doing so would give you something other than the appropriate physical response. If any of the above apply to you, you should be scaling (changing/modifying) the workout.
In short, if any of the above applies to you on a given workout you should change, modify, adjust ie SCALE. Which segues to Why scale? We’d scale so that your time at the gym is advancing your fitness safely and incrementally, while not leaving you too fatigued and/or sore to come back the next day.
How/When should I scale? The answer here is to consult the instructor and collectively come up with a plan. They are going to be able to define the goal of the workout. You are going to be aware of your limitations and circumstances. So, continuing with HELEN as a reference point: you might say “Hey Whitney, I can’t run my knee is bothering me” we might sub something that serves the same effect as running 400 m and takes about the same time. Row/Ski/Bike 500/500/1000 m for instance. These are all repetitive, relatively low skill, high turnover movements that will achieve the same end as a vigorous 400 m run. If one of those can be done pain free, they’d be a much better choice than a stunted and slow run and the workout effect would largely be the same.
Another scenario “Joel, I struggle with 5 pullups fresh. I could do the 12 pullups per round, but it’ll take me probably 20-25 minutes to do this workout. What should I do?” Here’s an instance where the effect of the workout is altered by adhering to the prescribed standard. This athlete will take so long to do her pullups that she will largely be recovered at the start of every run, and this is NOT what we want out of HELEN. Among other things we want to see the athletes run while fatigues and we are looking for times in the 10-15 minute range. This athlete CAN do the workout prescribed, but SHOULDN’T. In this instance we’d reduce the load (perhaps we’d add band assistance or do jumping pullups) or possible change the movement to something with a similar effect ( a horizontal pull like a supine row).
Doing the workout’s Rxd is often a good goal, but slavish devotion to Rxd no matter what is likely setting your fitness back a step or two and exposig you to injury. Please continue to think long term about the toll we put on the body. We can always go for Rxd down the road.