What the heck is intended stimulus you ask?
For comparison, imagine two athletes of different abilities completing an 800m run. Athlete one runs it in 2 and a half minutes, athlete 2 in 10 minutes.
These two athletes just completed two completely different workouts. The second athlete took four times longer than the first and ended up using a completely different energy system, therefore missing the desired effect of the workout.
Our workouts are designed to increase your work capacity across broad time and modal domains to increase your general physical preparedness. Or in other words, get you fit!
This means that we will train you in varied time frames and different movement patterns to better prepare you for physical challenges that you may encounter.
You will find that some workouts are endurance focused (working for a long duration with little rest, taxing the oxidative system), some are sprint or interval-style (to be performed as fast as possible, triggering the glycolytic system), and others can be strength-focused (lifting heavy weight with frequent rest, targeting the creatine phosphate system).
This is the reasoning behind different time domains of workouts. We want to train each of the energy systems of the body and need to do different styles of workouts to achieve this.
To get the most out of your workouts, the intensity of the movements may need to be scaled (up or down) to suit the stimulus of the workout.
For example, a workout may include some running and weightlifting movements and the stimulus of it is meant to be a sprint.
In order to keep the stimulus a sprint, the weight on the barbell needs to be relatively light (<50% 1RM). This completely depends upon an athlete’s strength. This might mean scaling the weight back for most, as you should be able to comfortably move the weight. Additionally, the distance of the run may need to be scaled according to an athlete’s ability, ensuring the pace is fast.
If these factors are ignored, and an athlete is stubborn and decides to use the “Rx” standards despite their ability level, they will likely struggle through the workout and fail to meet the intended stimulus. This reduces the effectiveness of the workouts and could potentially lead to injury.
Just because you can do a workout or movement Rx, doesn’t mean you should. Doing the Rx weight that is 90% of your 1RM in an AMRAP, or doing a gymnastic movement as it’s written despite not yet mastering the skill, will cause you to miss the mark of the workout.
This is not to suggest that you should scale to avoid movements you don’t like or are weak at. You should aim to always improve your fitness, and meeting the stimulus of the workouts is a huge contributor.
Scaling is not a bad thing. We want all of our athletes to complete the same workout! In order to do this, they need to use different weights or do different movements. Scaling is personal and there is no one size fits all. It can be as simple as running a shorter distance, lifting lighter weight, or decreasing the reps completed.
You all know what you are capable of and should therefore have a good idea of what scaling for you might require. Us coaches will always advise you on appropriate scaling to get you the desired effect of the workout.
Another thing you must consider is not scaling too much and missing out on the stimulus this way - making it too easy or going too fast.
In short, always scale appropriately. It is not a sign of weakness. Each of us is at a different point in our fitness journey and has different abilities. What makes CrossFit so great is how accessible it is to everyone. Next time you see a workout and think it is beyond your abilities or below them, think about how you can scale it and attack it with everything you have.