My Guilty Pleasure: Why Scaling is the Fastest Way to RX Workouts

I have a confession…

I am obsessed with that little Rx box on Wodify more than I care to admit. I let it persuade my workouts more than is appropriate.

So I’m going to come clean. Yes, clicking “Rx” after entering my score is satisfying, but I can’t let that momentary joy overtake my fitness goals. Well, unless my fitness goal truly is “I want to do every workout Rx regardless of the cost.” Fortunately, I am a little more thoughtful about my goals than that.

When I started CrossFit in 2011, I didn’t have to modify too much. I was 26 and a former collegiate track and field heptathlete who had dabbled in powerlifting. I had a pretty darn good base, so Rx-ing workouts felt like it should have been a given for me.

RX next to your name isn’t the final say on the value of your workout

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that the Rx next to your name isn’t the final say on the value of your workout. Nor is it the final say on the level of your fitness.

Let me give you an example.

I hated double unders. I could barely do one at a time and I would end up with welts on my legs and even my arms somehow — I didn’t even know how that happened. And the more frustrated I got the harder they became. One of my first CrossFit workouts was a benchmark: 5 rounds for time run 200m and 35 double unders. And one double under at a time, I stubbornly Rx’d it. It took me twice as long as the rest of the class. Maybe triple the time. But dammit I was going to Rx that workout.

It took me a year after that WOD to truly get comfortable with double unders. I learned a lot in that year: I learned that Rxing a workout, even if I could Rx it, was not always the best option for me. It wasn’t always going to give me the best results for my goals, which at that time was proficiency in all major crossfit movements.

Rather than attempting to Rx double unders in every workout, I had some coaches explain to me the benefits of modifying. And importantly I needed to vary my modifications. So, after getting over my stubbornness at wanting that “Rx” notation next to my name, I finally started trying modifications. I started out with some basics: 10 singles + 1 double attempt. 5 then 1. I also started modifying by practicing with a “pretend” rope or other rhythm drills. It finally clicked when I tried double unders with a heavy rope — apparently I was spinning the rope too fast and the heavy rope slowed down the cadence just enough.

I needed a lot more practice after that, but the key is that it took a number of different types of modifications to get me closer to my goals. Had I just stubbornly kept attempting double unders every time they showed up, insisting on getting that Rx, I am sure it would have taken me a lot longer to master the skill not to mention a lot more welts on my arms and my legs.

I had the same experience with pregnancy and postpartum. Postpartum is a unique experience that brings you back to zero. The first time around I couldn’t even air squat when I went back to the gym. Like many people walking into the gym for the first time, modifications were imperative.

I see the best results when I give myself permission to modify

One of the beautiful things I have come to appreciate about Crossfit is that I can modify a workout for many reasons: to help me learn a new skill, to accommodate a growing belly, to eliminate movements that cause me pain. My modification can be dictated by the reason I’m modifying and my goals. And my modification doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s, either. I learned that when I can’t Olympic lift, I can try kettlebell swings. If pull-ups won’t work because of my core, ring rows are a fantastic substitution. Can’t run? Row. Can’t row? Bike. Can’t bike? I’m sure our coaches could come up with something. I can go on forever.

Scaling is not a reflection of failure; it’s a reflection of mindfulness and intention. It shows you are paying attention to what you need to do to achieve your goals.

I see the best results when I give myself permission to modify, when I release myself from my love affair with the Rx bubble. Rxing is great, but figuring out when and how to modify is even better.

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