CrossFit Classes for Every Fitness Level: Scaling Workouts Effectively

Josh Melendez
February 13, 2024
CrossFit Classes for Every Fitness Level: Scaling Workouts Effectively

Walk into a CrossFit gym and you'll be surprised on who you see in a CrossFit class.

You won't be surprised because of the firebreathers you see. You won't be surprised by the CrossFit Games athletes inside of the CrossFit gym. Those types of athletes are rarely seen in a CrossFit class. They are usually working on their craft during gym "off" hours or are in a reserved spot of the gym.

You'll be surprised because of the different levels of athletes you will see in the gym. You will see athletes from all walks of life. You'll see a 60+ year old standing right next to a 27 year old who played college soccer. You'll see a mom who just gave birth 3 months ago in a partner workout with an athlete who is aiming to run a marathon in 3 months.

CrossFit is such an effective program due to it's scalability. You can scale every single workout for every single athlete. It does not matter where that athlete currently is with their journey, the workout can be scaled to meet them where they are.

We can scale load, speed, repetitions, distance, complexity of movement and even movement functionality.  

We do this to ensure each athlete is able to operate within their own relative intensity in a safe, efficient and effective manner.

Let's take a real life gym scenario and what can be seen in a typical CrossFit gym.

In the class a coach has 8 athletes and they have to meet the athletes where they are with their fitness. The coach has to keep two things in mind on how to properly meet the athletes: Where are they both psychologically and physically today?

Of those 8 athletes, 3 are "RX" athletes meaning they do the workouts on the whiteboard as prescribed. 2 of the other athletes are considered 60+ year old master athletes and each has a training age of less than one year. One of them currently has a knee restriction issue. The other 3 athletes are intermediate athletes with one of them still working on developing their gymnastic skills and another one looking to gain more strength.

The workout of day (WOD) is a famous CrossFit benchmark workout:

3 Rounds


Run x 400m

Kettlebell Swings x 21 (55/35#)

Pull Ups x 12

A couple of ways to "challenge" the RX athletes is to beat your old time, run sub 1:45 400 meter runs each round, go unbroken on all of their kettlebell swings, do kipping pull ups instead of butterfly pull ups or hang on the rig to rest for their pull ups so their feet never touch the floor once they jump on the rig for each pull up set.

A couple of ways to "scale" the master athletes is to shorten the run to 200-300 meters, have the master athlete walk 100-200 meters or bike due to their knee, reduce the repetition to 12-15 kettlebell swings, reduce the load of the kettlebell, perform ring rows or banded lat pulldowns for the pull ups.

For the intermediate athletes, a few ways to "scale" them is to run 400m in sub 2:00 each round which means they will probably need to take a breather before they step out the gym for their next run that way they get use to running at a certain uncomfortable pace. For the athlete looking to develop gymnastic movements, reduce repetitions to 8-9 repetitions and only perform 2-3 repetitions at a time but with intention. If they perform more repetitions at a time or total per round they can possibly develop poor movement patterns. For the athlete looking to develop more strength, they can pick up the RX kettlebell weight but reduce the repetitions to 15 or as many as they can complete unbroken in 30 seconds to get exposed to a heavier load.

Now in order for this to effectively be done, the coach in class will assess their athletes from the General Warm Up to the Specific Warm Up and see what is the best way to scale or challenge their athletes. Once this is done, the class will be able to complete a workout together and experience the same stimulus as every single athlete in class regardless of fitness level.

When this is done effectively and calmy, it almost looks like magic. Everyone gets their workout and coach knows exactly what everyone is doing.


Josh Melendez

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