This article is written from my perspective as a CrossFit maximalist, a diehard CrossFitter for over a decade, and someone who plans to train this way for the rest of their life… and someone who’s able to admit when things aren’t perfect.
If you’re new to a CrossFit gym or outside the CrossFit ecosphere, this may be a new concept to you.
RX = AS PRESCRIBED
As prescribed is a concept that gained popularity in CrossFit’s infancy. The concept is basically that each workout has a prescribed weight that the user is meant to use. Depending on the workout, some weights are heavy, some are light, sometimes there are gymnastic movements (with set standards) and often there are bodyweight movements. If you do the workout Rx, in many gyms you get a special star next to your name that lets all your peers know that you’re a part of the club that does Rx workouts.This has been common practice for CrossFit gyms all over the world for over a decade.
CROSSFIT GYMS – ARE WE SURE THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY TO TRAIN?
If you’re asking yourself something like:
So everyone gets the same weight prescribed no matter their goals, body type, age, background, capabilities, hair color or health?
If you don’t see a problem with this concept you’re likely a part of the 10% of the population who typically does Rx workouts.
For everyone else, they do the workout “scaled” where the coach will hopefully come around and guess what the right thing to do for you is. They might have just met you and potentially know almost nothing about you but it’s fine because that coach learned everything in a weekend course.
This practice is the equivalent to:
- Wanting to start pickup basketball to get in shape and have fun
- Being placed with Michael Jordan to see if he would be a good opponent for you
- Since you’ve never really played basketball before, certainly not at a high level…
- A coach will start suggesting opponents until they find the right one for your skill level. Lebron, your old gym teacher, your neighbor, that kid you see on your walk sometimes, your 8 year old nephew, eventually landing at “just try to get it in the hoop and don’t hurt yourself”
I’m not sure about you, but I don’t particularly feel motivated after being given a task and asked to try to do it until I’m not failing anymore.
THE SLOW ADAPTATION TO BETTER TRAINING MODELS IN CROSSFIT GYMS.
While CrossFit gyms were able to slap some lipstick on this issue for a long time, there’s no denying that it’s an inherently exclusive and toxic gym culture in disguise. This almost always leads to cliques, a cool kids club and a high school social environment. If you’re an existing CrossFitter reading this you might say something along the lines of how you are/were a part of a gym that did Rx and scaled and had a great community – the reality is, you were simply among great people.
Now, it wouldn’t be right to go through this article without mentioning the fact that this Rx concept can give people something to strive for. It adds a degree of gamification for some – “get this achievement and your dreams will come true! You’ll be a Greek god!” What happens after people achieve the Rx workout goal? Is the game over? What comes after Rx? Does the focus need to shift to improving your personal times/goals? Why isn’t that the focus in the first place?
When considering our objective of improving the overall health of the community around us – we also need to admit that some people should never be pushed to Rx certain workouts when their health background is taken into account. Ignoring this is complete negligence, dangerous, and scary. CrossFit is an excellent tool for practically everyone but it needs to be executed correctly from the coaches.
For someone who has dislocated their shoulder multiple times in their life, does it make sense to ask them to strive to do a workout with 100 pull-ups wearing a weighted vest? What about the person with recurring back problems? Should we be convincing them that it’s a good idea to try a 315lb deadlift for reps?
PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENTS THAT COME FROM DITCHING RX AND SCALED.
Now, I’ve outlined some of the safety and social impacts that this practice can have, for anyone who’s currently using CrossFit as a tool to get fitter, here are some of the reasons why this Rx and scaled format is actually hindering your progress and slowing you down.
- You’re more likely to get injured. The coveted Rx gold star pushes people to work too far beyond their capabilities which inevitably leads to injury. If your fitness program injures you, it’s not working very well is it? You may be in this category without even knowing it… are you chronically injured?
- You aren’t achieving the right stimulus. It takes an experienced athlete or a good coach to understand that if someone is struggling to the point of doing single reps because the movement is too challenging or heavy for them in a 6 minute workout, they aren’t doing it right. The person working out like this is no longer training that sprint stimulus ultimately going against one of CrossFits fundamentals.
- It’s easy to become stagnant. If you’re someone who’s smart about training and prefers to keep your risk of injury low, you’re more likely to stagnate and stay where you are. The inverse of trying to progress before you’re ready, you’ll avoid progressing because you’re unsure when the right time is. We used to see this all the time in people thinking that Rx would never be achievable for them – this is certainly no way to build confidence in people.
- High level athletes become stagnant. If you’re someone who’s always able to do the Rx workouts, suddenly your goals are to always go faster – more often than not, this is hilariously wrong. Again, an experienced athlete or a good coach can help you through this but most athletes at this point start missing out on the stimulus and no longer train the correct energy system, always training in the same heart rate zone, and running into a serious plateau.
Alright – now that I’ve completely sh*t on something that’s been fundamental to CrossFit since its inception, I want to explain what the new model of CrossFit is going to look like in 3-5 years.
CROSSFIT GRASS ROOTS
I mentioned above that I consider myself a CrossFit maximalist, let me explain what I mean by that.
CrossFit at its core was this concept that you were training for the unknown and unknowable. This is what made it so attractive to police, fire fighters, Navy Seals and other professions that are unsure what they might be up against. In the early years, CrossFit events didn’t tell you what the workouts were, there were always unique pieces of equipment that might be found in someone’s backyard or a barn and workouts didn’t need to have certain pieces of equipment to be considered “CrossFit”.
The other aspect that is fundamental to CrossFit is that workouts should be adaptable to anyone’s fitness level. For all the reasons mentioned above, it’s pretty clear that the current system isn’t doing a good job of that.
GROWTH IN CROSSFIT PROGRAMMING
We’re seeing a movement among the top gyms in the world, who are restructuring their workouts to be more personable with the objective of providing people with the best possible workout for their fitness level, which is also the best possible workout to help them progress if their objective is continued improvement.
This method that will eventually be adapted to the CrossFit brand as a whole is essentially taking a snapshot of someone’s fitness and providing them the perfect balance of workout that is unique to their fitness level by assessing a few markers. This is a format that we currently follow at OnSide.
HOW IT WORKS
Each day the whole gym does the same workout, but the workout is built out into different levels that will suit any specific client’s fitness level. For each person who starts at OnSide, we take them through a series of workouts during their intro period that will give them an idea of what level to start at. It’s similar to a belt system in martial arts except we won’t punch you and you aren’t pushed to progress on to more challenging levels if you don’t want to.
Building the perfect workout for you doesn’t mean we aren’t pushing people, it means we aren’t being stupid as coaches and setting expectations that are not only unrealistic for some, but dangerous.
After getting someone’s appropriate level, they can determine the perfect workout that will push them in a sustainable way based on their current fitness level. For example, if we have a classic CrossFit workout like “Helen” which contains running, kettlebell swings and pullups, instead of pushing as many people as possible to do the Rx version because “it’s Rx, bro!”, we take a step back and analyze what the purpose of the workout is and how each person can achieve this without generic blanket scaling options.
HOW THIS CHANGES A CROSSFIT GYM
The OnSide coaches are no longer running around trying to guess the right scaling options for each individual to achieve the desired stimulus. Instead, we are offering cues specific to the individual that will make an actual difference in their fitness level.
This change has drastically changed how much fitter people are getting at OnSide. Comparing it to typical CrossFit gym programming, it’s like comparing the generic pdf program you found on instagram to the professional major league strength and conditioning coach – no one denies which of these are better.
This is where high-end fitness companies go in the next 3-5 years. Here’s why:
- Having people do workouts and movements that are appropriate for their fitness level has drastically decreased the number of injuries we see for the people who follow the methodology. The small fraction of people who have rejected this style of programming and opted to follow their own program (insert trendy program here) are riddled with injuries.
- People are getting in serious shape. By doing workouts correctly and achieving the desired stimulus, the people who follow the program are making massive strides. The select few who decide to follow their own path, skip the fundamentals and attack each workout by putting out their max effort, are stagnant or stuck trying to improve a particular movement for years.
- Massively improved the quality of coaching. Instead of a coach running around like their head is cut off trying to suggest the right “scaled” option, the right coach is able to actually provide insightful ways to help clients improve by offering coaching on how to complete a workout, a strategy, and things to avoid. This has leveled up our coaching game 10X.
WRAPPING IT UP
We’ll be releasing more content surrounding this approach over the next number of months that will break down how it actually works in more depth.
If you’re curious for more information, reach out to us and we’d be happy to answer your questions!