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FAQ

SUBSTITUTIONS

Can I modify CrossFit.com workouts and create my own substitutions?

Yes, workouts can be adjusted to suit your exact fitness level, ability and goals. When in doubt, consult a credentialed CrossFit trainer. Remember this: In general, substitutions and scaling preserve the intended effects of the original workout. Injuries, flexibility issues, training history, day-to-day mindset and energy, and many other factors will influence your decisions. The CrossFit affiliate community has come up with a tremendous number of creative substitutions to accommodate just about any athlete, and online searches will reveal hosts of modifications for any movement. A few common substitutions are described below. Detailed instructions on scaling can be found in the “CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide” and the CrossFit Journal.

How do you choose modifications for a workout?

To start, review the “CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide” for scaling instructions. The CrossFit Journal also contains resources to help you adjust the workout to your level.

In general, choose a load that’s manageable for you or use a percentage of the weight prescribed. Reduce volume to something that reflects your recent activity level; the workout should be challenging but not excessive or overwhelming. Replace movements you can’t do with similar movements that are available to you. In every workout, strive for consistent mechanics before increasing intensity.

When in doubt, consult a credentialed CrossFit trainer.

What's the best substitute for rope climbing?

Many movements can take the place of rope climbs. Towel pull-ups are one great option. For more realism, set one hand high and one hand low on the towel. “See-saw” towel pull-ups are also an option. If you have a rope but can’t pull your weight, tie a dumbell or kettlebell to one end and pull the rope toward you hand over hand. You can do this along the ground or you can throw the rope over a bar and hoist the weight to the top. Use the climbing arm motion as much as possible.

What if I can't run, row, swim, ski or ride a bike?

When substituting aerobic exercises, use comparable time intervals. For example, if you run 400 m in 90 seconds, row, bike, jump rope, run stairs, etc. for 90 seconds. Box jumps, heavy-bag work, kettlebell or dumbbell swings, weighted stair climbing or box stepping can also be used if other options are not available. Sumo deadlift high pulls can take the place of a rowing machine. Use 45 lb. for men and 35 lb. for women, and count each rep as 10 m. Keep in mind that the effects of one movement are not exaactly the same as the effects of another. Log the modification you used so you can compare efforts.

What's a good substitute for wall-ball shots?

Dumbbell or barbell thrusters often work well. Because you can’t throw dumbbells or a bar in the air, use about twice the specified ball weight and do the reps as explosively as possible. Medicine balls are now widely available, and creative athletes have made their own with relative ease.

What's a good substitute for muscle-ups?

Pull-ups and dips. Common rep schemes often equate a certain number of pull-ups plus a certain number of dips with 1 muscle-up. The exact numbers will depend on the athlete. Again, the goal is to preserve the stimulus of the original movement.

What if I can't do pull-ups?

A host of options exists, including assisted pull-ups, jumping pull-ups, negatives, ring rows, pull-downs or negatives. A word of caution: Controlling volume addresses the risk of rhabdomyolysis in less-experienced athletes or those returning after time off. Increased volume of eccentric movement (pull-up negatives, for example) correlates to risk of rhabdomyolysis.

What if I can't do handstand push-ups?

Support all or most of your body weight while working with similar pressing movements, using assistance or shortening the range of motion. You can place your hands on the floor and your legs on a bench, ball or counter (bend at the waist), or you can hook your toes over a bar in a stable rack. You can do partial reps, building up to full range of motion; for example, stack a few books up under your head and lower to the books. Try to remove a book from the pile every workout or so until you are working from the floor. You can also substitute standing presses using absolutely no leg drive, but presses are not as good as working with a variation of the handstand push-up. Finally, if you are comfortable and stable upside down, kick up and practice lowering yourself to the floor slowly and under control to build strength. A coach/spotter can also help you work the eccentric in this manner, perhaps offering assistance on the concentric portion as well.

What if I can't do L-sits?

Work on tuck sits (both legs tucked up to your chest), one-leg-extended L-sits (you can alternate legs) or use bands for support (set your parallettes under the pull-up bar and hang the bands from the bar, then put your legs or feet through the band). Work with a spotter or coach if available. To build strength, get into any L-sit position you can (tuck sit, L-hang, etc.) and slowly lower your knees or legs to the floor under control.

What if I don't have rings or can't do ring dips?

Do 3 regular parallel-bars dips for every ring dip prescribed.

What if I can't do double-unders or don't have a jump rope?

Do tuck jumps. Multiple single-unders in no way compensate for the exertion required for double-unders. Explode off the ground as quickly as possible and repeat for the required number of repetitions.

What can I sub for back extensions?

Good mornings (with or without weight) or prone back extensions (supermans). Many other movements will work, such as lying over an exercise ball with your feet hooked under a bench or bar.

What can I sub for glute-ham sit-ups?

As with back extensions, there are lots of ways to do glute-ham sit-ups. Try lying over an exercise ball with feet hooked under a bench or bar. You can also use a bench in place of a ball.

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