When Should I Modify?

When Should I Modify?

The best part about CrossFit? CrossFit is scalable for any and all ability levels. It doesn’t matter if you have chronic disease, you’re out of shape, you’re young, old, fast, slow… we can take today’s workout and scale it to your current level.

But how do we coaches know when to modify for an athlete? This can be pretty complicated and is 100% a case by case basis… I’m just going to show you my thought process when I’m prescribing workouts to an athlete. Hopefully this insight will help you decide when you should modify as well!

There are certain things we look for when we’re scaling an athlete. Primarily, we look at the intent of the workout versus the presumed ability level of the athlete. The presumed ability of the athlete takes into account: training experience, past workout data, and injury reports. For injuries, we will never have you do a movement that aggravates a previous or current injury. Our goal is to provide a suitable alternative that will create the same stimulus without compromising your recovery (you have a knee injury? We’re staying away from heavy leg exercises!). Once we have those in order, we can safely and effectively scale the workout for you. Let’s create a sample workout, and then we can show you some things to take into consideration.


3 rounds for time of…

400m run

15 pull ups

10 power cleans (155/105)

10 burpees

Time cap: 12 minutes.

This workout has a little bit of everything for you. It has running, gymnastics, and weightlifting. The time cap tells us we need to have it done within 12 minutes. Let’s breakdown the intent of each component in relationship to time.

400m run ~ 1 minute 30 seconds – 1 minute 45 seconds.  

15 pull ups ~ 30 seconds

10 power cleans ~ 30 – 345 seconds

10 burpees ~ 30 seconds.

Even if we take the longest approximations for each component, that would give us a time of 3 minutes and 30 seconds per round. If the athlete can maintain that average, they’ll finish the workout with a time of 10:30. Under the time cap! Success!

So that’s when we, the coaches, look at you, the athletes, and assess your presumed ability level for the workout. Maybe you’re a fantastic runner so that won’t be an issue, but you’re still struggling with pull ups and those would take much longer than 30 seconds. We would scale the pull ups to an option that will get you CLOSEST to the 30 second approximation. That might be jumping pull ups, banded, or ring rows. As long as you are as close to the intention as possible (not too fast either… you can definitely over modify!), you’re getting the best workout possible. Same goes for the power cleans and burpees as well!

That’s what I do for every athlete of every class that I teach. Same goes for all the other coaches. We know a LOT about each of you as far as performance goes, and we draw on that knowledge to help you adequately scale or modify workouts if the need arises. If we don’t know something, we will definitely ask. I ask the question, “How ya feeling today?” a lot… this question helps me gauge how much I can or should push an athlete. If they respond with a spritely “GREAT!” I know that we can push the envelope for the components. If they respond with a dreary “Ok, I guess” or, “I’m here, but that’s about it,” I know that pushing the pace probably isn’t in our best interest.

It is our job as coaches to make sure we get you a workout that is as close to the intent as possible. Each day has a different intent that plays a part in the overall effectiveness of the program. If you are scaling and modifying properly to reach the intent of the workout, you are on your way to the results our program will deliver!

Don’t forget to always communicate with your coach every session! We need to know how you’re feeling so we can help you get the best workout possible!

-Clark Hibbs

26 down, 5 to go!


Owner and Head Coach: CrossFit Yellow Rose
CF L-2
CF L-1
CF Mobility
ACSM Certified PT
ACE Certified PT


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