Apr 01
Scaling CrossFit

Dave Castro Scales, Pass It On

Another year, another CrossFit Open, some very different workouts. Since being founded way back in the 00’s CrossFit has continued to change and develop. Some issues arose, they were dealt with, and in the absence of problems, changes were made to keep things fresh and innovative. In my last post I highlighted the movements that were introduced over the years, and whilst I mentioned a bigger change, I somewhat skimmed over it… the introduction of the scaled division. The newly formed scaled division “opened up the Open” to a whole new range of people, whilst also giving Castro license to beef up some of the Rx Open workouts.


Scaling is something that 90% of us will do at least weekly. Anyone who doesn’t need to scale like this is either the top dog at their gym or a very accomplished athlete. Whether we are working at a lighter weight, a different rep range, or at a regression of a more complex movement, the majority of us will be scaling week in, week out.

Program for the best, scale for the rest is a mantra preached at the CrossFit L1, and once the scaled division was in place, this was the attitude adopted with the Open workouts.

But as the new division was introduced, it introduced, well, division. Athletes now had labels, the “coulds” and “could-nots”. Where the scaled division opened up the competition to a whole new level of athlete, it made things less clear for athletes who were on the cusp of Rx. In Open years gone by muscle-ups were something that everyone had a go at attaining. Now they were a choice for people to make, and the leaderboard was going to show everyone else what decision you made.

All of a sudden we were afraid to scale, even though we had scaled every other workout we’d done that week. I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else. Take the workout 16.2 from last year, it goes a little something like this;

Beginning on a 4-minute clock, complete as many reps as possible of:
  25 toes-to-bars
  50 double-unders
  15 squat cleans, 135 / 85 lb.

If completed before 4 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:
  25 toes-to-bars
  50 double-unders
  13 squat cleans, 185 / 115 lb.

If completed before 8 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:
  25 toes-to-bars
  50 double-unders
  11 squat cleans, 225 / 145 lb.

If completed before 12 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:
  25 toes-to-bars
  50 double-unders
  9 squat cleans, 275 / 175 lb.

If completed before 16 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:
  25 toes-to-bars
  50 double-unders
  7 squat cleans, 315 / 205 lb.

Stop at 20 minutes.

Now if that workout came up on the blackboard for class, I’d be telling people they want to be aiming for a 16-20 minute workout. You want the weights to be challenging, potentially even pushing PB territory towards the end, but not so tough that you can’t get past the first two rounds. That’s the stimulus we’d be going for. Where did the majority of the Rx division finish that workout?

Either at the end of round one (< 90 reps, 4 minutes) or at the end of round two (< 178 reps, 8 minutes). Yep, exactly where we wouldn’t want to finish.

I understand things are different in competition, but should they really be that skewed? When the Open comes around if you can be doing muscle ups, full snatches, cleans at around 85kg+ and handstand push ups, then yes, you should be doing Rx.

But if you’re borderline for some of those movements, maybe you can squeeze out a few chest to bar pull ups or a few shaky double unders? Pick and choose your battles. Go scaled for the ones you can’t complete, and hit that workout hard. Go Rx for the ones you think you might be able to finish, and give it everything you’ve got, every rep is a massive success.

Take 17.2 this year, if you had a decent shot at getting your first bar muscle up then let’s go all out for that one rep! If you know that your pulling strength isn’t quuuuiiittteeee there yet, then why wouldn’t you go all out on the scaled version? More pulling strength and bloody hard workout!

Celebrate Your Successes

If you smashed a scaled workout, be proud of yourself. If you stumbled through a Rx workout yet achieved your goals, be proud of yourself. If you went Rx but couldn’t finish half the workouts, let’s reassess. If you’re disappointed with the way things panned out, get better next year… (author included!)

The key to getting better next year? Work within your means and push the envelope week by week. Listen to how your coach wants each session to go. The weight on the bar doesn’t matter, how hard you work does. Intensity is king.

But for now? Have a beer, enjoy the sunshine and let’s try something new!

About The Author

Hi, I'm Jordan, a 22 year old pharmacy student/CrossFit L1 trainer working at CrossFit Norwich in the UK. I've been coaching for over a year now, I'm always striving to learn more and applying it in the gym, I hope you enjoy reading my musings and thoughts.

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