Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Scaled or RX - What is Right For You?

Photo courtesy of CrossFit Roots
We see it and hear about it all the time.  The pressure to go as RX'd on the daily workout.  Granted, there is a great feeling of accomplishment to be able to put those coveted letters next to your name on the whiteboard.  And we've all learned that there is more strength and intensity in us than we thought.

But are those the right reasons for pushing ourselves past our comfort zone and perhaps into the danger zone when lifting with weights that might be beyond our current strength level?  I began thinking about this post when one of our customers was asking about how to prolong the life of their bumper plates.  We wrote a blog post on how to properly load the barbell to prolong the lifespan of your investment here.  Scaling workouts to the proper level has a huge impact on the safety of the athlete and in the lifespan of equipment.

Whenever I think of going as RX'd I think about the WOD "Grace".  30 Reps for time of men:135lb/women:95lb Ground to Overhead.  Since this workout has one of the largest ranges of motion [ground to overhead] it puts athlete and the barbell and bumper plates through one of the most stressful workouts.  It's meant to be short and intense.

Let's have a look at the advanced level athlete that can perform this WOD in under three minutes.  In order to move that quickly, the athlete needs to keep the bar under control.  They may tackle the workout in sets of 10-10-5-5 with quick rest breaks in between.  Or in the case of "Big Mike" at +CrossFit Central in Austin, TX - he breaks it up into 26-4 reps.  Impressive.  I don't think he had time to break a sweat!

So, what's the novice or intermediate level athlete to do with a workout like this?  If 5-10 reps at RX'd weight are a challenge, should we back off or struggle through it?  Here's what I see happen when the weight is more challenging and I'm guilty of it myself.  We get the weight overhead then take a step back and let it drop to the floor.  Imagine a gym full of athletes working with weight that they control like "Big Mike" does versus a gym full of athletes dropping each rep from overhead.

Now, obviously Mike wasn't taxed equally to an athlete that might take 3 minutes to do that workout. But what is the right mix of weight/time to accomplish what the trainers want us to?

What we have seen more and more on the whiteboards is programming that includes most if not all of these bullets.  And with programming like this, the athlete can push hard in all areas without putting self or equipment at risk.

  • Warm Up - usually 10-15 minutes of bodyweight or light weight movements to prepare for the class.  The coach puts as much thought into the warm up as into the other aspects of the class because a properly warmed up athlete is at far less risk of injury.
  • Skill Work - We really applaud coaches that include this as part of the daily workout.  Many athletes need time with the equipment in a less stressful, non-timed way to get comfortable with the movements and to gain skill.
  • Strength - It's here that the athlete can push their low rep strength limits.  Workouts like EMOM [Every Minute on the Minute] x 2 reps for 10 minutes.  This gives the athlete the chance to push well out of comfort zone but the low reps and short mandatory rest keep athlete and equipment safe.
  • Metcon - Here's where the coach pushes the engine.  Rounds for Time or AMRAPs with lower weights and body weight movements selected to keep the athletes moving quickly the entire time.
  • Stretch/Mobility - Just as important as the Warm Up, stretching and mobility not only decreases muscle soreness but also increases flexibility.  And going through proper stretching and mobility in class educates so athletes can use that knowledge at home.

Performing benchmark workouts as RX'd like Grace and Fran is a huge accomplishment but doing them within a 'respectable' time frame holds a lot of water, too.  The question becomes - what's more important?  Getting RX'd written next to your name or having bragging rights on performing Fran even if you did it in 10:58?  Instead of going for RX'd weight, instead try going for a respectable time.  The next time you walk in and see the whiteboard, ask what time or how many rounds you should be shooting for.  Then when you repeat those popular benchmarks, look to move closer to RX'd weight or movement but keep that score on time or rounds respectable.

Train hard and often!