Scaled or RX’d? How to decide in CrossFit Workouts!

Written By Charleh Knighton  |  CrossFit 

You're standing at the whiteboard, and coach has written a horrendous workout on the board. The WOD being tough is one thing, but when you're unable to do the movements, what do you do? Do you stick at it RX and struggle, or do you scale it? Today, we're going to help you answer the age-old question of should you scale? Or should you go RX? I'm going to define what they exactly mean and go through a really awesome framework. Today's article features a special guest, Lindsay, from CrossFit headquarters

Should you scale or go RX?

Knowing whether you're going to RX or scale a workout isn't something that we should just know. You don't just wake up in the morning and be like, I'm gonna go RX today. We need to actually put some thought into it, especially for planning to exercise for years and years to come.

I've been doing CrossFit for well over a decade. The only way I am still in the sport and motivated to train is because I'm making accurate assessments of whether I should scale or RX a given workout.

What's the difference between scale and RX?

I'll start with my definition of scaling and RX. RX is simply by doing the workout as it is prescribed. That's what RX is. It's like a prescription for medicine.

So if I'm doing the workout RX, that means I'm doing it the way that it is written with the weights with the reps, with the timescale, all that stuff. I'm doing it the way that it's written. If it says I'm deadlifting 315lbs x 21 times, that means I'm deadlifting 315lbs x 21 times.

A scaled workout is where you're taking the prescriptive workout, and you're modifying it in some way, shape or form to fit your needs. There are often times a lot of people will say, "I can't do that workout" - that's totally fine.

CrossFit affiliate programming is not written for the general masses of people. And that's actually by design. Some people don't necessarily do it like that. Some people will write for the masses, but it's supposed to be written, or a good coach will tend to write it for the best in their gym, and then you scale for the rest.

That's a tough pill to swallow for some people.

As long as you don't get hung up on the idea of I need to RX everything, then you're actually going to see better results in the gym - we hope.

>>> Download our free training guide on how to RX more workouts?<<<

The two main factors to whether you should RX or scale

When you scale for a workout, you want to first scale for intensity, then you need to look at the movement.


So intensity, we're going to get into a little bit deeper, is how I view it. If the workouts are supposed to be short and fast, then when you modify your workout. You should modify it in a way so that the workout is still short and fast.

If the workout is long and slow: then when you modify and scale the workout, you want to scale it so that the stimulus, your intensity, is still long and slow.

The common pitfalls are workouts that are designed to be pretty slow, long, and then someone modifies it, they're like - "Well, I got it done in like six minutes, man, I don't see what the big deal was?!".

By doing that, you've missed the intensity piece. 

When we're scaling movements, there are ways that we can do it. For example, we can scale it by changing the range of motion; we can change the actual movement from a run to a row.

So in CrossFit, we define intensity as exactly equal to average power (force x distance / time). And this just turns into this mathematical equation that gives us quantifiable results. Everything that we want to scale for intensity is found in that mathematical equation. 

In short, its load or volume via distance reps and time.

It's really nice to know that we have math backing this framework that we're also excited about, right?

We can actually prove the results.

They're repeatable and quantifiable. So when it comes to intensity, there are two main things we need to consider: load and volume.

What does load mean? And how can we scale or modify that?

Load is in reference to the amount of weight you're using. If we use the example of a 315lbs deadlift mentioned earlier, if that's how the workouts are written, we can scale that weight down to something that would be appropriate for the given rep scheme. So instead of 315lbs, maybe you're doing 275lbs.

What does volume mean? And how can we scale or modify that?

There are 3 things that you need to consider in volume, and that's going to be distance, reps or time.

If I have a rep scheme of 15 pull-ups: maybe I can't do 15 for the given time, I would reduce the repetitions there. Okay, so I can't do 15, and that amount of time. But I can do 12 - awesome, let's do that.

As far as distance is concerned, if I had a 400m run on a workout on repeat, maybe I just need to reduce the distance. So a 300m or 200m matching around a two-minute timeframe. So that's how it would reduce that.

Now, if we're talking about time, something that can be really tricky here is reducing the volume via time while also keeping everybody in class moving together.

Say you have a workout like an AMRAP. So as many reps or rounds as possible, what you do is have an athlete, reduce the volume via time by taking a minute off, work for a minute, and rest for a minute, that's how you would do that.

Can you scale the distance and modify the movement at the same time?

We want to take our joints through their full anatomical end ranges unless there is an injury. So say how we change an air squat or a squat, and I would raise the athlete up to like a box or something similar. Or, if it was like a GHD setup, instead of going all the way to the full range of motion, you shorten that range of motion to reduce the amount of wear and tear.

To summarise, with intensity: load and volume. Volume can be modified by distance, reps, model time, and time. 

How do I scale movements?

When scaling or RX-ing a workout, we need to consider the movement. The movements are exactly what they sound like. They are the actual prescribed movements in the workout.

Let's say there are deadlifts and ring dips, and pull-ups, those are movements that are prescribed with very specific standards. So when it comes to deciding whether or not we can do the movement, and then if we don't know how to modify it, what do we do here?

Always remember that we're trying to keep as many of the original or intended workout elements the same. 

For example, the ring dip, if I can't do a ring depth, I wouldn't just automatically take that to a push-up, because that changes the movement function. And we want to preserve that function for as long as possible.

To elaborate, ring dips are classified as upper body things, but one is oppressed down, and one is oppressed this way in a different plane. So they're different, right? So what we need to do is we need to figure out ways in which to scale the range.

>>>Check Out WODprep's YouTube Channel On How To Scale Specific Movements<<<

Another classic example of modifying a movement is pull-ups. They'll typically be modified to a ring row.

Would you agree those are on two different planes, right, the ring row. I'm pulling horizontally in the pull up and pulling vertically. 

That's an example where we've potentially changed the function a little bit too much, which is why there are certain variations of pull ups that I much prefer. Whether that's standing on a band, or doing negatives, which keeps up vertical pulling, or even scaling to seated lap pull downs because we're pulling vertically. This allows to keep the function of the workout whilst scaling.

If you can do the movement, do it. That's all you need to modify. If you decide to scale the workout is the intensity, but you can keep the actual movements within the workout. 

Scale or RX more technical movements

For athletes who can only do one or two ring muscle ups, and they see a workout that has a tonne of ring muscle ups in it, they immediately go to on to do pull ups the ring dips instead. This is a great opportunity to work on your RMU in a workout but modify the transition. We scaled down the intensity, but you can still get to keep the movement. 

That works well for athletes who always default to just completely throwing out the movements written in the workout. 

How do you scale if you're injured?

So say there's an injury or something like the pull-up example, if you can't hang from the pull-up bar, then the ring row would be something we would do next. 

So you're going to exhaust all efforts regarding scaling for intensity, then the movement function, and then you will change or maybe omit that thing, depending on what we have going on. 

So again, a ring row would be a great example; if I've got a bum shoulder, I could do a Single Arm Row, maybe even a bent-over row on the good wing, to modify for the pull-up. So just playing around with that injury-wise is typically what we're looking at there.

I know the last thing we want to do is like omitted completely right. A good coach will exhaust all of these options, changing the intensity, modifying the actual movement, and trying to retain the function. There are a lot of things that we can do, and there are so many different variations of all these awesome movements that we do here inside of a CrossFit gym. The very last thing could be actually just omitting or completely throwing it out of the window. 

The takeaway - do you scale or RX?

By reading this article, you should now have a clearer picture of whether you should scale or RX. If going RX causes you to completely lose the intensity that was supposed to be in that workout, then you should scale to maintain the intensity. Intensity is the primary thing we're focused on and the driving force that gets us what we want. The right intensity is how we get our results. Once we've kind of checked that box, then we move on to actually modify movements. And that's the hierarchy.

If you are someone who wants to RX more workouts, leave a comment with questions on what you want to improve on, and we're always here to help.

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