To many of us "scaling" a workout can seem demonizing, when in all actuality every single person's goal is to get the most effective workout possible! To do that, scaling might be required and in most cases absolutely necessary! This may also be a hard line to cross because each and every athlete needs to challenge themselves with intensity and new movements everyday but not to the point they can't do any of the workout and now they are frustrated. Scaling in this manner is an art.
How many times has this happened?
Athlete: Coach I RX'ed that workout!
Coach: Thats great, However you aren't even breathing hard or sweating, and when you look around at the rest of the class they are on the ground gasping for air.
Athlete: I can do a bodyweight pullup and thruster 95/65 which was what the workout movements were.
Coach: Im super proud that you can do both of those movements but in the case of this workout the stimulus we wanted was a fast fire-breathing and not allowing you to continue after 5 min type of workout. At the 5 minute mark you were still doing you first set of pullups. Even though that was RX, I still want you to get a great/intense workout in. How much harder do you think that workout would have been if we did banded pullups and used a lighter barbell? You definitely would have been able to get more work capacity in during that 5 min window.
The Scaling Hierarchy!
Loading + Repetitions + Correct Movement = Training stimulus
When assessing a workout the first place to scale is loading or weights, the second place where we might need to be scaled is the amount of repetitions, and the third is in the movements themselves. All of this is to provide the correct stimulus! When a programmer programs a workout for the class they need to take into account what an elite athlete or what the most fit person in their gym would accomplish during that workout, then you scale for everyone else.
Here is a great example: if the workout is 100 wallballs 20/14 for time. An elite athlete should be able to do this unbroken or almost unbroken in around 2:30 time. Let's say we allow a 4 minute cap on the workout. If someone is not around that elite time or unable to get below the cap (training stimulus), the first place we can scale is the weight to 16/14/10. The second would be the reps to maybe 60-75 reps for time. And the absolute last place we would scale is partial squat or partial toss depending on the athlete. Obviously there may be other limitations in the way like injuries or limited range of motion.
Takeaway: Workout stimulus and quality of movement development is more important that saying you RX'ed a workout! One workout doesn't affect the rest of your future but a bunch of miss judged workouts can certainly lead to bad movement patterns, injury, lack of intensity, and not getting the results you wished for!