Adapting Is Not Scaling

Adapting is Not Scaling

In the world of CrossFit, there are acronyms and sport-specific terms, meaningful only to our community, left and right. Some are interchangeable. Some are not. All of them take us a bit of time to fully comprehend and memorize.

Some terms though, are not interchangeable. The differences in the words are important to the way we take them in, understand them, and eventually use them. Connotation matters.

So when it comes to “scaling” versus “adapting” especially, they are not the same.

Why Does it Matter?

In order to understand this, let us first identify what exactly we do each time we walk through the doors of any CrossFit affiliate.

At the start of a class period, members are led by a CrossFit Trainer through a whiteboard meeting. In that whiteboard meeting, the Trainer goes over what it is everyone will be working through on that day. CrossFit affiliates use a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics, and monostructural movements that are constantly varied, functional, and performed at high intensity. The combinations of these movements then create a workout of the day, or WOD, and thus our journeys of growth begin.

If a member were to complete the workout as it was written on the board with no changes, then he or she performed the workout as prescribed, or Rx. However, we do not do what we do simply to chase an Rx by our name or our score. Our goal is to increase our work capacity over time and in various domains, to achieve “real fitness.” In order to do that, we must learn how to scale those workouts to suit our current level of ability and achieve the intended stimulus. We scale movement progressions, loading, and distances/volume to meet us where we are currently at and help us progress toward where we want to be.

Learning how to scale appropriately in order to preserve a stimulus takes a trained eye. That is what your Coaches/Trainers are there to help you do and grow confident in over time.

Too often though, scaling gets interchanged and confused with adapting or adapting gets neglected altogether.

What is the Difference?

When an individual modifies a workout or movement due to a limitation in their current fitness level or skill-set, they are scaling.

When an individual modifies a workout or movement due to a temporary or permanent impairment resulting in limitations, they are adapting.

These Are Not the Same, and It Does Matter.

Scaling, whether scaling up or down, is good and necessary to make real, long-term progress. When a community understands and appreciates that together, scaling correctly feels fantastic! Unfortunately, in many communities, the communication that one “scaled” down frequently comes with negative connotations or an internal sense of disappointment. We are humans, and humans have prides that naturally get the better of us from time to time. So unless the entire community actively works together to shift that language and the mindset around it, too many people will hesitate to scale and thus, long-term progress is not made.

How Does This Affect Adapting?

If an individual with no previous impairments suddenly experiences an injury, temporary or permanent, they may be hesitant to come back to the gym or join a group class altogether. Whether that injury be a broken bone, torn ligament, strained muscle, or even skin-related, there is something holding them back from what they would normally do. In their heads, they would have to scale, or they may feel there are movements in which not even scaling will help them right now. In fact, they’d be partially right. Scaling is not the answer in this case.

That’s why being aware of our abilities to adapt matters, or even simply knowing that adapting is something a Coach/Trainer can help you navigate (alongside scaling if need be). There are countless ways to adapt movements in order to preserve the stimulus of a fulfilling workout, and these adaptations do not mean you are not fit. They do not mean you are not capable. They do not mean you get an easier or watered down workout. These adaptations mean you are choosing to be in control of your body, your condition, your impairment. You are choosing to not sit out.

There are some things in life we cannot avoid, and even if we try, they may still happen. We get to decide how we come out of every situation though, and when it comes to injuries and impairments, adapting is a tool you want in your tool belt. The first step is knowing it’s there.

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know, but Now You Do.

If this speaks to you or interests you for more, I urge you to reach out to someone certified or trained in adapting movements. Start the conversation. Ask the questions you have. That person might be a Board Certified Sports Physical Therapist, Full-Time Adaptive Program Director, or an Adaptive and Inclusive Trainer, like myself.

If you are interested in learning or becoming certified, visit ,

Wherever you are at in your life, know that you do not have to wait to take the next steps.

By: Jasmine Joy

Adaptive and Inclusive Trainer

CF-L2 Trainer



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