athletes · Crossfit

Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts

imageSomething very odd happened the other day at CrossFit. I had the fastest time for our work out of the day (WOD):

60 kettlebell snatch, 30 each side

25  squats

20 jump squats

15 pushups

10 sit ups

5 pull ups

I did it in 6:20.

But I didn’t do it Rx. Rx is CrossFit speak for the recommended weight and range of motion for each movement. The women’s Rx weight for the kettle bell snatch is 16 kg and I did it at just 8 kg because I was nervous about the “unbroken” part.  That means no breaks. We were instructed to pick a kettle bell weight that we could manage without stopping.

I also can’t do full push ups. Push ups from the knees are getting easy but I still can’t do more than one or two from my feet. Wish there was a useful body part between my knees and my feet! And I can’t do unassisted pull ups either. In this case, I used the ring rows.

So my workout was significantly modified from the CrossFit Rx version. But it felt a bit too easy, not challenging enough. I also felt that I shouldn’t be first. So it’s time to level up. I still can’t do this workout Rx but I certainly can increase the weight on the kettle bells. Since I can swing the Rx weight, with confidence I ought to be able to snatch it. I also might try jumping pull ups next time round. (Another cool thing about CrossFit is that these workouts return and if you’re good about writing down times in your log book or in any of the many smart phone apps for this purpose, you can see your own improvement. That’s the number I really care about.)

That’s one of the most misunderstood things about Crossfit, that you need to be super fit to start. Not so. You need to be ready to challenge yourself. The workouts are intense but they aren’t impossible.

Here’s Clea Weiss on the importance of “scaling” in CrossFit workouts: “The idea is to challenge yourself with all the exercises, neither holding back on a strength nor pushing too hard on a weakness.” Read Scaling with a Purpose.

If you liked Tracy’s posts on doing less (here and here), you’ll also like this CrossFit piece Sometimes Less is More.

Yeterday for example we were doing sets of 7 thrusters and 7, pull ups as many sets as you could do in five minutes. The Rx weight for women was 35 kgs but if you couldn’t do seven thrusters in a row at that weight, you scaled it down.

What’s a thruster? “One of CrossFit’s most deceptively tiring movements, the thruster is— “simply”— a front squat straight into a push press. Try them once and prepare to cringe next time they show up on the schedule.” (from the Ultimate Guide to CrossFit Lingo)

My partner and I scaled our bar back to 25. Other women did 20 and some did the Rx weight. No one just did the bar (10 kg) but often newcomers to CrossFit who haven’t done much weightlifting before do. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The point is that you find the right amount of challenge for you.

“T]he “Rx” weight is kind of misnamed. It is merely a suggestion. The prescription for a workout is whatever is suitable for you on that given day at that given time. It’s not imperative that you thrustered 135 pounds a week ago. Maybe last night you didn’t get much sleep. Or maybe you’ve been in your car all day and your hips are tight. Or any other reason you may not be operating at 100% today. If a 95-pound bar is your Rx TODAY, so be it. Is it worth sitting on the sidelines for two months while your shoulder heals from bursitis because you wanted a star next to your name on the whiteboard? Do you think you’ll get any less of a workout if you scale down to ensure proper form and protect a nagging joint?” from Defining “Rx’d”

I struggle a bit with the normative pull of “Rx” but I also know I’m no spring chicken. (Sorry, an in joke around our house.) I was laughing at the youngsters at my CrossFit complaining about being old. A group of 30 somethings were all laughing at someone’s comment, “being really fit in your 30s is just like doing nothing in your 20s.” I didn’t dare ask what they thought their 40s and 50s would be like!

Truth be told though I’m looking forward to the day when I can some of the workouts Rx, some of the time, and put that little “Rx” next to my name on the whiteboard.

Other posts about CrossFit:

Update from CrossFit London, in case you’re a local wanting to give it a try:

“We just added 2 spots to our One Day Intro tomorrow from 1-5pm. This is a great way to try out CrossFit and get some fundamental training. This session is one of the three ways to prepare you for regular classes at CrossFit London. Beginners and advanced athletes will all benefit. Register here.”

9 thoughts on “Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts

  1. I really liked this post, especially the part about crossfit being misunderstood and you don’t have to be super fit to start. My brother and sister in-law started a year a half ago. they were overweight and out of shape. You should see them now! But still I’ve been hesitant. This post made me really think! Thank you!!

  2. Push-ups – a plank that moves! Adjust it by changing either the fulcrum (as you are already) or by reorienting yourself with respect to the gravity vector (e.g. push-ups with hands on a 2-foot-high box or bench). If you choose the latter, then you keep the benefit of a full-body plank while scaling the effort of both the plank and the push-up components.

    Credit for giving me this perspective goes to Mark Lauren, and Pavel Tsatsouline.

    Two additional thoughts: (1) The place between your knees and feet may just need a ball beneath it to become a useful midpoint. (2) If the push-up isn’t a plank, then you’ll probably be changing the fulcrum by shortening your length. This may result in either judo push-up (unfolding and refolding – beneath an invisible limbo bar) or a dand (unfolding only, then resetting back into a yoga down-dog position).

  3. Yeah, the “oomph” for the pushup comes substantially from your core strength, as josh stated above. As my planks improved, I was able to make massive leaps in pushups. Try Stability Ball roll-outs and circles and see if the core strength helps!

    When you think you just can’t do a full-length push up, tighten your abs and be plankier!

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