Scale to reach your potential

What is the stimulus of the workout? What reaction is it designed to stimulate?

This is an important question an athlete must ask when approaching a workout because it will provide a strategy for reaching the intended workout intensity, a strategy that includes scaling.

Is the WoD on the white board an endurance-style workout (working for a long duration with little rest, taxing the oxidative system), a sprint/ interval-style workout (to be performed as fast as possible, triggering the glycolytic system), or is it a strength-focused workout (lifting heavy weight with frequent rest, targeting the creatine phosphate system)?

The stimulus or point of the workout itself will determine how you need to scale the movements in the workout to reach the intended intensity.

Intensity can be interpreted in a couple different ways:

  1. Weight being moved (the heavier the weight, the more energy exerted)
  2. Speed of movement (naturally the faster an athlete moves the quicker the heart rate will increase and thus increase the intensity of the movement)
  3. Duration of movement (the more time an athlete spends moving or more time under tension, the more work the body needs to exert)
  4. Difficulty of movement (sometimes just increasing the difficulty of a movement will force the body to concentrate on moving more and thus increase the fatigue levels).


In order to get the most out of a workout, the intensity of the movements need to be scaled (up or down) to suit the stimulus of the workout.

Take, for example, approaching a workout that includes some running and weightlifting movements where the stimulus is intended to be a sprint.

In order to keep the stimulus as a sprint, the weight being lifted needs to be relatively light (<50% of 1RM). This will be highly dependent on an athlete’s strength level and for most athletes, this will mean scaling back the weight to something they can move comfortably. Additionally, the distance being run needs to be scaled according to an athlete’s ability level, ensuring a fast pace.

If these factors are not considered, and an athlete decides to be stubborn and use the “Rx” standards despite their specific ability level, they will likely struggle through the workout and fail to meet the intended stimulus. This will not only reduce the effectiveness of their training, but can potentially lead to injury.

Athletes should be mindful of the various ways to increase or decrease the intensity of a movement when planning to complete a workout. Aiming to complete the “Rx” standards of a workout is generally a poor strategy. Instead the best practise is to aim to complete the workout with the correct intensity, depending on individual varying abilities/strengths.


Kyle Woeller is an RMT and coach at Alchemy CrossFit



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