Scaling Your WOD

The Bottom Line Up Front:

  • You are in pursuit of increasing your ability and strength. You will only accomplish this by accumulating successful reps, performed with enough intensity to stimulate growth and adaptation.
  • Do not let your ego guide you, whether feeling compelled to update your WOD performance on a website, which only counts if you do the “set” weight, or:
  • Feeling compelled to perform something as written on a website, as if failing to meet that number makes you weaker.
  • Your best results will come when you perform workouts that fit YOUR OWN BODY and its limits of strength and work capacity.

For those who adhere to the concept of CrossFit, but workout on their own without a coach, you may find yourself following WODs that you pull from the internet. And while it’s all well and good to find some guidance of a professional sort, it would behoove you to take some extra personal ownership of this process.

WODs you pull from the internet are not as good as a coach, and you need to recognize that. They are generic offerings from someone who will never see you working out. Many of these online workouts are following some method of programming, and that’s good. And even better are ones that already offer scaled versions. But for your own individualized approach, you can’t necessarily take the cookie cutter versions you find online. You’ll need to scale it to your own ability.

When to Scale

It has been said that you will only get strong by BUILDING strength, not by TESTING strength. Strength is built from the accumulation of completed reps. Failing repeatedly is a highly effective method to fatigue yourself without making any progress. This is not to say that you should not push yourself, as going too easy will result in junk reps as well. But if you have attempted a specific WOD and failed to complete the bulk of your reps in the prescribed method, any future attempts at the WOD should be scaled. And if you have worked out long enough to have a frame of reference of your own actual ability (be real here, don’t listen to your ego), you should scale a WOD accordingly.

How to Approach Scaling

The key to effectively scaling your workout is to understand HOW each phase of the workout, each specific exercise, is meant to be performed. Percentage based figures can help guide you with this. While there are established percentage charts for strength and power progression, a different approach is needed for metabolic conditioning work. Most metcons will take you above the ideal set/rep range for true strength work, so a breakdown like Prilepin’s chart can’t be applied.

It is said that for athletes attempting to improve muscular endurance as well as strength, rep ranges from 10-20, performed at 50-75% of max effort is the sweet spot. Hypertrophy (dat pump) will be more pronounced, typically, between 8-12 reps in the 60-75% window. I like to use this as my starting point, and create a breakdown like this


To apply it to a known model, we can use the infamous Fran. While Fran is written with specific weights, and is even offered with scaled numbers for people who aren’t ready for the full workout, you can personalize it. Since it calls for a rep breakdown of 21-15-9 of 2 alternating exercises (thrusters and pullups), the starting work load of this workout falls just north of the “10-20 rep” range, but over the course of the workout averages at 15 reps. In this case, you’d find your 50% figure, and go with that. And likewise in this case, scaling can work in both directions. If you are a very strong lifter, and can perform a thruster with over 230 pounds, don’t feel obligated to stick with 115 just because the website said so. But for your own maximal results from a workout, you need to approach it with the best fit for you.

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