CrossFit and Intensity – When and How to Scale Properly

Whether you are new to the CrossFit or general fitness scene – or an OG athlete, there will be times when scaling a workout may be the right thing to do in the pursuit of your goals.

Here is a great way to “scale” your work for success!

Regulating your Volume and Intensity:

On Volume:

As beginners we all tend to be very mindful of coaching, and listen to every minute detail regarding each exercise that is placed before us on a daily basis. We try and soak up every bit of information on proper technique, breathing correctly, and mobility issues that may be hindering us from correct movement.


Congrats to those of you who fit in this category, you will lift safely for a long time; but you may never get as far as you could by LOGGING your workouts down on paper -or even an app.


Proper logging requires that you note warm-up sets and reps; weight you used; belts or strap usage on a movement; nutrition for that day; perhaps even logging the mood you were in, or even the song you played(I know..lame), during your workout.


This doesn’t mean for Olympic lifting Classes only, but for your Crossfit Workouts as well. It’s an easy way to determine if you should go for that “100 pull-up” workout or not; you know, the one that has everyone walking like a T-rex for a few days…



Workout: 100 Pull ups

100 Push ups

100 Situps

100 Air squats


If you’re logging properly, and this workout shows up on your whiteboard, it might be a good idea to take a glance back and see what your last pull up intensive workout was. If you look back and see that you have only ever completed 50 pull ups in a workout…EVER, then most trainers might recommend that you try and go for 60 reps; hell lets even say 75 reps, just to push it a bit.


This can keep you from an potential overuse injury, that can set your training back by weeks, if not months. Don’t even THINK of scaling to 100 reps of Rack Rows, because the issue is still the same; total overall volume of the workout. Even 100 Rack rows might get you those nasty, sticky, bicep and forearms; especially when coupled with 100 push ups.


For weightlifting, it’s no different. You can log your total Volume during a workout and see how many pounds you’ve actually managed to move around in a given training session. This is a great way to regulate intensity, especially while training sick, or nursing an acute injury.


If a workout required you to squat for 4 reps x 4 sets @ “X” weight, but you’re feeling great; you may not need to add anymore weight, but maybe just another set…heck, maybe just a set of 2 extra reps. Thereby increasing Volume.


It’s the little battles that help you win the War. You don’t need to add 30 pounds and go for 4 more reps, just enough to stimulate the body so there is no accommodation. This also means Volume can be increased by heavier warm-up sets. It’s a small change, but it’s still a change.


This should be especially important to you Crossfit Individuals, as most people tend to cater their warmup with higher skill movements, and push the volume up that way. This way their WODs can stay regulated, and more focused on weaknesses, or strengths.



“General CF Warmup”

400m Run or 500m Row

30s x Samson Stretch

10 x Air Squats

10 x Pull ups

10 x Situps

10 x Push ups


Could be:


“Skill Transfer Warmup”

400m Run

5/leg x Overhead Walking Lunge w/ Plate (45/25)

10 x C2B Pull Ups

10 x Russian KB Swings (70/53)

10 x Wall Balls(30/20)

10 x GHD Situps

10 x GHD Hip ext.


This is a very general idea, but you could always seek the advice of a coach to help you fine tune your warmup. They don’t have to have as many reps as your previous warmup progression, because you are adding difficulty.


Some athletes love bringing up weaknesses through their warm-ups. Muscle Ups, Strict Pull ups, and Strict Toe-2-Bar; are examples of Skill movements that could be thrown in to your warm-up, to help increase strength before you start kipping around like a monkey having a seizure. Websites like have great strength progressions that could act as a warm-up before your WOD’s. Obviously, you want to consult a coach first.


On Intensity:

Sometimes you can walk into the gym feeling amazing, with no real pain or stiffness to speak of, and a full 8 hours of beauty sleep under your belt. Unfortunately, even that will not be enough to FULLY recover from a previous days training; say after a 1RM for instance.


There are several ways you can check yourself, before you wreck yourself – I really love the Vertical Jump test, after a warm up, to see how the central nervous system is firing. Find a “target” in your gym so you can test the height of your jump. It doesn’t have to be every day, but maybe those special days where everything just hurts, and your joints feel like they are bonded together with super glue.


Jump to your previous target and see how close you get. If you’re within an inch, or you’ve jumped higher, then it may be a good day to keep the intensity level up in the workout. If you jump 6 inches lower, it might be a sign to reduce the intensity.


This can be done several ways, typically by reducing the load you are working with in any given workout. It could also mean taking longer rest periods between sets, or even turning a Crossfit workout that is “For Time”, into an Interval workout.



5 Rounds for time:

5 x Hang Power Clean

10 x Handstand Pushups

400m Run


…could be changed by stopping after the round, and resting the exact amount of time it takes you to complete each round. This would give you a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1, allowing you to recover more adequately between efforts.


Intensity could also be reduced by changing high skill movements, such as HSPU’s, into their less coordinated counterparts, DB Presses or BB presses; changing the speed at which you run; and even modifying Hang Power Clean to an RDL, or Deadlift.


Reducing Volume also helps with keeping intensity low, but if you’re looking to keep your conditioning level up, try and keep sets and reps as is, and work on reducing weight.


Make sure you consult a coach before adjusting your own intensity in a workout. It may be true that a coach wants to really push you through some mental barriers, especially if you tend to shy away from more intense workouts; so please, don’t just give yourself an excuse to be soft:)


I hope this helps! Keep training hard and I’ll see you in the gym!


-Coach Jason