We mentioned talking about scaling workouts a couple of weeks ago, and it’s time to deliver on that. Scaling is something we really think is worth doing, and you will need it at some point along your fitness journey. Scaling: what is it, how do you do it, and why does it benefit you? Let us discuss.

You can scale a fish, a building, and your workouts! Scaling workouts is one of those things we love… a lot of “influencers” online think you need to max out or get out every day, but we here at Meathead Test Kitchen aren’t idiots, so let’s be realistic and get real nerdy about scaling, AKA “modifying” your training.

  1. What IS it? Scaling basically means that you change the intensity of the workout to fit your current fitness level. There is a scaling option for every single exercise. 
    • For example, you can always use a lighter weight in a weightlifting session or use elastic bands to help you with pull ups, muscle ups, squats and more, do fewer reps or just anything to help you finish the workout with your skill level.
      • Even experienced lifters have to scale occasionally. Could be due to injury, or they don’t have enough strength in them that day to keep that weight for a whole WOD. 
  2. Scaling can also mean that you do fewer rounds with the same intensity and weights, or just fewer reps of that particular exercise that you have not mastered yet. 
    • Maybe the reps for double unders in the wod is 50, but you cannot string together more than two, instead of scaling down to single unders, which is also an option, you can still practice your double unders but scale the reps down to 25 or just do double unders for 90 seconds.
  3. In our humble opinion, scaling is a necessary survival skill for fitness noobs of any discipline. We have and will use CrossFit as an example today because it provides a huge range of movement modifications for any given workout. 
  4. We’ve attached a really great in-depth article from Misfit Athletics about scaling, they really get into the specifics of how to scale with different stimuli… it’s so good that we would talk about it for two hours, so find it on the show notes page at meathead test kitchen dot com.


Now that you know when to scale, how the hell do you actually do it? Let’s get hypothetical! Example: say you’re into CrossFit. You walk into the gym and go straight to the board to look at the workout. You see some heavier weights in the workout. The person next to you is loading up the RX weight on their bar. Should you? Or should you scale the weight back? There are a few things to consider when making the choice to scale:

  1. Faster is better, knock the weight down – The higher the intensity can remain during a workout the more benefit you are going to receive. To us, a faster finish time is better than a heavier rep scheme.
  2. Are you using full ROM? Unless specifically programmed, you’re limiting your gains by doing half reps. Do the full range of motion. If you can’t reach full range of motion, ask your coach for some mobility tips and stretches to get you there. It can be done, but it will take some time and practice. 
  3. Friends don’t let friends ego lift – The worst thing you can do is put too much weight on the bar and then have form breakdown on the lift. This is a great way to hurt yourself. Don’t throw a ton of weight on the bar and hope for the best. Small gains over time add up to huge gains and you can’t make gains when you are hurt. If you are unsure about a movement, ask your coach.
  4. Make sure you have a spotter for days you want to work on heavier weights. In a controlled environment, your coach or spotter can watch and help you with your technique. You can slow it down and work on that beautiful form.
  5. Ask for help – Talk to your coach and they can help you find programming that works for you. 


  1. The goal when modifying for yourself is to create a comparable stimulus and intensity. Creating a similar stimulus can be done in a variety of ways, and requires just a little creativity and thought. The strategies, as mentioned above, are by no means a complete list but are meant to create a jumping-off point for your at-home workouts
  2. It’s great for injury recovery. Train around your injuries if you can… sometimes, you can’t, and that’s okay. When you’re done being injured, scale your workouts so you can taper back up to the activity level that you’re used to.
  3. One big thing to remember is that you shouldn’t make your situation more stressful than it already may be and that you should be ok with  “close enough”. If you’re stuck with little-to-no-equipment and looking to modify your training, ask yourself questions like: “what is the stimulus?”, or “is the workout supposed to set my lungs on fire, or is it supposed to make my legs feel like cement?”. Using that information, you can substitute what is in your given workout with what you have available so you can create a comparable stimulus that will not only help maintain your fitness, but it will improve it as well.

Remember: to succeed in your fitness journey, you have to be able to meet yourself where you’re at, and scaling lets you do exactly that. So you can’t rip off an RX Fran after your first six months of CrossFit, but I bet you CAN do a multitude of other things you weren’t able to do six months ago. Remember to step back to take a look at the big picture from time to time.




No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.