Rx Your Mindset

In most CrossFit gyms around the world, and for the many followers of mainsite programming, to ‘Rx’ a workout (complete it as prescribed) is hallowed ground. There are different schools of thought on what should constitute Rx; should it be the top 5% of your box able to hit it, top half, maybe something the majority can perform? My thoughts on it come from two specific statements:

CrossFit should be accessible to everyone, whilst pushing the fittest to be fitter. To put this into context, we need to pick movements, weights, distances, heights and time domains that push the fittest in our community, but be able to scale all elements to be universal. This, by definition, means that in some workouts only one or two athletes may complete it as prescribed, whilst in other WODs, some 90% plus will manage this feat.

Tom - GT Fitness Co owner and coach

Let me give you a couple of examples. In a running workout, say 5 rounds of run 400m, rest at a ratio of one to one after each run, the majority of people will complete this as prescribed. The run is an accessible distance, and the recovery period is adequate for the vast majority, but the fittest can still be challenged by simply running faster. Around 90% of our community would complete this as prescribed, with some having to scale the distance, number of rounds, or the rest ratio in order to still get maximum benefit.

Contrast this with 5 rounds for time of 5 Muscle-Ups, 5 Handstand Push-Ups, 5 Squat Cleans at 105/70kg. Here’s where things get tricky. Only a couple of athletes would complete this as written, maybe only one, or even nobody if the right people don’t happen to train that day. So is this workout ‘too hard’? The simple answer is no. In the grand scheme of things, this workout is not that challenging. Present it to an elite athlete and they’d view it as somewhat of a sprint, relishing the low reps and contemplating whether to stay unbroken on the cleans, or stick with fast singles. For the newcomer, or athlete without the ability to perform any of these movements, though, this can seem daunting.

I’m with you, when I first started CrossFit, I couldn’t have performed any of this as it was written, and furthermore, I had no idea how to scale. I would have simply opted to do a completely different workout to avoid the frustration. This workout though, is perfectly scaled for our community. Those one or two athletes who could complete this as written, would be pushed hard, forcing them to get fitter and push their comfort zones.

The key to this though, is understanding the term ‘Rx’ in full. For one of our classes, I would impose a timecap of around 18 minutes, allowing just over 3 Minutes 30 Seconds per round and allowing people to challenge themselves. The balance here, comes in picking the right scale to complete the workout within the timecap. Unfortunately, such is the prestige of the ‘Rx’ annotation to some, that they will attempt weights and movements which in reality are slightly beyond them, at least under intensity, and fail to finish in time. The point they miss, is that this by definition is not completing the workout as written, and is therefore not Rx. This almost always (there are exceptions) means they have failed to benefit as much as they can from the workout. Rx is an easy line to draw in the sand, and useful for making my point, but this is only a fraction of the problem. For the majority, it’s a much less obvious line on which they must try and balance. Too low on the weight, or too simple on the movement, and they feel nothing after finishing first, having missed the point of the workout. Slightly too heavy, or complex, and they spend their time failing reps and getting frustrated, again missing the intended stimulus by some margin. Here’s where mindset matters. You should be seeking a state of mind that pushes you to break down barriers and raise your limits, whilst retaining the requisite amount of humility to shave off some weight or reps when needs be. We all get this wrong sometimes, but having the right mindset is most certainly the best place to start!

If we never have a chance to do something, we never will. We had a couple of visitors from another box, sometime last year. Both athletes, one male and one female, were at a decent level and moved well. Both were strong and gymnastically capable. The workout that day called for 30’ handstand walks, along with a few other movements. When I asked them if they had handstand walks yet, they both replied “No, we don’t do those at our box, because nobody can do them.” to which I replied, “Nobody can do them, because you don’t do them.” My point here is simple and basically works in two ways. Nobody can do everything, and certainly not everything well. To force progress and adaptation means we need to present people with the opportunity to try things they have never done, and progressions to move them towards being successful. The other side to this focuses on the fact we all look up to someone. In CrossFit, this tends to be someone better than us, who can do things we currently can’t. We aspire to be like them, and chase their standard. As Vince Lombardi famously said “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”, and this applies to us chasing performance standards or weights of someone way ahead of us. This is the positive aspect of empirical data and leaderboards. There will always be someone better, for us to chase, and they in turn, will be chasing someone above them.

So if mindset is so key, what are the keys to applying that to training, and getting the most out of it? In my opinion, these 6 points provide a great starting block, but the list is certainly not exhaustive!

  1. Leaderboards serve to give you relative feedback, not to directly compare you to other athletes. Whilst friendly competition is great, ultimately we just need this data to identify strengths, weaknesses, and progress.
  2. Getting the right stimulus from the workout means far more than getting Rx next to your name. This principle can be applied to all levels of scaling, and certainly doesn’t just refer to borderline Rx athletes.
  3. Getting angry about your performance means you have started the workout with the wrong mindset. If you miss a lift, or struggle to link reps of a gymnastic movement, then analyse, and if appropriate, attempt to correct your errors for the next attempt. Poor attitude is cancerous and brings down the community you’re so rightfully proud to be a part of. Frustration is fine, anger is not. 
  4. Allow the positives to be positive. Not all progress comes in the form of PRs on lifts or benchmarks, the vast majority of it, in fact, comes from the tiny details improving, or simply in being more consistent. There are no deadlines on achieving any standard, for anyone. Just focus on getting better.
  5. You workout for 3% of your week (assuming an hour per day, 5 days per week), don’t let mishaps or bad results bring down the other 97%. You are all mothers or boyfriends, friends and colleagues. You’re team members at work, or maybe leaders. You aren’t defined, even in an instant, by a missed lift, a poor pull-up, or a slow run. That 3% is supposed to add to and enhance your life, let it!
  6. Allow the achievements of those with more weight, faster times, more complex movements on the board to serve as inspiration, and share in their triumph. In no way does this detract from your achievements or abilities. I’ve watched an athlete PR their deadlift by 10kg (a huge increase), only to be genuinely disappointed that their friend (rival) lifted more. This saddens me greatly. Our achievements are our own, and aren’t diminished by the successes of others. This is the negative side of leaderboards, and leads us to an unhealthy rivalry from which we will never benefit.

The most difficult step of changing your mindset is admitting it needs changing. It’s not without cringe-worthy memories that I write this. Only today, I got a memory on Facebook of preparing to redo an Open workout, because my ego wasn’t happy with my performance. Last month, I had a memory of repeatedly missing a jerk, getting angrier and angrier and slamming down the bar, disgusted with my efforts. I remember that poor show haunting me for days after the event. I don’t remember anything else from my life those few days. I allowed the 3% (realistically more like 10% for me back then) to ruin the 97%. Trying to strike a balance between being happy with what you’re already capable of, and seeking further improvement is a challenge, but for me, one worth facing head on and committing to getting right! I firmly believe your happiness and sense of self-worth depends on it! of changing your mindset is admitting it needs changing. It’s not without cringe-worthy memories that I write this. Only today, I got a memory on Facebook of preparing to redo an Open workout, because my ego wasn’t happy with my performance. Last month, I had a memory of repeatedly missing a jerk, getting angrier and angrier and slamming down the bar, disgusted with my efforts. I remember that poor show haunting me for days after the event. I don’t remember anything else from my life those few days. I allowed the 3% (realistically more like 10% for me back then) to ruin the 97%. Trying to strike a balance between being happy with what you’re already capable of, and seeking further improvement is a challenge, but for me, one worth facing head on and committing to getting right! I firmly believe your happiness and sense of self-worth depends on it!