Coach’s Orders

By Andréa Maria Cecil

In Coaching

December 09, 2015

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Affiliate owners and trainers weigh in on how and when they have their athletes do workouts as prescribed.

There’s the guy who went out on his third 800-m run never to return, another who insisted on doing 135-lb. push presses only to walk out forever, and, of course, the one who considered himself an elite-level athlete but took an hour to finish a workout on which his peers spent less than 15 minutes.

The three athletes were at different affiliates, but they all ignored coaching advice, determined to do the workout as prescribed even though their skills were not up to par.

“I don’t really feel like going Rx should be encouraged regardless of how long it’s going to take the athlete,” said James McDermott, head coach at Albany CrossFit in New York.

The 8-year-old affiliate often imposes a time cap on workouts.

“We’re looking to preserve the stimulus of the workout.”

The focus on Rx is sometimes distorted, said Josh Corley, owner of CrossFit 719 in Colorado.

“I pride myself more on movement than Rx capabilities.”

Rx, said affiliate owners and coaches, is a starting point from which to modify for the individual. The road to reach it—and beyond—has no shortcuts.

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5 Comments on “Coach’s Orders”


wrote …

One solution to many of the issues surrounding Rx would be to use "% of 1 RM" instead of specific weight values.

Using absolute weight values for the Rx prescription has always been a source of confusion. It doesn't make sense unless it's paired with a specific athlete profile. Because as some athletes struggle to perform at that level, others will be bored with it. So only the ideal/target athlete actually gets the full/intended benefit of the WOD.

It would be better if Rx weights were described in terms of "% of 1 RM". Then all athletes workout with the same intensity and benefit equally. Then of course you can still record and score the athletes based on the actual weight value used.


I think having prescribed weights listed is perfectly fine. Just scale. In fact, there was a good article up here not too long ago about scaling. Like 10 pages or something.

And scaling up is something I would rarely encourage as well. If the rx'd weight seems light for you, that's probably how it's designed. Just move faster. It will suck a lot worse.


wrote …

But in order to scale properly, you must have a desired level of intensity in mind, and to have a desired level of intensity, you must have a type of athlete in mind doing the WOD with the weight you chose...

Assume you have a WOD that includes 5 rounds of 5 exercises, and one exercise is 3 power cleans at 165 lbs. Almost all males at my gym could complete the WOD at 165 lbs., but many would be killing themselves to do so. Of course that's not how the WOD was designed and athletes should scale accordingly. But you don't want them dropping down to 65 lbs either. So what happens now is athletes just settle on whatever is 'challenging' but doesn't kill them.

But always settling on what is 'challenging and doesn't kill you' is rarely what the WOD was actually designed for. In some WODs, the coach may have wanted those power cleans to be on the lighter side – done quickly and effortlessly with speed. And in other cases they should feel really heavy and maybe even require some rest between reps.

So saying the prescribed weight is "165 lbs" means absolutely nothing. It's not intended for everyone – so who exactly is it intended for? Who do you think will do the WOD with the intensity you're aiming for? The WOD designer has some kind of athlete profile in mind they envision doing the WOD with the intensity they desire.

The best way to prescribe a weight to ensure all athletes give the effort you're looking for is to prescribe it as a % of 1RM. If you want those power cleans quick and speedy, maybe it's 40-50%. Or if you want them heavy and gut-wrenching – 80-90%. Now you have all athletes giving the exact amount of effort you were looking for when designing the WOD. Just writing "165 lbs" on the whiteboard is meaningless.


wrote …

Of course we'd never change how benchmark WODs are prescribed. Having everyone use the same weight in Fran or Grace serves a purpose- to compare and benchmark athletes and performance. Nothing wrong with that. But when we're prescribing WODs for training, it makes more sense to do so with weights defined as "% of 1RM". IMHO of course. ;)


wrote …

"Intensity and results are directly proportional,
but intensity and comfort are inversely proportional.
Choosing for greater intensity is choosing for more
fitness, but, also, greater personal sacrifice in the form
of discomfort. Expecting elite fitness from comfortable
efforts is naïve, while going too fast is dooming. No
formula can sort these issues out for you; the intuition
of athletes and coaches everywhere has smartly
outperformed all formalized approaches.
Knowing the taste and feel of intensity is no less than
coming face to face with the real cost of elite fitness."

- Greg Glassman

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