June 13, 2011
June 17, 2011

How many ways are there to scale a wall? Well, if you’re talking about a personal wall – and that’s a metaphor for “workout” for those of us who may have hit themselves in the head last night – then there are quite a few. The real question is, which should you choose in order to get the most out of the workout? This was a process which was hinted at in our last post on the merits of scaling. Tuesday’s class, however, brought that process to the forefront by starting with a quick review of how to scale a workout to best suit you, a process which begins by asking yourself a few questions:


But as we all know, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” With that in mind, Tuesday night’s class had a practical exam in scaling a certain benchmark workout:

21-15-9 Thrusters and Pull-Ups (95lb Men/65lb Women)

The goal was to use our four point list above to formulate a proper method of scaling Fran to meet your own individual needs/abilities:

MOVEMENTS – Everyone should be able to complete an adequate barbell thruster at this point; however, that’s not to say that the movement can’t be scaled – dumbbells are an option (more on this in the next paragraph), as is separating the thruster into two distinct movements: a front squat and a push-press. Pull-Ups, and especially 45 of them, are slightly more problematic for many. Scaling options for the pull-up include jumping and band assisted pull-ups. Of course, you should also take into account the “volume” of the workout when scaling the movements – i.e., if you can do strict pull-ups, but not 45 of them, then consider sticking with strict pull-ups while instead scaling the total volume of the workout (more on that below).

WEIGHT – As Pull-Ups are already body weight exercises (and I don’t suggest hacking limbs off to lighten the load), that just leaves the thrusters to worry about. Men’s RX’d weight is 95lbs, while women’s is 65lbs. We have bars available that are 15, 30 and 45lbs, so there are a wide variety of weight options available. However, if it’s the actual barbell that you find troublesome, particularly in the front squat, you can use dumbbells instead, a combination of scaling both weight and movement.

VOLUME – The total workload for Fran is 45 thrusters and 45 pull-ups. If after scaling the movements and/or the weights, you are still concerned about meeting the intensity requirements of the workout, you also have the option to scale the volume. In a “task priority” workout (a workout with a set number of repetitions done for time, e.g. Fran), you can reduce the volume by reducing the reps – this as opposed to a “time priority” workout (a workout with a set time goal done for a maximum number of repetitions or rounds), where you could reduce the volume by reducing the prescribed work time. One of the easiest options for Fran, and one which was smartly put to use Tuesday night, was opting for a 15-12-9 rep scheme, yielding a total of 36reps of each exercise (72 reps total, as opposed to 90).

INTENSITY – Intensity should be the sum of your scaling efforts. Your ultimate goal of the above 3 steps is to achieve a workout wherein you get the same effect, the same intensity, as intended by the base workout. For instance, in a sprint-like workout such as Fran, if you spend a lot of time recovering/resting amongst and between movements, than you have NOT achieved the same intensity that was intended for the original workout.

Tom A.’s comment to Sunday’s post was extremely insightful, but I wanted to quote a particular piece which he had borrowed from another CF blog-post, a piece which will conclude today’s scaling discussion perfectly:

“When a workout is planned well, the person programming it always has a goal in mind for the time or amount of reps that they expect a moderately fit person to achieve. The purpose of scaling is to make sure you fall within that goal. If you are taking twice as long as the rest of your training partners to finish, you are going too heavy. If you are finishing wayyyy faster than everyone else, you have scaled too light.

It takes a few months of CONSISTENT training to learn how to read your body and how to listen to what it is saying. Don’t get caught up by peer pressure and think you have to work through pain or gut out something you aren’t capable of doing. Learn to walk before you run.”

It was great to read so many positive comments to Sunday’s post about scaling – clearly it’s something that has weighed on the minds of many. Feel free to ask questions, or continue the discussion in today’s comments section; however, I would like everyone from Tuesday night’s class to post their respective time (as best they remember) and the scaling applied (including how they reached that decision).



  1. Maiko D. says:

    Hope my words won’t come off as empty cheering but seriously, nicely done with the past few entries on scaling. Applying the discussion to the notorious Fran was also rather brilliant. It may not be a bad idea to start cross-posting these entries to the CFDC FB group or creating a separate tag for these informative posts so newcomers can reference them easily.

    As for the workout, I wasn’t there but my biggest problem with Fran is breathing. I can’t figure out if I’m just not breathing while doing it or if I’m just getting extra asthmatic. I think the next time I do her (heh) I’ll drop the weights a little and see if I can breath better. Then I know at least it’s not the lungs.

    Again, great work with these entries.

  2. Greg says:

    I have to thank Sara for really helping me through my first Fran. I don’t think I even have been so exhausted after a workout in my life. There were moments I wasn’t sure I would make it but she kept me motivated. Thanks again.

    Surprisingly, I’m not sore today. I thought I would be because my arms felt like rubber when I was done.

  3. Kenna says:

    Wow, FRAN is a heartbreaker! I have never been pushed to my emotional limit in a workout, but Fran did it. Who is Fran anyway?

    Time: 8:43

    Thrusters: Started with 50lbs, had to drop to 35lbs for second and third rounds

    Pull ups: Increased to 3 bands by the third round

    So, if I had any more scaling, I might become a reptile… A good beginning benchmark I guess. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

    A big thanks to Chris for being such a patient and encouraging counter… And the cheering for the sidelines was really helpful too. When my mind and body were ready to quit, I would hear my name and it would give me the few extra ounces of energy I needed to finish.


  4. edgy reggie says:

    Okay, “Fran” is not one of my favorite “girl” CrossFit workouts…at all. I may laugh, joke, and encourage people to do their best; but on the inside, my stomach goes in knots. It was true for the last time I did “Fran” (which was in the 8:30’s), and it was true last night (which was around *cough* 11:00 *cough*).

    I managed to get twenty-one unbroken thrusters at 95# (something I’ve never done before). After that, everything went downhill…fast. I think I did ten strict pull-ups unbroken before I took a break…on the first round. It’s hard for me to kip in that gym: The tall(est) bars are bolted to a wall; the open bars are too short. Yeah, it sucks being 6’4″…sometimes. 🙂

    Pull-ups were my downfall for this “Fran.” There are times where I can string a few good ones together, and there are times where I wish someone would kill me before I have to do another pull-up (not really, it’s just the feeling I have at that moment). Last night was the latter. 🙂

    (One question: Are ring pull-ups an approved substitute for “Fran”? I was thinking about this early this morning.)

    Anyway, I soldiered on and finished “Fran” (as prescribed for the men)…finally. Thanks to everyone for the encouragement.

    Part of why I don’t seem to “do well” with Fran — well, maybe most of why — is mental. I know that before I started, I muttered to myself “21 unbroken thrusters, 21 unbroken thrusters.” Guess what I did? Now if I had applied that to my pull-ups, the outcome may have been different.

    Anyway, many more miles to go before I sleep. Back to more pull-up work for the kid.

    “Not too bad for an old man.” – CFDC’s own ODB.

  5. Dan Samarov says:

    @Kenna, Fran is the name of the hurricane which struck Cape Fear in NC in 96 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Fran)

    I really dislike this workout… it basically sucks every time. That being said it is one of the best out there… in a lot of other workouts you can kind of hide behind certain movements and get a bit more rest here and there, somehow this just isn’t possible/doesn’t matter with Fran and you know every time it’s going to push you mentally.

    I need to work on picking up the pace on my pull-ups, waaay to slow. I felt like I had quick transitions this go around, definitely the fastest I’ve ever had… but inefficiency on the pull-ups and perhaps on the thrusters as well. Grip totally gave out on the set of 9 (reminiscent of what happened on the 100’s wod at regionals). Not quite a PR but happy with the consistency through the workout.

  6. TomandAmi says:

    Congratulations Greg on the first Fran – it sucks doesn’t it? I have about a 12-18 hours of post WOD exercise induced brochitis every time I have done it.

    Sorry I had to miss class – I have not done a Fran in while. I think it the CF WOD that most fucks with everyone’s head – mine included then I read something by one of the professional female CF athletes in which she said she juststarted approaching Fran like any other WOD. That really helped me it used to take me a few days to get myself psyched up to do it and I preferred to do it alone. Doing the modified ascending Fran during the sectionals this year also helped lower the psych-out factor of this WOD for me.

    I am working on my pull ups because that is the component that crushes me.

  7. Sara says:

    Well I have to admit, I definitely didn’t go 100% on Fran yesterday. I really only felt a little winded after I finished and recovered quickly. I finished in 5:54 which was 25 seconds off my PR. I hit the 21 thrusters unbroken and could have done the same for the 21 pull-ups but think I got bored with the pull-ups after 11 or 15 so I came off the bar. When chris finished I was finishing up my last couple pull-ups on the round of 15 and thought wow I could actually PR today (there was still a minute before i reached my PR), but instead of pushing to get those last 9 thrusters and pull-ups I think I subconsciously listened to my body that said don’t do it and broke up the sets. I am glad I did that but it is also nice to know I have it in me to PR again if I want to. Maybe next time I give Fran a shot I will get sub 5 minutes (that will be a very tough one for me definitely would have reduce the breaks).

    @Greg – you did great for your first Fran. It was great counting for you and cheering you on. Sorry on the 2 no-reps but they just weren’t close enough to parallel which I knew you could do.

    @Matt – you really got the hang of the thruster once you started putting the 2 parts of the movement together and speeding them up. You hand great alignment in the front squat.

    All in all it was great to see everyone push through this grueling workout.

  8. Andraea says:

    I definitely have the same thoughts as Kenna regarding Fran. It has been a long time since my last Fran and last night’s Fran was physically and emotionally hard to get through. Having to scale it back so much I felt like I was on the Fran Short Bus and it still kicked my ass so much. Definitely need to work on pull-ups. It was sad to go to the double bands but if I hadn’t I would probably still be there.

    I scaled it to 15-12-9 using 60lbs for thrusters and used the blue band for the first set and then I had to double up and used the red and blue bands for the 2nd and 3rd set. The first set I did manage to do unbroken on the thrusters and pull-ups and then I think that just wiped me out. I completed it in 7:07. So it was a humbling experience but at least I now have a base for it.

    Thanks everyone for cheering me on as well! It was greatly appreciated when I thought I was going to die during the last round. Thanks Diane for not letting me fall out of the bands too!

  9. Matthew says:

    Thanks Sara for the great coaching. My first time with Fran, and I understand her reputation. My workout:
    15, 12, 9. Thrusters with the bar (45 lb bar, I think) and pullups first with 1, 2, and eventually 3 bands. Lots o bands.

    I was able to do the thrusters unbroken, and really just concentrating on learning that form. I was definitely winded and woozy, but not broken from the thrusters. Pullups are another story. Even with heavy band help, my last pullups are always a huge struggle. My first pullup on the bar is feeling stronger, but that last one….not so much

  10. Tom Brose says:

    Congrats to all the Fran first timers. While I am not huge into the benchmarks, they do serve a purpose, and Fran definitely earned her reputation. As this is probably the most famous of the named WODs, I thought it would be the perfect candidate to test our scaling criteria on. The group applied our discussion very well, with everyone getting the required movements down, and most finding the right level of exertion. Also, most people really won’t last long making every workout an emotional challenge, but sometimes you really have to dig down and see what you can subject yourself too. Fran will do that.

    Maiko, great suggestion to link these posts on FB. We’re really excited to be getting so much feedback on the blog, and plan on putting more info up.

    Sara, you may be the first person in history to get bored doing Fran. You actually hit on another important aspect of scaling, deciding what level of intensity to apply on a given day. Also, no need to apologize to Greg, you HELPED him by no-repping anything not legit. Now he knows he made it through with no shortcuts.

  11. Julia says:

    So this is Fran!

    I straggled to the finish at 7?:55. Hands slipping. Kip faltering. Form deteriorating. Think I was mentally and physically not really up to the test, last night. And as Dan pointed out, there wasn’t anywhere to hide.

    So I’m eager for a rematch – but not without A LOT more work, first. (And before that, some rest.)

    A good experience, though, and I’ll echo the thanks for all the encouragement!

  12. SBV says:

    6.12 for me (which was a pr by over a minute).

    I feel so close to breaking through some thresholds, but just don’t have the capacity right now in these types of short, intense, time domains. I was somewhat disappointed with my inability to stay on the pull-up bar, but also impressed by my improved mobility and strength on thrusters.

    I agree with Tom that “most people really won’t last long making every workout an emotional challenge.” That being said, for me, 2 metcons a week just isn’t getting the job done. In order to break through thresholds on these types of workouts, one must start really pushing his/her metabolic capacity to the limits, whereever those limits may be. One must “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” It’s time to step up my game.

  13. Dian says:

    As fate would have it I wore my “I Love Fran” t-shirt to class last night. For the record, I don’t actually love Fran but I do love smart ass t-shirts. In fact, I’m now on the hunt for a “I Love Diane” t-shirt since I just can’t help myself. After reading these comments I think I will place the “I Love Fran” t-shirt on the bottom of the workout clothes rotation for a little bit.

    This was my first Fran. I scaled the workout to 15-12-9 and used the 40lb bar for the thrusters and I used double bands for the pull-ups (a red and a blue). I completed the workout in 6:28. I found the pull-ups to be the most challenging part of Fran. Why are pull-ups so damned hard?! I have a lot to work on with keeping good form on the thrusters with the good front squat position and definitely the pull-ups are a big priority. While it is still painful to extend my arms today I feel surprisingly good about my first Fran.

    I counted for Andrea and she was amazing. Her form on the thrusters was good throughout and she showed a lot of poise pushing through the pull-ups.

    Thanks for counting for me Andrea and thanks Chris for helping me on the pull-up bar. It was great hearing all the encouragement from everyone in the gym.

    Now, I just have to figure out how I’m going to foam roll my arms tonight while I’m watching River Monsters and I’ll be all set for tomorrow.

  14. Tom Brose says:

    Sebastian, there is a way to balance increased conditioning without burning out. A lot of it is just learning to feel when you are approaching the boundary, and back off before its crossed. The emotional challenge speaks more to the “PR every time” mentality that some CrossFitters can’t escape. Making every single day an all out battle to beat your time, lift more etc., isn’t smart planning, and usually leads to burnout, injury etc. That being said, there are some great ways to add in more conditioning. Add in a few rowing interval workouts, or some hill sprints. You can get real uncomfortable at 90-95% without breaking yourself mentally or physically.

  15. SBV says:

    Great minds think alike (or, I’ve just spent a lot of time around you over the last year). I rowed 8 x 500 meters today and got some great conditioning without breaking myself physically or emotionally.

  16. Brendan says:

    Tough workout, not sure when I last did the Fran but figured I’d be alright if I pushed myself. Had a brother going through heart surgury the day of so i needed to test myself. Finished with a PR of 5:34, thanks to Reggie for the coaching.

  17. Tom Brose says:

    Brendan, I hope your brother is doing well and recovers quickly.

  18. edgy reggie says:

    @Brendan: I know what it’s like to have a sibling who is ill (it’s something I live with every day since 2005). I wish your brother all the best and a speedy recovery.

    About the coaching: You’re welcome. 🙂

  19. TomandAmi says:

    6:12 is a very solid Frant SBV – like Mark I heart you too for that one.

    Dian the pull-ups are hard because you used the wrong color bands – try the green and yellow ones next time. Rookie mistake.

  20. Brendan says:

    Thanks Guy’s!