Scaled Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Why does being a scaled athlete make us feel less than? It’s not like anyone else at the box will ever mock someone for using a lighter weight, doing jumping pull-ups, or scaling or modifying a movement to fit our abilities.

The “scaled athlete” stigma comes from within us. For me, at least, it’s all between my ears. And I get it, I really do. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a super-scaled athlete, and now I’m a halfway decent scaled athlete. But during the Open, as I realized that scaling would be the best way for me to post scores for my team, I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I felt like I wasn’t progressing fast “enough” on my CrossFit journey.

There is no shame in being a scaled athlete, especially when so many people aren't taking control of their health. Here's why scaling is great.

Of course, this is completely wrong. I don’t think there is a single person at my box that thinks I’m not “good enough” to be there. The RX athletes cheer just as loudly for the scaled athletes as they do for each other. After my failed 95-lb. squat clean attempts in 19.2, a couple of the RX athletes I admire most told me I did great – not because they wanted to mollify me, but because they’ve seen my progress over the past three-plus years.

For me, at least, I’m coming along quite well at CrossFit. I’m seeing progress, albeit slow progress, with how heavy I can lift and what skills I’m learning. Where I started and where I am today are very different. And despite my physical limitations (um, being short and small-boned), I’m at a level where I don’t flinch at the scaled standards in the Open.

A Scaled Athlete in the Open

During the Open, I know a lot of people went RX so they could post RX scores. Aside from the first WOD, there were a couple of others I probably could have done RX. I would have done them poorly, but I would have gotten an RX score by my name and a higher overall score in my division.

But that would have defeated the purpose of the workout. The goal of 19.2 was not to spend eight minutes trying to get 25 toes to bar and 50 double-unders, and never hitting the barbell. 19.3 wasn’t about spending 10 minutes inching my way across the floor, putting down the dumbbell after every step or two. An RX 19.4 score shouldn’t take all 12 minutes to get those first three rounds. You see where I’m going with this? If you’re great with the weights and can blast through the snatches and burpees, it doesn’t matter if you get a muscle-up in the second part of the WOD. But if the RX weight is a struggle?

Go scaled. It’s what you’ve trained. As a scaled athlete, I don’t usually RX at the box. There are some workouts I could theoretically RX, but then I wouldn’t get the stimulus that has been programmed. There’s a goal for every WOD; some of them are for heavy lifting, and others are for cardio sprints. If you go RX when the weight or movement is a challenge, you’re defeating the purpose of the programming. I liken it to running a road race: I train to run a half marathon at, say, an 8:30/mile pace. I don’t see Kara Goucher at the start line and go, “Hey, I’m gonna try to keep up with her!” Nope, that’s a recipe for disaster and disappointment, even if someone takes a picture of us running together.

I know that my coach puts a great deal of planning into what we see on the whiteboard, and it’s meant to stimulate different muscular responses. Sure, I could go RX for a WOD with a whole bunch of 65-lb. power cleans on the board. But if it’s meant to be a sprint, I can guarantee you that I won’t be sprinting. I’ll be putting down the bar in sets of three or four. That weight is meant for the RX athletes to do in sets of 10, 15, whatever.

Point being, at this stage of my CrossFit life, I train to scale. I don’t say, “Ooooh, let’s do 65-lb. thrusters because that’s what’s prescribed on the whiteboard!” I say, “What’s a realistic goal for me to get for this WOD (how many rounds, how much time should it take)” and then scale appropriately. Yes, I’ll RX benchmarks that are sort of in my wheelhouse (Fight Gone Bad, Helen, Baseline), but in the average WOD? Scaled, mostly on the weights.

No Shame in Scaling

There’s no shame in being a scaled athlete. And maybe we should get rid of the word “scaled” altogether and come up with something else. Like, as Coach Holly suggested, something that means “work out for you.” At a time when the U.S. is faced with an obesity epidemic, when more people are sedentary than moving, being a scaled athlete means you are doing something. You are taking control of your health and fitness and working to improve your life.

So: work out for you. Whether you’re doing overhead squats with a PVC pipe or loading up the barbell with the RX weight, whether you’re doing ring rows or chest to bar pull-ups, remember that it is a workout for you, where you are at in your CrossFit journey. Remember that as you head into the Open and want to test your fitness and get a good workout at the same time. Scaled is not a four-letter word.


7 thoughts on “Scaled Is Not a Four-Letter Word

  1. I am not actually familiar with the term scaled athlete. Looks like you are working pretty hard doing what you love and staying in fantastic shape.

    1. Thank you! <3 In CrossFit, we use it to mean someone who doesn't normally do the workouts as prescribed (RX) at their box. Most people fall into that category - and Type A people like me obsess over how I can get better and RX more workouts.

  2. I never even heard of this term. Thanks for sharing.

    I am in awe of everything you do.

    Not a gym person…but maybe someday.

    1. Awww, thanks so much!

      Honestly, if I can CrossFit, anyone can. All the workouts can be scaled and modified to your abilities – a good coach can help you scale appropriately so you get all the benefits of the workout.

  3. I’m not very well-versed in CrossFIt language, but I was able to follow you 😉 I think the big thing, in all sports, is to be realistic in one’s goals and abilities, but also willing to step out of that comfort zone from time to time. We all have individual aspirations, and it’s foolish to try to make another’s journey your own.

  4. Thank you for this! Especially lately, while I sort out my symptoms of RA, my CF coach is helping me to scale so that I still get the benefits of the workout without compromising myself. It’s a philosophy that I am familiar with through yoga–that no matter where you are at in your journey, you’re still going to get gains!

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