Scaling CrossFit Workouts

Move well, before you move more @ CrossFit Indiana
CJ Lyons
March 19, 2023
Scaling CrossFit Workouts

Athletes will need to scale workouts for variable amounts of time. Length of time scaling workouts is dependent on current health and fitness capacity. Scaling can happen indefinitely but a month is the recommended period of time in which scaling should be applied. A month is relative so to speak. If you are consistently coming to the gym 5-6 times per week, we would consider a month to be ~20 classes. If you are coming 2x a week, you're scaling will take a bit more time because 20 classes at 2x a week is about 3 months.

We scale for two purposes: 

  1. It develops competency in movement
  2. It appropriately exposes the athlete to gradual increase in intensity and volume.

Mechanics and consistency first!

CrossFit’s charter for creating the most optimal balance of safety, efficacy, and efficiency is: mechanics, consistency, then—and only then—intensity. The initial exposure to CrossFit is when movement mechanics should be prioritized over intensity. And for some, just practicing the movements will be intense. It is imperative that the movements can be performed correctly and consistently before load and speed are added.


The stimulus of the workout refers to the effects of the specific combination of movements, time domain, and load. Aspects of this combination can be adjusted for each individual so that the workout produces relatively similar effects on each athlete—regardless of physical abilities.

Intensity and Volume

Two factors need to be scaled for every beginner:

1. intensity

2. volume

A prudent method for beginners is reducing intensity and/or volume by half for at least two weeks. Depending on how the athlete progresses, volume and intensity can be gradually increased in the following weeks, months, and years.

Intensity refers to the amount of power an athlete generates. Intensity may be modified in three ways: 1) load; 2) speed; and/or 3) volume.

While lowering the volume can increase intensity (i.e., produce more power), volume reductions are also important for beginners because muscles, ligaments, and tendons need to become gradually accustomed to the volume in CrossFit. Reducing volume also reduces excessive soreness, as well as the risk for rhabdomyolysis and injury.


When a movement cannot be performed at all, it can be substituted. Complete movement substitutions should be considered when a physical limitation or injury is present, or when the load cannot be reduced.

Athletes and their trainers should focus on movement proficiency before adding speed and load.

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