On Scaling and Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

By: Coach Chris D.


I can’t tell you how often a coach will praise or congratulate a member for a job well done on a particular workout only to hear that athlete say something like: “Thanks, but I scaled.” When they say that the look on their face is one of quiet resignation that their achievement is somehow diminished.

It’s time to put that thinking behind us.

CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman had this to say: “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.”

“Universal scalability!”

This means it truly is for everyone, no matter your experience, skill level, mobility, or strength. 

I sometimes wish the concept of “Rx” was never a part of the CrossFit lexicon because it gives a false impression that those who don’t perform a workout exactly as written somehow didn’t work as hard or don’t have as much to be proud of.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Writing in the CrossFit Journal, Jeremy Gordon (CF-L4) said: “CrossFit workouts are scaled to preserve the intended stimuli despite athlete limitations such as experience, injury, illness or range of motion.”

Let’s provide a real world example. The benchmark workout “Grace” is 30 Clean and Jerks for time. The “Rx” weights are 135 pounds for men and 95 pounds for women. The workout is intended to be a quick sprint that should never take more than five minutes. In fact, it should be 2 to 3minutes. The weight should not be heavy and you should be able to cycle the barbell quickly and efficiently. If you performed Grace “Rx,” but it took you 10 minutes, you should have scaled, and your coach failed to properly scale you. The intended stimuli of this workout is not to do one clean and jerk, then stare at the bar for 20 seconds, then struggle to perform 29 more. You would have gotten a better workout – and experienced the correct stimulus – doing the workout at 75 pounds in 3 minutes

I understand that almost everyone in our gym, as CrossFit athletes, are competitive and have Type A personalities. If you didn’t you would probably be content to walk on an elliptical machine for hours at a time and call that working out. It means that by our nature we simply don’t want to scale. We want to prove to our coaches and friends that we can do exactly what’s on the screen.

But, it is so important to eliminate from your mind this idea that scaling equals some kind of failure.

Let’s think about our purpose for training. We recently watched the CrossFit Games, and we got to see the very best in the world perform. They are professional athletes who train to be competitive exercisers. They train multiple times a day, religiously weigh and measure their foods, spend hours recovering, and sleep the number of hours we would all like to. They are a tiny percentage of CrossFitters, and generally dedicate all their time to becoming competitive exercisers. None of us fit into this category yet.  

The vast majority of CrossFit athletes train for General Physical Preparedness (GPP).

Don't be zombie food!

Don't be zombie food!


What is GPP?

Here is an example: when the zombie apocalypse comes we will be better prepared to survive and thrive in the mad new world than our friends who lazily sit on the couch all the time. They will be lunch, and we will have a fighting chance to survive.  

In short, it means our training makes us better equipped to live life as it exists, and to deal with the unexpected. We also want to improve our health markers, look better in a bathing suit, and have the ability to truly enjoy and live life. You will achieve none of those things if you are injured because your pride told you that you had to “Rx” a workout that maybe you were not ready to “Rx.”

Let’s eliminate from our thinking the idea that scaling is a negative thing. It’s not. It’s an essential part of CrossFit. 

It’s very easy for us, as coaches, to see that this thinking is prevalent. All we have to do is look at attendance numbers on days when complex gymnastics movements like muscle ups are programmed. During those days, there is a precipitous drop off in attendance because people don’t want to scale. I am telling you that you should resist the urge to skip those days because your coaches will scale you in such a way that you will get the exact same stimulus doing a scaled version of the workout as those who do muscle ups.  Please don’t let any posted WOD keep you away from the gym, ever. We promise that if you show up, we will make sure you get the type of workout you want and deserve. This might mean scaling the weight and the movements. All this means is in class the coach designed the exact workout that you needed based on your experience and current skill level.

Please trust us.   

You will see something interesting start to happen. You will see yourself start to get stronger and start learning more skills, and you will begin “Rx’ing” workouts that months before you couldn’t do.  

To close, I want to share a short story about my own CrossFit career. When I first started I struggled mightily with Overhead Squats. My mobility was so bad I simply couldn’t keep my heels down and I couldn’t keep my shoulders locked out. During one Overhead Squat workout the coach came running over to me mid-workout and said “You are doing Front Squats for the rest of this workout.” There was no debate about it. Afterwards, he told me that I was putting myself at risk of injury, which is why he stepped in. He also told me I was not doing much performing singles on light Overhead Squats when it was supposed to be a light weight and high rep workout with a goal of going unbroken.

At the time, sure I was a bit embarrassed. I’m a competitive person, I was an athlete my whole life, and other people saw that I was struggling. But, it was the right decision, and it gave me the fire to practice, practice, and practice some more to improve my Overhead Squats. Next time they were in a workout when the coach asked me to demonstrate them pre-Wod, I showed great improvement and was allowed to do them.

That’s what it’s all about. I scaled the movement, but put in the work to make the necessary improvements.

We are a gym that puts your safety first above all else. Your training should improve the quality of your life, and if you hurt yourself performing a movement you shouldn’t be doing then it would do the opposite. Who knows where I would be right now if I didn’t scale the Overhead Squats that day and got hurt.

Let’s make our informal motto: Get Fit, Enjoy Life, Scale Often, and Continue Improving.

After all, if you don’t scale, and you get injured, you probably wouldn’t fare too well in the zombie apocalypse.