By Maximus Lewin, Founder, CrossFit East Bay

“While CrossFit challenges the world’s fittest, the program is designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual, regardless of experience. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change the program. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind”.

– Greg Glassman, Founder CrossFit INC.

As you start your CrossFit journey, perhaps the single most important concept to understand is “scaling”. As above, CrossFit workouts are designed to meet the fitness needs of everyone, but obviously not everyone is at the same ability level. Everyone has to start, continue and improve from exactly where they are. This can be psychologically difficult to internalize, but once you understand how scaling works, you see it is your best friend when it comes to selecting workout variations that will give you the best bang for the buck. More on that in “CrossFit 101 Pt 2: When do I scale”? and “CrossFit 101 Pt. 3 Why Should I Scale”?

So what is scaling? Simply put scaling is appropriate exercise selection that will ensure that your workout has the intended training effect. If you are working with a coach at CrossFit East Bay or elsewhere, your coach should be able to tell you why you are doing a particular workout. LPT – If they can’t, find a new coach. If you are working out on your own you may have to did a little deeper, but assuming you are doing CrossFit, the .com blog, FAQ or message board is a great place to start. The CrossFit Training Instagram has scaling suggestions for all workouts.

Here are some examples of scaling (see detailed physical skill descriptions below):

  • Scaling for Strength: for beginners the volume of lifting may be more important than the amount lifted in a single rep or multiple rep workout. Five sets of one rep is likely not adequate stimulus for newer lifters. They might elect to do sets of three or five instead. Consult your coach. Jane CrossFit is new to lifting Her one-rep max deadlift is only 95 pounds. Instead on five sets of one rep, Jane’s Coach has her do five sets of five at 75 pounds.
  • Scaling for Speed: often CrossFit workouts are meant to be done quickly. It might even say go hard and fast in the workout description. Therefore you might have to cut down the volume of the workout to be able to  go quickly enough to get the desired stimulus. For example in the Workout “Helen” you might cut the 400 meter run down to 200 meters to keep it snappy. Consult your coach.
  • Scaling for Power: for people new to Olympic Lifting or other power movements, it is essential to keep the weights light enough to move at full speed, without grinding through the movement. Conversely an overly light weight will not provide enough resistance to facilitate power development. Consult your coach. Joe CrossFit can clean 155 pounds with horrible form. His coach has him cut the weight down to 115 pounds for seven sets of three reps with good form.
  • Scaling for Cardio-Respiratory Endurance: in this case it is important to do adequate volume and to keep the heart rate in the aerobic zone. something like 140-170 BPM. You might have to run/walk on a 10K hill run, for example, and athletes newer or less conditioned might benefit from cutting the volume in half to 5K. Volume for it’s own sake is a mistake: if you cannot make a planned workout day due to exhaustion or extreme soreness it was too much. Consult your coach. Fanny Fitness has not run in many years. Her coach has her cut the 10K run down to 3K (about two miles) and jog for one minute then walk for one minute until done.
  • Scaling for Stamina: In this case you will want to scale movements to be able to move continuously. For example if the workout calls for 10-20 sets of five pull-ups for time (among other components) and you can only do three at a time, scale to a more appropriate movement like ring rows or jumping pull-ups. Johnny Bro-Rep can do three pull-ups maximum and has only fair conditioning. In the workout “Cindy”, AMRAP in 20 minutes 5 pull-up, 10 push-up, 15 squat, Johnny’s coach has him substitute jumping chest-to-bar pull-ups and do one round every second minute (10 rounds total)
  • Scaling for Flexibility: If this is an issue you should be working on your mobility every day. While you work on it you may have to reduce range of motion of certain movements. For example squatting to a high box or pulling deadlifts off of a block. Don’t move through a range of motion you cannot pull off without at least a B+ movement pattern. Doing otherwise is greatly improving your odds of getting injured, especially under  load. Consult your coach. Evelyn Engineer is very stiff and cannot do an overhead squat but is very strong with a powerlifting background. In the workout “Nancy” 5 rounds for time of: 400 meter run, 95/65 pound Overhead squat, 15 reps Evelyn’s Coach has her do back squats at 105 pounds and recommends mobility work for her to do on her own.
  • Scaling for Coordination: as above don’t do movements under load (or with heavy weight) that you cannot do with at least a B+ movement pattern. Substitute Hang Muscle Snatch for Power Snatch. Substitute Power Snatch for Squat Snatch and so on. Consult your coach.
  • Scaling for Agility: In this case either safety or ability to perform the movement is going to inform your choice. Step-ups instead of Box Jumps. Single-Unders instead of Double-Unders. Consult your coach.
  • Scaling for Balance: For the purposes of CrossFit this is primarily going to be squatting  and overhead weighted movements. Don’t pick weights that are going to cause you to fall or stumble. Consult your coach.
  • Scaling for Accuracy: this is another one where you are going to want to scale to the load so that your movement is controlled, for example Wall-Ball.


10 Components of Fitness

There are ten recognized general physical skills, and they are all practiced regularly with CrossFit. You are as fit as your competency in each of these ten skills.

  1. Cardiovascular / respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  4. Flexibility – The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  6. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.