How to Scale CrossFit WOD’s
“The WOD is designed to exceed the capacities of the world’s fittest humans and that by starting CrossFit by throwing yourself at the WOD 100% will result in devastating failure. We’ve recommended anyone attempting CrossFit first get through a month of “going through the motions” before diving in with full intensity – “establish consistency before intensity”. Countless bad-asses from sporting and special operations communities, long regarded as bullet proof, have been burned at the stake of ego and intensity” — Greg Glassman.
Coach Glassman first made this statement way back in the January 2005 issue of the CrossFit Journal. His words still ring true over a decade later. What separates CrossFit from all other training methodologies can be summed up in its description: “Constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity across a wide array of modal domains“. This can be easily be translated to maximising power output, or the amount of work performed within a given time. For many newcomers to the sport, and those who have been taking part in CrossFit for some time, but failing to leave their egos at the door, this is often misinterpreted as “Doing this WOD RX is the only way to truly get any benefits from it” when in reality, for most, its the fastest way to a soul crushing defeat.
Being able to understand the desired outcome of any given workout, and the ability to scale those workouts and achieve those outcomes correctly, can be difficult at first, but if done sensibly from the beginning, will greatly improve your chances of success.
What does RX mean?
When a WOD is designed there is usually a prescribed (RX) weight involved, take the well known benchmark, “Fran” 21-15-9 Thrusters and Pull-ups at 95lbs (43 kilograms) for males and 65lbs (29 kilograms) for females. As a general rule, if a WOD has a 21-15-9 rep scheme it is classed as a “sprint”. “Fran” should be completed by top level CrossFit athletes at the prescribed weight in under 5 minutes, with times around 2 minutes not being uncommon.
So does this mean as a beginner you should look only at the RX for this workout, then struggle through it, doing your Thrusters in singles, spending time looking at the barbell wistfully, and chalking your hands an eleventh time (Yes, your coaches notice this) only to finish the workout 15 minutes later? You did the WOD RX!!! That’s great! But if you had scaled back the weight you would of finished the workout a lot faster, and in that respect, increased your power output. That is its desired outcome.
RX is designed to make a level playing field for the top levels of the sport, so that an athlete completing a WOD as prescribed in Perth can compare their results with someone in Texas, this also helps in building strong bonds within the global CrossFit community. RX standardises CrossFit for competition and is something to be aimed for, not something that is mandatory for every athlete, in every WOD.
Volume Intensity and Speed
There are many different styles of CrossFit WOD, for some, the amount of weight you can lift on the day will be the focus, such as establishing a 5 Rep Max Deadlift, but for the vast majority of them, time is a factor in some way.
When your Coach is going through the days WOD with the class on the Whiteboard its a very good time to start thinking about how you will tackle it. If they are worth their salt as a Coach they will explain to you what the desired outcome of the WOD is and should definitely offer their advice on scaling options, after all, they want you to do this workout for a specific reason right? You would hope so.
Focus on the rep scheme and the volume of the workout instead of the loads listed. The metabolic stimulus of completing the prescribed reps of the WOD at a reduced weight and a shorter time frame is equal too or greater than that of taking the extra time to complete the WOD at the prescribed weight. This also has the added benefit of aiding in your recovery times when you are first starting out. When the time comes to repeat that WOD it is also a good option to complete it at the scaled weight that you previously achieved, and compare your results. If it is completed faster, then your power to weight ratio has increased! For a conditioning focused workout, Faster times for are the desired outcome, not slowing your times down by adding more plates. As John Welbourn once said, “Train fast be fast, train slow be slow“. You want to be fast. Trust me on this one.
Scaling prescribed workouts according to body-weight
Once you are getting close to achieving the prescribed weight for a workout you can try scaling according to your body weight. While CrossFit is well known for not having weight divisions, even at its highest level, you can assume that programming is designed around an 80 kilogram male athlete and a 60 kilogram female athlete (RX weights are usually 75% lighter for female athletes, than their male counterparts). To scale using this method all that is required is to take your body weight and multiply it by the model weight.
Lets use the example of a 66 kilogram male athlete and once again “Fran”:
66 kg ÷ 80 kg = 0.82
0.82 is now the athletes multiplier that they can apply to all RX loads. For “Fran” the RX load for males is 95 lbs, which is 43 kg.
0.82 x 43 kg = 35.5 kg
So for the body weight scaled version of “Fran”, personalised for this athlete, the load used should be 35.5 kg. Age, training experience and current fitness level are all of course, still factors that need to be considered.
Scaling prescribed workouts according to current 1 Rep Max
During the 2012 CrossFit Regionals, Dan Bailey and Kristin Clever both set world records for the benchmark “Diane”.
Like “Fran”, “Diane” is a sprint WOD consisting of 21-15-9 Deadlift (RX weight 225lb/102kg for males and 155lb/70kg for females) and Handstand Push-ups.
To get a great idea of what “Intensity” is all about have a look at both of their efforts below, (It will only take about four and a half minutes to watch both videos!)
To attempt “Diane” at the RX load, you will first want to have a 1 RM of at least 147 kilograms for males and for females a 1 RM of at least 100 kilograms. These weights are roughly 70% of your 1 Rep Max. As a guide, this means that if your current 1 RM is 100 kilograms you should use 70 kilograms.
When scaling as a percentage of your 1 RM you should also keep in mind, once more, the desired outcome of the workout. You still want to be challenged, but you also want to maintain intensity and speed with your reps. As always, a good Coach will be able to make suggestions for you.
What does this mean for you?
For beginners in CrossFit, it is more important to focus on the intensity and rep scheme (volume) of a WOD than the prescribed loading (weight). RX is what we all aim to achieve, but it will not happen without consistency in your training, sensible scaling of your workouts to achieve their desired outcomes, adequate rest and nutrition, and a dedicated strength program to increase your muscular endurance.