“What did you get today?”
“7:34….that was a burner”
“Oh, yeah I was 11 minutes but I did RX plus - it really wasn't that bad.”
The RX plus option comes up from time to time in my training and I never take it. There are a myriad of reasons why I don’t – and I get asked why every time. One of the only reasons I haven’t addressed this issue much in my writing is because Adrian Conway of Brute Strength did such a great job with a video on this topic – that I didn’t really think I could add to that.
Because this question has been posed to me a lot recently – I decided I would build off what Conway said (the video I reference is included in this post).
There are a number of reasons one might take the RX plus option – but the majority of them surround ego and ability. Going heavier on a workout allows you to go slower – it removes the pressure to perform at a higher intensity. It also ensures that you can put your score above all those RX peasants on the whiteboard. Conway calls it "an easy way out" in his video. Above all that – it is also pointless. You are not going to get substantially stronger by performing 155 pound power cleans instead of 135 pounds. You get stronger by performing strength work – cycles designed to improve your strength. Doing 45 cleans at 155 one time a week instead of 135 is not going to improve your power clean 1rm or your ability to cycle weight faster. Adding weight to your maxes is a process that takes time and requires intelligent programming.
Most of the athletes I see taking the RX plus option have not and will never do anything of note in the world of CrossFit. Do regional competitors and Games athletes perform workouts with higher weights and rep schemes? Sure – but that is the elite .01 percent – that isn’t you. I am talking about the regular class athletes, guys like me who can take a few podiums at local competitions – but for the most part do CrossFit to be a better version of themselves, improve their scores in the Open and compete as a way to test their abilities.
CrossFit is about intensity, and for most athletes, scaling up lowers intensity while doing nothing for you as an athlete. If you can’t perform the RX version of the workout completely unbroken, then why in the fuck are you adding weight? Coaches who program intelligently, write workouts with a purpose – and within that purpose is a desired time domain.
Last night’s workout at my gym was 21-15-9, cleans 135#, wall balls 20# and ring-dips. I have done “Elizabeth” (same workout minus the wall balls) enough to know how bad those final cleans and dips are – and I knew that adding in wall balls would do nothing to make that easier. I also know that within that workout I can’t go touch and go all the way through with the cleans. The RX plus option was 30# wall balls and 155# cleans. Since I can’t perform the workout unbroken, it would make zero sense to add weight. When I saw the times on the whiteboard – which included a number of athletes who went RX plus and got timed out (the cap was 15:00) I almost spit out my coffee. This should be a sub 9:00 workout on the high end – but athletes were adding weight and getting time capped? There is no other way to describe this than to say it is completely ridiculous.
If you are choosing to scale up – and then struggling to perform the movements as single reps while trying to stay under a time-cap, you have altered the entire workout in exchange for, well, nothing.
If you are like most athletes, the closest thing you will ever have to national or international competition, is the Open. The Open is about intensity – and if improving your Open score is the goal – then the last thing you should be doing is lowering the intensity of your training. If getting stronger is your goal, then add strength work, take advantage of the strength program if your gym offers one. Focus on your squats and Olympic lifts.
Sure, your RX plus score sits higher on the leaderboard – and if the “competition” of training is the closest you’ll get to actually competing, then I get it. Your name sitting on top of the whiteboard is so important that you are willing to derail your training – in this scenario, it makes sense to me.
For the athletes who are looking to improve, looking to become a better version of themselves – keep it RX – or even better, take Conway’s advice and try scaling down. Can’t do Fran unbroken? Try it out with 45# thrusters and see if you can do it unbroken that way – raise the intensity of your training and see what it does for you as an athlete.
The best line from Adrian Conway's “Scaling Up” video: “You don't need harder workouts, you need to go harder in your workouts.”
If you are reading this and wondering “Should I stop scaling up?” – I could almost be certain the answer should be a resounding “yes” – but in case you are still confused, take a look at this list – if the ANY of these apply to you, then yes, you should stop immediately.
1. I have never gone to Regionals
2. I perform RX+ workouts but my time is full minutes slower than the fastest RX athletes
3. I want to perform better in the Open
4. I want to be a better athlete
5. I want to be stronger
6. I perform RX+ workouts and get time capped (I had to throw this in because I still can’t get over that this is even a thing)
That list could on and on – but you get the picture. If you aren’t a regional level athlete or better, stop it. You aren’t improving as an athlete – you are just slowing down your workout for no real reason or benefit. CrossFit produces results - but something it also produces in spades, are athletes who are completely and utterly delusional about their own abilities. For 99.9% of you reading this - on a national level, you suck at CrossFit. I'm not trying to kill your dreams - but you aren't going to Regionals, you aren't that good of an athlete and you have zero reason to be tacking on weight or reps to your workouts. Do it RX and do it with intensity. If you think I am an idiot for saying this - go prove me wrong and smash your next workout - it's better to go unbroken with all-out intensity, then to add weight and spend more time resting. Also, nobody cares where your name is on the leaderboard except you - and most people see your slower time above them and wonder, "why exactly did they go heavier and slower?"