1000 Ways To Skin A Cat

Blog / July 18, 2014 / 1 comment

by Coach Jan


There is an old saying that “There are 1000 ways to skin a cat.” Where it comes from I have no clue, but aside from the nasty image of actually skinning a cat, essentially this tells us to keep an open mind about things. More times than not, there is never one set way to accomplish a task.


How does this relate to the box? Specifically I want to address the “art” of scaling workouts. (I put art in quotes because I realize how cheesy that sounds, although I do actually consider it art. Bite me.)


The holy grail of CrossFit’s results lies in the intensity of the workouts. Intensity as a function is power, and power as a function is (force times distance AKA work, divided by time). Simply, we want to move a lot of load, a long distance, and do it quickly. We all know to get the most benefit from our workouts, we must maximize the intensity day-in and day-out. How do we do this when the prescribed weights and movements are outside of our fitness level (for now)?




Here’s an example: Take the benchmark workout “Diane”, which is 21, 15, and 9-rep rounds for time of deadlifts at 225 and 155, and handstand pushups.


There are a bunch of options to make this workout appropriate for different athletes.


Option A will generally be the scale we use, because this type of workout is a “metcon” or “metabolic conditioning”. We are trying to improve our lungs! If the weight is too heavy, we will be stuck staring at the bar rather than lifting it, which will in turn make the workout super slow to the point that we might barely even be breathing hard at the end! In this case, we would lighten the deadlift weight, and/or make the handstand pushup easier to allow us to move faster through the workout. “Diane” is a LESS THAN 5 minute workout when scaled appropriately. The world record is under 2 minutes! If you aren’t finishing within that time frame, you need to scale, or you need to push harder. Simple.


On the opposite end of that though, we have Option B. Let’s say that you have some sort of endurance background, which has left you weaker than you might want to be. Your lungs work really well, but you really have a goal of getting stronger. We don’t have to gain strength solely in the days we perform strength workouts! Here, maybe you stick to the prescribed weight and movements (assuming you can handle the load with good technique) and grind out the movements. This will absolutely produce a positive strength adaptation, which for this athlete is a good thing! (Just be aware of any time caps set.)


Option C can relate to both Option A and B. Let’s say you want to drive a positive strength adaptation, but you also want to move relatively fast and get those lungs working as well. Scaling reps or even rounds are your choices here. In the case of “Diane”, let’s say you can handle 225 on the deadlift and you have handstand pushups, but not for all those reps. In this case you can make the workout 15-12-9, or 12-9-6, to keep the intensity high! You can also scale the reps of just one movement. Say you’re a 250 pound beast that can bang out the deadlifts, but the handstand pushups just get you. You could make this workout 21-15-9 for the deadlift, and 9-6-3 for the handstand pushups.


About scaling rounds, this is also an option. Take a 5 round workout that just gets disgusting after round 3. To preserve the intensity, you could possibly scale the rounds to just 4, or maybe even 3. Again, this is all to preserve safety, mechanics, and intensity of your efforts.


Keep in mind that there are 1000 ways to skin a cat. If you are unsure of how to scale appropriately for your WOD, or if you should scale at all, ask your coach! It’s why we’re here! (:


Did I miss something? Have you scaled a workout differently than the options provided? Any questions, comments or concerns? Leave ‘em below! Happy WOD’ing, Team 5 Triple 9!

  • Sander

    Great article. There are so many ways to achieve one’s goals. That’s why I love Crossfit. Some days I really want to focus on technique or building strength and may adjust my weights for a WOD accordingly. One thing I do keep in mind is that I always will have pushed my limits, whatever they might be, after the WOD. And just that feeling makes it all worthwhile.

    P.S. Here’s another great article on Scaling: