Soon after completing my first few daunting months of CrossFit, it became my mission to RX workouts. That was my goal - not just to RX, but to do so comfortably, recording competitive scores. Before I reached that point, I would always be striving towards it, and perhaps fell into the trap of thinking that once I had successfully completed several workouts as prescribed, there was no going back. I was an RX athlete from here on in, and the shame of going back to scaling would be unthinkable.
As a newly, self-appointed “RX athlete”, I decided to tackle benchmark workout Grace (30 reps of clean and jerk at 43kg). Seven and a half long minutes, and many a scrappy rep later, I was done. It wasn’t an impressive time, and my technique was certainly far from pretty, so why had I insisted on completing this as prescribed?
Firstly, I hugely underestimated the workout. Secondly, I’m impatient. I don’t want to wait until I am strong enough or proficient enough with a barbell to cycle reps at 43. Thirdly, I’m stubborn. Five reps in I knew I’d made a mistake, but instead of stripping some of the weight off and carrying on with the workout as it was designed, I struggled my way through every ugly clean and jerk. One. Rep. At. A. Time.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was that there really is no such thing as an RX athlete. The highest standard that the coach sets for the WOD relates to the standard of the strongest/fastest/fittest athletes in the box and others should scale appropriately to elicit the same training stimulus. Aside from benchmark WODs, what might be an RX weight for a snatch workout in one box might be vastly different in another, depending on the standard of their own members.
So how does all this help you to make a decision when it comes to scaling? You may be totally new to CrossFit, or you may be a few years in and have made similar mistakes to me, but either way; choosing a movement or a weight to scale to can be difficult, often not realising your mistake until the workout is over. A few things to keep in mind when loading up your barbell;
What is the intended training stimulus of this workout? If your coach advises that you should be cycling your cleans to get through them quickly but the weight on the board is 95% of your 1 rep max, this is not one you should be tackling as prescribed. If it is the coach’s intention for you to be flying through sets of unbroken TTB but you usually resort to a double swing after 2 reps, scale it back to a movement you can maintain throughout.
Just because you can RX, does not necessarily mean you should. Is lifting a certain weight in a workout as opposed to a strength session going to break down your technique so much that it could potentially cause damage to yourself or others? No one is going to be impressed by seeing you throw some dangerous shapes that might well end with a trip to A&E.
As coaches, it’s not our desire to see all members in the class RX, so don’t feel that you’ll get brownie points just for hitting that blue button. We’d much prefer to see you pick an appropriate weight/movement that allows you to uphold a certain degree of proper technique, complete the workout safely and avoid long periods of staring-at-the-bar/rings time.
On the other hand, don’t let this put you off pushing yourself if you’re prone to taking the ‘safe’ option. Perhaps you have been opting for ab mat sit ups for years despite being more than capable of performing knee raises. Stepping outside your comfort zone can be just what you need to progress.
Timecaps are there for a reason. Partly so that no one takes a day and a half to finish, but mainly to indicate how quickly it is intended for you to complete the work. It’s fairly obvious to say that if you RX a WOD with a 15 minute timecap and you only get through half the reps; you should have scaled. There’s usually a few minutes before the WOD to time some practice reps, and work out how long you expect the whole workout to take. Use that time productively instead of worrying you might tire yourself out.
Have a little patience… Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your CrossFit career be. Enjoy the process, the small wins and quit worrying about what you can’t do yet.
If you’re still wavering between the reds and the blacks, the pull up bar and the ab mat… give your coach a shout. We’ll be able to give you a recommendation based on your 1RM, or if gymnastics we might help you choose the movement based on how many consecutive reps you can manage.
Learning how to gauge your capabilities in WODs will be an ongoing process, and one you can continually learn from. Mistakes will be made, but let those mistakes be an error in judgement - and not an error in ego. Did you RX because you genuinely believed you could complete it in the recommended time, or did you RX because you’re too arrogant to scale? If it’s the latter, perhaps you need to think about what’s more important to you - having a little blue badge beside your name in Wodify, or making gradual but consistent progress in your CrossFit journey.