Rx Vs. Scaled - What's the correct stimulus?

By
Dan Adamson
January 10, 2021

Rx vs Scaled vs Stimulus

Yesterday, during our monthly CrossFit trainer's meeting, we discussed, at length, our programming, what the goals were for each individual and what we hope that all members might understand about the subject. I thought it would be important to talk about a few important points.

When I first started CrossFit, I had no idea what I was doing. I started with a group of battle buddies in Iraq and we followed CrossFit.com's programming. We did what we could with the equipment we had and it was awesome. It wasn't until I attended my Level 1 certification about 6 months after I started that I learned the importance of cyclical programming and stimulus.

First off, I want to focus on what we accomplished this past few months. We have been on a squat cycle and last Monday we tested what that cycle had done for us. It was awesome to see so many personal bests hit on the back squat and I am looking forward to seeing how everyone does tomorrow when we test the front squat. This is an example of a purposeful strength cycle, that when done consistently, can yield amazing results.

Now, onto the crux of this... What is the purpose of a prescribed weight or an Rx weight/movement in a workout? When we program our workouts, my goal is to provide the correct stimulus for the strongest/fastest athletes in our gym so that they can continue to progress. CrossFit has always taught to program for the best and allow room for everyone to scale according to their abilities. Why is this important? It's to enable every level of athlete an opportunity to succeed. I'll give an example. If I just programmed workouts where the smaller athletes, like myself, could Rx everyday then you would see a biased in programming and you would see very little progress on strength but if I do the opposite and program workouts where the stronger, bigger athletes would dominate than you would see very little progress in cardio and endurance.

The whole purpose of CrossFit is to help each individual progress to become fitter, stronger and faster human beings. It is also there to help you understand what it means to be healthy and how to create habits that can be used throughout your life to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Should you scale?
This is an important question and will depend on obviously what is programmed and what abilities you have developed. I want to use myself as an example. This past week I was struggling to recover from last week's Murph. I don't know what it was about it this time around but I was really struggling to recover. So, I had a couple of options this week:
1. I could just skip the week because of my soreness was going to keep me from doing "what I usually can do".
or
2. I could modify the workouts so I could still continue progressing in my fitness while allowing my body to recover fully.

I'm so happy that I chose option number 2. I scaled every workout this week. This meant changing a movement on a couple of days and also meant doing the "girl's weight" on a couple of days and guess what? It was awesome. Today I can say that not only did it help me recover but it also helped me become fitter because instead of worrying so much about Rxing the workout, I just did what I was able to do each day that I came in.

The Stimulus
Even if you are able to Rx, should you? When we program our workouts, there's a specific stimulus that we are working towards. If you have ever been in one of my classes you know that when I explain the workout I always give you a percentage of weight or modifications of movements to fit what our stimulus is for the day. Even if you are able to accomplish the prescribed weight or movement doesn't necessarily mean you should for that specific workout. Let your coach help you decide what is best for you that day.
Let's take the workout "Fran" as an example. This workout calls for 21-15-9 of thrusters at 95/65 pounds and pull-ups. When I first completed Fran at my Level 1 certification, the 95 pound weight was very heavy for me. They put a 10 minute cap on it and I failed to make the cap. What I learned from this was that at that point in my fitness journey, I was not ready for prescribed Fran. Looking back now and knowing what I know, I would have scaled the weight down to 65 or 75 pounds in order to accomplish the stimuli of a 5-7 minute workout. Since that first Fran I have been able to build up my strength and pull-up ability and have brought that 10 plus minute workout down to 3 minutes. So right now (it would most likely be closer to 5 minutes) in my fitness journey I can definitely accomplish Fran as prescribed and achieve the correct stimulus.
An Rx next to your name means nothing if it requires you to sacrifice form or safety. If getting Rx is all you care about then you are missing the point. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be a goal of yours to achieve an Rx movement or weight. You should always be working to progress that way but we should use the modifications available to us so we can progress in a safe and progressive manner.
Be patient with yourself and your progress. With consistency and the stellar coaches we have at The Point, we will get you there. Some things take longer than others but as long as you are progressing, that is all we can ask for.

The Challenge
The thing I probably love most about CrossFit is it's a continual challenge. I love that we have prescribed weights and movements. I love that these prescriptions push us to be better. I love that even if we aren't quite hitting these prescriptions, we have ways to progress towards them. There may be some movements or weights that some of us never hit and guess what? That's ok. The destination really isn't the end goal, it's the journey that we take getting there. That is why CrossFit has been so good for so many of us. No matter what stage of our fitness journey we may be in, we are able to progress just a little more each and every day.

Conclusion
You are surrounded by a team of trainers who care about your wellbeing. Use them. Listen to them. Let them guide you each day to progress towards your goals. CrossFit is meant to be fun and meant to challenge you. Let us help you make every day a day where you progress towards that Rx. Let us help you move better and be fitter. An Rx next to your name doesn't define what you accomplished. You being at the gym and consistently progressing is what defines you.

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