intended Stimulus and CrossFit Workouts (WODs)

I previously wrote about how CrossFit Workouts (WODs) generally have a key intended stimulus, in relation to scaling CrossFit Workouts (WODs).

The stimuli variables to consider –

  • Load (light – heavy)
  • Distance (short – long)
  • Speed (slow – fast)
  • Volume (low – high)
  • Movement complexity (easy – complex)

in the context of a CrossFit Workout (WOD) most will have elements of one or more of the stimuli variables, with one being picked as the intended stimulus, but a CrossFit Workout (WOD) and its intended stimulus don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and so as a coach you an alter the CrossFit Workout (WOD) to meet whatever your chosen intended stimulus, or scale to meet the needs/ limitations of your athletes.

taking Fran as an example (21-15-9, 95lb thrusters, pull ups)

say you want the stimulus to be prioritised to Load – you could simply increase the weight and add weight to the pull up. given that Crossfit focuses on intensity however, you could also choose to lower the rep range to maintain this intensity.

so heavy Fran would be 9-6-3 135lb thrusters, 45lb pull ups (for example)

say you want to prioritise for volume – you lower the weight (or in this case scale the movement) and increase the reps so ‘fat’ fran would be 42-30-18, 45lb thrusters, ring rows)

if you wanted to prioritise movement complexity you’ll adjust the movements so ‘complex fran’ would be 21-15-9 95lb clusters, muscle ups.

if you wanted to prioritise duration it would be  ‘pyramid fran’ 21-15-9-15-21 95lb thrusters, pull ups

by knowing how to alter the stimuli variables to meet your intended stimulus the same CrossFit Workout (WOD) can result in several variations, and continue to offer a challenge to any level of athlete at any point in their training programming. the important aspect to continue to remember is that the scaling and modifications need to be done with safety of the athlete as a priority.

And don’t compromise on intensity, after all “be impressed by intensity, not volume” – Greg Glassman


When and how to Scale Crossfit Workout WODs

“Ahead of efficacy is safety.” —Greg Glassman, CrossFit Inc. Founder and CEO

scaling crossfit WODS

Often times, people who are afraid of trying Crossfit are intimidated by the movements, weights and intensity of the workouts. but what they don’t realise is how accessible Crossfit actually is, in fact, as part of the definition of Crossfit ‘universally scalable‘.

The problem with scaling a crossfit Workout (WOD) isn’t that it’s possible to do, but rather how do you scale it whilst preserving the intended stimulus and simultaneously balance the limitations of the athlete you’re scaling for. To figure this out, we first need to know what the intended stimuli for the crossfit Workout (WOD) we’re trying to scale.

Generally the crossfit Workout (WOD) we’re trying to scale will have one of the following stimuli variables to consider –

  • Load (light – heavy)
  • Distance (short – long)
  • Speed (slow – fast)
  • Volume (low – high)
  • Movement complexity (easy – complex)

So if you look at any crossfit Workout (WOD) work out they’ll general contain one or more of these stimuli variables – dissecting a crossfit Workout (WOD) –


  • Load – light (body weight)
  • Distance – not applicable
  • Speed – fast (AMRAP)
  • Volume – High (time limit of 20minutes)
  • Movement complexity (easy, pull ups, push ups, squats)

Typically the intended stimulus should be quite clear – go fast, go heavy etc. and they don’t necessarily need to be the fixed either.

next we need to consider WHO we are scaling for – broadly there are 4 categories of athlete that we are scaling for –

  • Beginners
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
  • former athletes
  • Injured Athletes

There’s an entire Crossfit online Course focused on Scaling so i’m not going to go into too much detail but i’ll briefly touch on beginners and injured so you get an idea, i’d recommend you do the scaling course if you’re a coach, its affordable and pretty quick and easy.

If we look at a beginner they’ll have a variety of limitations that might prevent them from completing a crossfit Workout (WOD) – these limiting factors include –

  • Range of motion (ROM)
  • Skill
  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular endurance

these naturally directly affect the stimuli variables –

  • Load -strength
  • Distance – Cardiovascular endurance
  • Speed – Strength
  • Volume – Strength, Cardiovascular endurance
  • Movement complexity – Skill, Range of motion (ROM)

an injured athlete would primarily be limited in Range of motion (ROM) and strength.

so as a coach you can take this understanding and modify the crossfit Workout (WOD) to either change the intended stimulus or allow the athlete attain the intended stimulus (or both!) by adjusting affected the stimuli variables.

as an example looking at Cindy 5pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, amrap for 20min

if the athlete is limited in strength you could sub pull ups for ring rows or jumping pull ups for example.

if the athlete has limited range of motion you could sub the pull ups for back rows or switch the movement out for something else completely such as situps

if the athlete is issues with Cardiovascular endurance – do less rounds, i.e. go slower, or shorten the duration of the work out.

A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue developing increased work capacity despite limitations. So so long as the athlete reaches their relative level of intensity, safely, then the scaling can be considered successful.