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On Scaling


Scaling appropriately

Rx. Those two letters are so important. Some people see it as a badge of honour. Others as a way to see that they did a good workout. On the darker side, some peeps see it as a way to feel superior. I see it as BS. Let me tell you why.

What does ‘Rx’ mean really?

So, in training, especially in CrossFit workouts, Rx is one of those things that everyone is after. It means as prescribed. Like a medication cocktail someone needs to feel better. It means “I did the workout exactly as written down on the board, without modifying anything for my own level”. Good job, but you may be missing the point.

Okay, so you come in one day and see this workout on the board:

3 rounds, for time:

10 deadlifts (405lbs/315lbs)
10 chest-to-bar pullups

Athletes A, B, and C show up, males for the simplicity of the example, boasting the following strength particularities:

- A can deadlift 500 lbs for reps;
- B’s 1-RM deadlift is 355 lbs;
- C’s 1-RM is 435 lbs, dating back a few weeks.
- A, B and C can all do CTB pullups.

So, based on deadlift capacity alone, we can easily see that A will be doing that part as Rx’d. B’s deadlift is certainly not on par with 405 lbs, so the coach will probably say “305 for you!” —  that’s what I’d say anyway.

What happens with C? C can pull 405 off the floor for sure. 30 reps? It might take a while but he could probably do it.

Now if C is a humble and intelligent person, the reflex will be to ask the coach and not argue when the coach says “I think you should do it at 345 lbs”. But if C is arrogant and doesn’t care about progress or injury possibility, then he’ll do 405 lbs. He’ll do all 30 of those beautiful deadlifts at 405 lbs. And I can bet a lot on the fact that you’ll almost be able to hear his inter-vertebral discs weep every time that bar will come up because of his back being as rounded as a cat’s on Halloween. And that is a problem for both the coach and the athlete.

What to do as an athlete?

He might be busy...hold on.

Well as an athlete, you’d normally be training in order to get better and avoiding injuries is usually a good thing, as it will allow you to get better and make some good progress at the same time. Keeping that in mind, the logical thing to do would be to scale the weight appropriately. How? Well there’s no cookie cutter way. It depends on many factors: what you can do as an athlete; what the objective of the workout is, etc. The solution? GO ASK YOUR COACH! They’re there to help you get better while minimizing your chances of injury. If you don’t know how to scale appropriately, they’re around to help you figure it out and make the best of the workout according to your capacity and what the workout is supposed to be. If it’s supposed to be a 4 minutes, balls-to-the-wall workout that you’re expected to be doing at sphincter-releasing intensity, then doing the workout at a weight that will slow you down to a halt will not trigger the adaptations that your coach wants to trigger. If it’s supposed to be a grueling, long and painful behemoth of a workout, well that’s a different story. The coach might want you to suffer through each and every rep, provided that you do them correctly. But go ask. Don’t be an arrogant little kid. Grow up.

Do the workout at your best capacity and don’t let yourself be deterred from your initial goal, whether it’s becoming fitter or becoming the best CrossFitter in the world. Because even the best had to scale at some point, and they still became the best. They were intelligent and humble enough to ask for help, and applied the help that was given to them.

A word to the coaches out there

To those of you who program for their box: why have an Rx versus Scaled workout in the first place? Why not scale appropriately according to each and every one of your athletes? They say “plan for the best, scale for the rest”. I say scale for everyone. Working with percentages of max efforts simplifies this for the weights — 80% of your max is 80%, regardless of what your max is or who you are. That will allow every one to have the proper weight on the bar to achieve progress. Obviously it requires a bit of adaptation to start working in percentages. You’ll make mistakes. That’s part of the deal. But tell you what, the mistakes you make using percentages of max efforts will be minimal compared to the damage you can do by putting arbitrary, ego-stimulating numbers on the board.

Obviously some workouts need to have an arbitrary number. CrossFit benchmarks for example. But you don’t do benchmark workouts every day. And it’s actually an excellent way to verify and challenge your programming. Let’s say you go through a 3-week period where you only do percentage of max work. Then on that 4th week, you can do a benchmark workout and see if your peeps improved or not. Chances are, if they worked often at 70% and up, they got better. Even after only 3 weeks. It works, let me tell you.

Bottom line

Scaling is certainly not just for the newbies. Even an experienced athlete will benefit from intelligently scaled variations of workouts. It puts everyone at exactly the level they need to be, allowing them to progress nicely. And everyone likes to become better. Everyone.


Would you like me to help you with your fitness goals? Consider a live or online consultation! Kick start your progress with no-nonsense advice.

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385, Mayor

Montreal, QC H3A 2K4


T: (514) 999-8067





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