This blog post has been written before but it needs repeating because sometimes members – and even coaches – forget.  Somehow the strange, unhealthy and counter-productive notion creeps in that “If I don’t do the workout as prescribed, it doesn’t count or it counts less,” to which I say “BS.”

The RX is a ceiling, not a floor.  For the uninitiated, RX stands for prescribed, meaning completing the CrossFit workout the way it was written by head quarters.  Yesterday, earning the RX would have required completing all 6 rounds of 8m handstand walk, 4 strict muscle ups and 2 deadlifts at 235/335lbs.  While there are a couple of us capable of completing this RX’d, it is certainly not advisable given our current capabilities.

The prescribed movements, volumes and loads given are intended to provide sufficient stimulus to elicit fitness gains in even the fittest of elite athletes worldwide.  These are maximums, going above which, would fail to deliver the intended stimulus.  To preserve the stimulus, most of us will need to perform the workout with decreased load or volume.

For example, I can deadlift 335lbs but only in singles and it would have slowed me down to such an extent that the stimulus of the WOD would be lost so I chose to deadlift 305lbs instead, a load I could complete in doubles with minimal rest between movements.  It was enough weight to stimulate strength adaptations and yet allow me to safely complete the workout.  This does not make my workout less effective or make it count “less” than someone else’s.  It was exactly the workout that I needed.

Yesterday we had many scaling options that allowed members to work on their inverted strength, their pull up strength, their ring dip strength and their deadlift strength.  The workout looked significantly different for every athlete and yet, everyone got to work on some serious strength development.  And no one completed RX’d.  No one was expected to.

So why set the standard so high?  If only a few people worldwide can achieve it, why write it that way?  Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better!  The problem with the fitness  industry at large is that they’ve set the standards too low.  They’ve under estimated what the human body is capable of.  CrossFit has raised the bar and even if you do not reach elite status worldwide, in failing to RX, you will still stretch yourself to a much higher performance.  I would have never learned strict muscle ups, or handstand walking and I wouldn’t have deadlifted 305lbs if they had not been in the programming.  How many 47 year olds outside CrossFit can perform such feats?  That’s what training without standards gets you.  Before CrossFit I could not do any of those things.  I may not have RX’d yesterday’s WOD but I’m a lot fitter than most folks half my age training in a globo-gym because of the high standards CrossFit sets.  Better to set the target too high and fall just short than to set your target too low and hit it.

And that’s why we write the RX up beside an athlete’s name when they successfully complete a workout as prescribed.  Because at Empower, we love to celebrate our members’ accomplishments, and RXing the WOD is certainly an accomplishment.  It means that you’ve performed the workout to the standards of the elite in the world.  It also means you must have put in a lot of work to get yourself to that level of performance and you deserve acknowledgement!

Does that make some members feel left out?  If I compliment everyone on their lovely hair, the compliment loses value.  Telling Frank I like his shoes does not mean Francine’s shoes are garbage.  Celebrating Jill’s elite performance does not diminish the effort that Jack put into his workout.  I can compliment Jack on his effort, on his personal bests and on his progress while acknowledging that Jill has met an outstanding standard.  Because Jack keeps working hard, one day we will get to celebrate his RX’d performance too and, because it was difficult to achieve, it will have value and meaning.  Without a standard to reach for, there is no possibility of attainment and no victory to celebrate.

From a coaching perspective the RX  is just one tool among many.  It serves as a safety cap to prevent athletes over-loading, it serves as a motivator to reach for a higher standard, it can serve as a reward for reaching a certain standard.  A hammer is neither good nor bad.  It can be used to build things, it can be used to destroy things.  The RX is a tool.  You can use it productively or destructively.  Like a hammer, the RX is great for some purposes and ineffective for others.  It is only one tool among many.  Coaching is about using each coaching tool in its best application.  With our high performance group, and recently in group classes, I’ve been demonstrating other workout goals which can be equally – or even more – valuable to athletic development.  Personally, I often refrain from RXing a workout specifically so that I can work on a particular skill.

Celebrating the RX is one thing, venerating it is another.  The RX is not my goal for every athlete in every workout.  Personally, I think too much is made of it.  Like anything else, the RX is a tool that is effective when applied correctly.  When it is abandoned or used incorrectly it is usually because people have lost  perspective and forgotten it is just a ceiling, not a floor.