Risk v. Reward: Choosing to Rx

To Rx the workout or to not Rx the workout…that is the question.

If William Shakespeare did CrossFit, this would surely be the actual quote.  And it is a good question that, as a coach, I get asked almost every class.

Here’s a look inside my head when an athlete asks me if they should Rx the workout…it comes down to the Risk vs Reward of that choice.

I’m going to break down a few comparisons of the potential Risk and the potential Reward of a few scenarios.  Hopefully this helps you understand the goal of most workouts and you can apply these ideas to your own fitness abilities and goals to make the best choice for yourself more often (or understand where I’m coming from so you listen to my advice after you ask 😀 )

risk: slower time / reward: improve on strength/skill

Example workout: “Diane” (21-15-9 Deadlifts & Handstand Push Ups)

“Should I try to Rx the Handstand Push Ups in this workout??  It is a lot of reps and starts with a big set…”

If the athlete asking this question can do handstand push ups and can handle the deadlift weight (or scale the weight to something appropriate), I will always let them perform the skill! In this case, let’s say the most Handstand Push Ups they’ve ever done in a day or in a workout is 40 total reps.

Today’s workout calls for 45 total reps.  While their score might end up being slower and their heart rate will come down more than preferred because of the slower set sizes and more breaks, the reward will be that they are able to improve on the handstand push-up skill!  This will produce more benefits in the long run so the risk is worth the reward!

We could also swap this to address strength, if it’s the same workout and they are an ex-gymnast who has no problem with handstand push-ups but struggle with heavy deadlifts, the reward of Rxing the workout and building strength here could be more beneficial than just crushing through a moderate-feeling weight and an easy skill for them.

risk: go too light / reward: maintain stimulus

Now let’s swap to maybe not following the prescribed weights (or skills)…this is a good choice when it means you can maintain the prescribed stimulus.

Example workout: “Grace” (30 Clean & Jerks @ 135/95)

“Well, the weight is more than 60% of my 1 rep max, but I think I want to do 135 because it’s just a staple CrossFit weight”

The risk here would be the athlete feeling like they’re “going too light” and might finish the workout thinking they could have lifted heavier.  However, the stimulus of Grace is to complete fast reps, whether cycling the bar or performing single-reps, and complete the 30 reps in less than 3:00 (Rich Froning has a recorded Grace of 1:11).

If using 135lbs means the athlete will be reduced to doing really slow, single reps and taking 5 minutes to complete this workout, that’s not a “risk” I think they should be willing to take.  This won’t have much positive impact on their fitness and as coaches it’s our job to boost our athlete’s fitness not their ego (sorry not sorry!).

So, while this athlete may feel like they’ve gone too light using a lower weight but was able to cycle a few reps, perform fast singles and collapse to the floor with a high heart rate at 2:45, I’d say the risk was worth the reward!

risk: injure yourself / reward: PR

We’ll finish with one that should be easy to follow for everyone!  We’ll jump to the conclusion first…for the daily CrossFit athlete, there is never any event where the risk of injuring yourself is worth the reward of a PR. (I specify a daily CrossFit athlete because I’m sure an Olympic athlete at the Olympics trying to break a world record is willing to put themselves at some risk…regardless of what you think you’re doing in the gym, it isn’t an Olympic world record so check-ya-self.)

Again, our goal as a coach is to improve fitness.  If you are going home injured and having to sit out of a few weeks of classes, we can’t do our job to help you get more fit, more healthy and more happy!

I shouldn’t have to go into more detail about this one, so I won’t.  You know, I know it, we all know it…let’s just keep it in mind on PR day – whether that’s a heavy clean and jerk or attempting muscle ups!