What is Rx?
Before I talk about scaling, I think it is best to clear up what “Rx” is exactly. In CrossFit the term “Rx” means to complete a workout using the prescribed standards set by the person programming the workout. The prescribed standards are not random but are used to achieve a very specific stimulus intended by the person creating the workout. I am going to use Fran (21-15-9: thrusters 95/65, pull-ups, for time) as the example. This workout is designed to be completed in under 5 minutes and preferably in unbroken sets. The programmer of this workout has prescribed 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women, which indicates that the intension is not to struggle with heavy weights but to move quickly and without rest. Intensity is the point, not the weight. It is up to the athlete (and the coach) to confirm if this weight is appropriate for the athlete or to find a lesser weight that will achieve the intended stimulus. It is usually at this moment that I see a lot of athletes go wrong, and a mistake that I have made myself in the past. We see specific numbers on the board and think that our goal is now to get as close to that weight as possible no matter what. By making the weight our goal and not the stimulus, we miss the point of the workout completely. We should be scaling the workout to get as close as possible to the intended stimulus that is prescribed, not the weight. Someone who completes the workout with 95 lbs and gets a time of 15:36, missed the point. It is likely that they dropped the bar a couple times, rested between sets, came down from their pull ups, etc. If that person had used 55 pounds instead and finished at 3:31, it would have resulted in a completely different workout and they would be a better athlete for it.
The concept of scaling a workout to achieve the intended stimulus instead of checking the Rx weights and movements, is something I struggled with for a good portion of my CrossFit career. I spent most of my time doing Rx workouts for the sake of doing Rx and missing the point of the workout. I did this because I desperately wanted to Rx every workout because I believed that doing Rx made me a better athlete, and that if I scaled workouts, I would never get where I wanted to be. By making those choices, I likely stifled my growth as an athlete.
Rx, while completely necessary, has been hijacked by the idea of CrossFit as a sport instead of CrossFit as a training methodology. The two, are actually very different in a big way. The goal of CrossFit as a training methodology is NOT to make you a better CrossFitter (aka a Games athlete) and it is not to help you Rx every workout. It is about providing a broad, general and inclusive fitness that meets the goals of any individual. What your goals are will determine how you scale each workout. That being said please know that I am not demonizing the desire to want to Rx every workout or train for CrossFit on a competitive level because for some people, like myself, those are the goals. However, recognize those goals are not superior to any others and that CrossFit is adaptable to all fitness goals.
So why did Crossfit Bangor move away from the Rx, L2, and L1 system? The purpose of our new tracks Open, Performance, and Fitness, is to take away the power, distracting, and stifling effects of the Rx button. The original system encourages the mentality that the sole objective is to make your way up the levels until you have reach “Rx status”. Our hope is that the new system will create an environment where we can instead focus on more individualized ambitions, mechanics, consistency, and intensity.
This track is for those whose goals are specifically related to the Crossfit Open. The prescribed weight in this category will be heavier and the skills will be more difficult with the intension of preparing athletes for what will be asked of them during the Open.
This track is for those who compete in a sport other than CrossFit and whose goals are specifically about performing better in that sport. This is also a great track for more experienced members who are looking for something a little more challenging. Expect the weights to be heavier and the gymnastic skills to be a little more demanding.
This is CrossFit at its purest: uncomplicated and straightforward. This track is for those who are looking to become more active, get fit, and live longer and healthier lives.
Rx Never Left
We did not eliminate Rx, it is still there, only now it will vary depending on which track you have chosen. However, know that no matter which track you are on, you may still need to scale. Scaling appropriately is still very important. Below are a couple key items to consider when making scaling decisions:
What is the stimulus? Make sure, above all else, that you understand what the intended stimulus is for the workout. Is it supposed to be fast and unbroken? Or heavy and slow? Once you understand the desired stimulus you will have a better idea of what direction you should go in with weights and level of gymnastic skill. Nine times out of ten you are better off going a little lighter than you think you should. If you go back to our Fran example, the more you drop the barbell or break up the pull-ups, the more the intensity decreases. Intensity is the fastest way to results so keep it light!
· Quick side note on intensity: Intensity in this context does not mean chaotic movement at the expense of technique and safety. It also does not mean doing a lot of work across a long period of time. Intensity in this context, is “Force x Distance/Time”. This basically translates to more work done in less time. The longer the time it takes, the lower the intensity.
What is the goal of the workout for me? This is another important question to ask when scaling a workout. To explain what I mean by this, I am going to use Grace (30 clean and jerks for time at 135/95#). Imagine that 6 months ago an athlete got a 5-minute Grace time and is now about to retest the same workout. Last time, this athlete scaled the weight to 85 pounds and did singles (dropping the bar between each rep). This time, she has the choice to either use the prescribed weight of 95 pounds or she could use the same weight as before, cycle the clean and jerks and maybe beat her old time. The decision should be made based what her personal goal is for the workout. Is it to get comfortable moving standard Crossfit weights? Is the goal to get sweaty and have a more intense workout? Is the goal to improve the speed of her clean and jerks? This is how workouts can be scaled to fit each person individually. A good rule of thumb is to identify your weaknesses and attack them head on.
Final Take Away
The most important point that I hope you can take away from this, is to not let intimidating workouts or the Rx button distance you from your reasons for doing CrossFit in the first place. The effectiveness of your workout has nothing to do with whether you scaled or Rx’d it. The effectiveness of your workout depends on whether you performed the workout as it was intended. Do not belittle or downgrade your workouts and personal achievements because someone next to you did it differently. Similarly, if you are the first one to finish, it does not mean that you “should have gone heavier”, “made it more difficult”, or that you did it wrong. “Difficult” is subjective. Even though it seems counterintuitive, scaling your workouts appropriately is the best way to reach your goal no matter if it is to look good on the beach, be a better basketball player, or make it to The CrossFit Games.