Arguably, the most often externally asked question in CrossFit is “What’s the wod?”. Arguably, the most often internally asked question in CrossFit is “Should I attempt this wod Rx or should I scale?”. While I generally cannot answer the first question for you, this two-part post will investigate factors that might influence your decision to scale or go Rx for a wod. Let’s call this to scale or not to scale. For, most days, that is the question.
Before we dive into reasons to potentially scale a wod, let’s first tackle one reason that should never be used as a reason to go Rx (or, for you non-CrossFitters, doing the workout as written without substituting any movements or reducing any weights). Pride. If you simply are doing the workout Rx, weight and movement be damned, just to put that Rx by your name, it’s probably time to reevaluate your motives for doing CrossFit. Blindly Rx-ing wods is a sure way to never meet your goals.
With that being said, here are factors to consider when trying to decide between scaling and Rx-ing a CrossFit wod.
First and foremost, the number one reason to scale any workout would be safety. Many CrossFit wods call for lifting heavy loads off the ground or above our heads. If a heavy weight causes us to use bad form, such as a rounded back on deadlifts or overarching on a press, we put our bodies in position for injury. Lighter weights after many rounds and repetitions also can cause form sacrifices due to fatigue and this can cause injury just as much as heavy weight. Even body weight movements, such as falling uncontrolled on a pull-up descent, can damage shoulders and surrounding tissue.
Of course, injuries can happen at any time, even when a workout is appropriately scaled. Put yourself in the best position to safely handle the punishment of the wod while still maintaining intensity. Speaking of intensity…
The workout of the day is programmed with intention. Sometimes this intention has a strength bias, sometimes the wod favors more conditioning. A good coach should explain the intention of the wod before it is performed. Sometimes there are obvious hints, like the sheer volume of the wod or the prescribed load. Fran, for instance, uses a relatively light weight with the intent to be a total metabolic destroyer. (Yes, I’m aware I borderline should be scaling that wod.) Some workouts depend more on the weight of the barbell to produce the suck effect, like Linda. Sometimes the intensity line between Rx and scaled is very, very blurry.
Take the latest hero wod I did, Morrison. This was a 50-40-30-20-10 of wall balls, KB swings, and box jumps. My box programmed a 35-minute time cap for this workout. After listening to the WODwell strategic advice and contemplating my own abilities… I decided to go Rx. 36:13 later, I finished the workout… time cap be damned – I was absolutely going to finish! But, that leads to the question of did I make the correct decision regarding Rx/scaled?
Things got really spicy really quickly with Morrison. My lower back was tightening from all the swings and jumps, and wall balls just suck in general. There were times when I had to spend many seconds with my hands on my knees, gasping for air. I broke my rounds up into increasingly smaller sets, sometimes getting only 7 wall balls in before needing to rest.
But… I finished pretty near the time cap. So, should I have gone Rx with the 1.5 pood KB and 20# wall ball or should I have maybe gone with the 1 pood and maybe finished closer to 30 minutes? Personally, I feel that if I had not gone Rx and finished with time to spare, I would’ve wished I had gone Rx because I would know I could. But, would that give me as optimal a workout, given that I would take more time and rest more?
One more word on intensity… don’t scale yourself to too low of an intensity. Take Morrison again, if you scaled and completed the wod in less than 20 minutes… you probably scaled too far. CrossFit is supposed to suck sometimes, it’s supposed to get uncomfortable… don’t cheat yourself out of the suck!
That’s it for Part One on this discussion of scaling versus going Rx for your CrossFit wod. Check back soon for Part Two! If you’re a numbers guy like me… you’re going to love what I have in store for you!
Your turn -> Have you ever scaled a wod and realized afterwards that you could’ve done the workout with less scaling?