Chase the Stimulus: Embrace Scaling
One of the things that has kept me coming back to CrossFit for the past seven years, is that there’s always something new I can work on or strive for. An especially alluring concept is being able to complete the “Rx” version of a workout — a specific set of movement standards + loading intended for experienced athletes. I’ve found over the years that having these benchmark weights + movements in the workouts can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it gives us something to strive for. Completing a whole workout with unassisted pull ups for the first time is a big deal, for example. It feels awesome to hit those benchmarks.
On the other hand, the point of the workout isn’t maxing out the weight on the bar and doing the hardest movements possible. The point of the workout is the stimulus — the effect it’s supposed to have on your body, and the adaptation we want afterwards. It’s about making your body and brain grow in the right way.
If one person completes a sprint workout like “Grace” (30 clean & jerks for time @ 135lbs) in 3 minutes, while another person completes it in 14 minutes — they didn’t do the same workout. The effect on the body is completely different. “Grace” is supposed to be fast. It’s supposed to test our ability to keep moving a moderately light weight with a high heart rate.
The person who took 14 minutes completely missed the point of the workout. Yes, they technically did the “Rx” version of the workout on paper. But they did not get the “Rx” stimulus, which is the most important part. 30 reps in 14 minutes means a lot of standing around, not doing work. They would have been much better served going with a significantly lighter weight, to ensure they could keep the barbell moving and maintain a high work rate.
These Rx workout standards exist to help us get an idea of what the workout stimulus will be. It’s imperative that we understand the intent of the workout. How is it supposed to feel? What is a realistic time/rounds/rep goal? Why are we doing this workout? Your coach should be discussing this before every workout.
We should all strive for the Rx stimulus, not the Rx loading or movements. If we focus on the stimulus and the intent of the workout, the Rx loading and movements will come eventually as a result of maximizing the adaptations we get from our workouts.
This is one of the most important jobs your coaches have — ensuring that every person in every class gets the right stimulus.
That can be easier said than done. It often requires the athlete to check their ego at the door. Sometimes we’ll ask our athletes to go lighter on the weights than they want, or to cut a round of the workout to make sure they can keep up the intensity. But we do this with their long-term development in mind.
Scaling and modifying workouts to fit the original intent of the workout is what makes CrossFit so effective. Everyone needs to scale sometimes. The weight you do for a workout might even vary from day to day. We all have days we feel amazing, and day’s we’re just happy we got ourselves out the door in the morning.
I’ve 100% been guilty of Rx-ing a workout when I had no business doing so. Every once in a while, it’s OK to do this just to say we did it. It can be motivating to really stretch sometimes. But consistently over-shooting on weights and difficulty will kill our progress in the long run. Just because we could go Rx, doesn’t mean we should!
Every time you hit the gym, work with your coaches to hit that sweet spot — a workout that is challenging, but also elicits the right stimulus from your body. This will keep you healthy, happy, and running full speed on the #gainztrain!