Should you Rx the workout or not?

By: Mike Collette Owner/Head Coach at CrossFit Prototype
The infamous question that we get asked as Coaches and personal trainers and actually ask ourselves many of time is “Should I Rx this workout?” It’s a great question and one that needs to be given some clarity. What we have broken down the concept of “scaling” based on 3 factors:

  1. Movement efficiency, competency, and capacity
    • How well do you move based on the prescribed movements? Can you perform those movements under the intended load and intensity and do you have the physical capacity to perform these movements without breaking down physically?
  2. Purpose and Goal of the workout of the day (WOD)
    • Based on the programming for the day, what is the desired stimulus and energy system that you are challenging? Is the WOD suppose to be short and fast and challenge more of your anaerobic capacity or is it designed to be paced long and slow and be more of an aerobic focus?
  3. Personal Goals
    • Based off of number 2 above (Purpose and Goal of the WOD), you need to ask yourself, “what are my personal goals and how can the WOD impact those goals?” Is your goal to just move well, improve strength or improve metabolic conditioning?

When asking this question, the above factors are necessary to consider and are vital to your overall success.
Let’s dive into an example and play devil’s advocate:
Every Minute on the Minute for as long as possible:
11 burpees
7 pull ups
* The purpose of this is to be used as a bodyweight capacity tester; can you perform bodyweight movements at high speed with proper recovery and maintain consistent pace. This will challenge and tax your physical capacity at high intensity as well as your aerobic capacity with regards to recovery. With the physiology of the WOD in mind, this is as much mental as it is physical. Making it into the next round is gratifying to continue but mentally fatiguing knowing you have more work to do.
Speed is relative in the world of CrossFit but it is very much so, along with the other 9 physical skills (10 general physical skills: accuracy, agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, power, stamina, endurance and speed) vital to success in fitness and life. I would argue that in addition to speed in CrossFit, power, endurance, and strength are the next three vital components to being well rounded. Now if we take a look at this workout, it is a combination of speed, endurance, and strength (you can argue coordination if you are doing butterfly or kipping pull ups) but at the end of the day, these are the biggest components to this workout.
With each workout at Prototype, we like to set goals or standards for our members. We give estimates on how long something should take, how it should feel and also suggestions for the pace of the workout. For this CrossFit workout in particular, we gave a minimum of 8 rounds that needed to be done. With that said, if the work was not completed in under 1 minute it turns into 8 rounds for time. Meaning the time frame for this workout would be a minimum of 8 minutes to what people could do beyond (roughly 12 minutes).  If you feel like you can’t do the desired work within 1 minute, then scaling would be appropriate to meet the desired effect of the WOD. Again, moving at your relative speed to accomplish your relative workload within 1 minute is the goal of the WOD.
However, in regard to personal training goals, if you have a personal goal of getting better at pull ups or doing unbroken pull up sets, then this WOD can be used to challenge that goal. It might require you to slow down the pace, take more rest time and concentrate on the pull up movement. That’s fine. But saying “I just want to Rx the WOD” isn’t a goal. It won’t continue to contribute to your overall physical goals if that is the case. More importantly with respect to the 1st factor, movement quality and efficiency take precedent over all. This is crucial to future success and also mitigating injury.
Now that we took a look at a challenging bodyweight WOD, let’s take a look at a workout with some different modalities:
5 RFT (rounds for time)
5 cleans (95/65lb Rx) (135/95lb Rx+)
5 front squats
5 shoulder to overhead
*The purpose of this workout is to challenge power, strength, stamina, coordination and endurance. This is a barbell dominated WOD which will catch up to anyone in a short time taxing the lower body, midline stability and overhead strength. For the firebreathers of the world, this might be a 2 min WOD for the avg CrossFitter it might be more of an 8-10 min workout. This is an anaerobic burner with the intent of constantly moving load with smaller volume.
Perfect example here of a WOD that will raise the question of, “Should I Rx or Rx+?”. Another level of programming with multiple standards. Again, we break down the purpose of the WOD and the goal. Then we look at that person’s movement efficiency, competency and capacity, can they perform these movements safely and with proper movement mechanics. We then look at the goal of the individual athlete. Is their goal to improve strength? Is it to increase their ability to move weight quickly and improve stamina and endurance? Is their goal to feel good after the workout? Several factors to consider.
As a coach and personal trainer, the easiest way to identify and to give the best guidance is to talk with your clients/athletes. Get an understanding for their goals and also their movement quality. From there you can aid in helping them make the best decision with full discretion of what the purpose of the workout is.
SCALING: It’s your workout!
This is an interesting thing in the world of CrossFit and in many fitness gyms it is often demonized. Demonized in the sense that many people think it’s “not cool” to scale or that “if you scale, what’s the point of doing the WOD?” Tough mentality and concept to change, but it is vital to understand that what you do for your workout on that given day needs to align with the factors discussed above. I have personally seen people who take the slow and steady approach to CrossFit where they slowly work into the volume, focus on the movement patterns, scale back on the intensity and overall slow down to create proper habits. The people who we have do this have made tremendous gains and have mitigated injury as well. I can’t stress the importance that “scaling” is just a word. Don’t think about it as “doing less”. The WOD on the board is just the WOD on the board and at the end of the day your workout needs to be structured and individualized for you. It is a great feeling to hit that Rx button on WODIFY, I know. But it’s more gratifying to see gradual development of skills and strengths.
From the famous words of Coach Brian Zancewicz, “If we took the whiteboard away, it wouldn’t make a difference!”. Meaning, it’s not the most important thing in the world to be on top or doing the WOD Rx. We want to make it relative for you and as specific as possible! Keep working hard on your pursuit of excellence everyone!