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The Who/What/When/Why of Rx

9:00 am

It’s time for our 3rd edition of “Words of Wisdom from ICA.” Today we’re diving into the elusive “Rx.” What does it mean to Rx? Why do we care about Rx? Who should Rx? When should you scale? We could write an entire book on this topic, but we’ll do our best to keep this short and hit the highlights!

What does Rx mean?

When a workout is performed exactly how it was designed, we call it “as prescribed” or “Rx.”  Rx has three main components: range of motion, load, and repetitions/distance.

Range of Motion (ROM): Every movement in CrossFit has a prescribed range of motion. For instance, a pull up requires chin over the bar at the top, and straight elbows at the bottom.  A thruster requires a below-parallel front squat followed by a stable overhead position with the bar lined up over your shoulders/heels.  These movement standards are designed to build good movement patterns, keep you safe, and get you strong!

Load: We prescribe a load (aka weight) for all weightlifting movements. The Rx weights are carefully selected to elicit a specific response from the body.  When we design our workouts, we choose weights appropriate for our most advanced CrossFitters. (More on this later.)

Repetitions/Distance:   This is one of the most important aspects of Rx, because we rely on our athletes to “self report” in this category.  You are expected to complete the prescribed number of reps and cover the prescribed distances for each workout. For instance, if a WOD calls for 30 clean and jerks and you complete only 28 reps, you did not Rx the workout. If you turn around a few meters short on a 400m run, you did not Rx the workout. This is VERY important because your coach can see your weights and (usually) your ROM, but we can’t count every rep you do.

Why do we care about Rx?

CrossFit is one of the fastest growing and most effective training methodologies of the past decade.  A large part of what contributes to CrossFit’s success is the fact that each workout has strict performance standards.  The standards we enforce at ICA accomplish the following goals:

  1. Help ensure safety;
  2. Build good movement patterns;
  3. Allow our workouts to be measured and recorded;
  4. Allow us to compare past results to current results;
  5. Allow us to compare our results with other CrossFitters worldwide;
  6. Ensure each workout has the desired impact (aka elicits a specific response) ;
  7. Help motivate people to get stronger, more flexible, and work towards Rx!

Who should Rx ? 

As we mentioned above, our workouts are designed with the most advanced athletes in mind.  That means the load, range of motion, reps, and distances we prescribe should challenge a competition-level athlete.   It is expected that, on any given day, most athletes will scale the workout! We plan each WOD with a specific purpose in mind, and you should only Rx the workout if you can do so and still meet the intended purpose. (As coaches we always try to give you an idea of expected time domain and how it should “feel.” If you ever have any questions, just ask!)

When/why/how should I scale?

The answer is, it depends on the person and the workout! You should always work with your coach to determine whether to scale a workout or try it as prescribed.  Scaling is one of the most spectacular aspects of CrossFit, because it allows athletes of all levels to work out next to each other and push each other to higher intensities, by individualizing the workout to their unique abilities   We can scale a WOD in any of the three categories above: ROM, load, or reps/distance.

For example, let’s look at the CrossFit WOD “Karen” – which is 150 wall balls for time.  The Rx version of this workout calls for 20# balls and 10′ targets.  Many intermediate athletes are physically capable of completing “Karen” as Rx’ed, but just because they can, does it mean they should? Karen is supposed to be an intense, fast workout, ideally in the sub 10 minute range. If an intermediate athlete takes 25 minutes to finish it as Rx’ed, he/she is missing the point of the workout. We would rather have the athlete use a lighter ball and go faster, so the athlete gets the same impact as the advanced athlete doing the Rx version. Other options would be to scale the number of reps (100 vs 150) or the height of the target (9′ instead of 10′). Scaling is more of an art than a science, but we will typically scale in this order: load, reps/distance, then ROM.

Rx and integrity

This is a good time to mention again the importance of being honest with your reps and distances! If you only do 135 wall balls instead of all 150 required for “Karen,” you clearly scaled the workout. But if you don’t report “135 reps” on the board, you render your results meaningless! You will not be able to compare your current time with your future times (or the times of others) in any meaningful way. (What are the chances that next time we do Karen you’ll remember exactly how many reps you shorted it by??) The best bet is to just suck it up and do all the reps!  Similarly, if you do all 150 wall balls, but you know that 10 of them fell short of the target, did you really Rx the workout? Of course not!  To earn the Rx you need to re-do the ones you missed, or change the Rx next to your name to a DC (see notations, below).  You owe it to yourself, your coaches, and the rest of the ICA community.

Results De-crypted

After each WOD we carefully record your results so you can look back over time and chart your progress. This is an important part of your fitness journey! Here is a short “glossary” of the notations we commonly use:

  • Rx ~ You completed the workout exactly as prescribed. You exhibited full ROM on every rep, used the prescribed load, and completed all reps and distances. This is a difficult standard to meet, and is something to be proud of when attained! We rely on our athletes to be honest with themselves and with us.
  • DC ~ Credit goes to CFKoP for this one. DC stands for “damn close!” It means you were just shy of hitting Rx, usually because you didn’t hit full ROM on one or more of the movements. For instance, if a workout called for 100 pull ups and you did 95 perfectly, but on 5 of them you didn’t get your chin over the bar, that’s a DC. Your coach won’t always catch this so feel free to write DC on the board yourself!
  • Rx+ ~ You went above and beyond the prescribed WOD. (Used a heavier load, harder ROM, more reps, etc.)  This is expected to be rare and usually only occurs when an athlete has a skill set ideally adapted to the specific workout.
  • ROM ~ This means you didn’t hit full range of motion on one or more of your movements. The common culprits are squats, ring dips, pull ups, and push ups.
  • Depth ~ A subset of ROM. This means you didn’t go deep enough on one of your movements.
  • N, G, P, B, mm, mf ~ These letters designate our bands. In order, they stand for Navy, Green, Purple, Black, monster mini and mental floss.
  • Pukie! ~ I’ll give you two guesses what this means.  Please aim for the grass!
  • PR ~ Personal Record. You hit a new personal record on a lift or a benchmark WOD. Congrats!

Summary

At ICA our goal is to help you become the strongest, fittest, fastest version of you. We carefully design our WODs, and we include specific standards regarding ROM, load, reps, and distance. We are thrilled whenever our athletes attain Rx, and it’s a great goal to work towards, but it’s not the be all and end all! To get the most out of your workouts, work with your coach to pick scales and modifications that are appropriate for you. Understand the expectations regarding ROM. And then give each WOD your 100% effort!  Whether you completed the workout as Rx or scaled, make sure your results are accurately captured on the board, and be proud of what you accomplished! Questions/thoughts? Post to comments!

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Lindsey permalink
    9:18 am

    Nicely put ICA! I would also like to add that after doing CrossFit for over a year-nothing makes me happier to be able to add RX after my times…..occasionally!!! It makes me think of all the hard work I (with help from the coaches) have put into working out and how long it has taken me to be able to where I am now.Thanks for such an insightful article as well as making ICA one of my favorite places to be!

    • Brendan permalink
      3:34 pm

      I agree, you only short yourself. When you do Rx you’ll know it because you worked hard to be able to get to that point and it is gratifying. Well put ICA everyone should read this.

  2. 10:13 am

    Great article!! I think sometimes people get side tracked by egos and try to Rx, when the workout would have been MUCH better had it been scaled. I know I’ve been there. 🙂 Miss you guys..I’ll prob stop by next week (after Turkey Day) for a workout.!!

  3. steph b permalink
    11:13 am

    great post! I love the breakdown you give. I also had no idea one of the rubber bands, mf, stood for mental floss. ha ha. I need to come back and visit!

  4. Killa permalink
    2:19 pm

    Well put, and at just the right time with competition season just around the corner! It’s very important we hold ourselves to these standards because practice makes perfect. How we perform on a daily basis will be reflected in our performance when competition season arrives. Scaling (or personalizing) a workout allows us to work at our MAX potential, and thus provides the most gains! These standards ensure you find the BEST you!! Awesome post =)

  5. O'Neill's Garage permalink
    8:30 pm

    I never post more than what I actually do because John will expect me do better the next time. Strategy…

  6. 8:08 pm

    Outstanding article. I am quite certain this will become a standard read.

  7. Andrea permalink
    8:12 pm

    Great and informative article! As a still relative newbie to CrossFit, I haven’t Rx’d yet but have had many PRs as I continue to grow (with much help from my group and instructors!)

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