Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Performance pressure, or why we think "Rx'd" is BS

Carter and Isabella squatting.
I have trained at several CrossFit gyms over the years. There were things that I liked and things that I didn't like. But one thing I saw everywhere I trained was what I'd call performance pressure.

If you're not familiar with CrossFit gyms, they all (or almost all) have a whiteboard where everyone who comes in to do the workout has their name or nickname and a score written down. The score may be a time to complete a workout, a maximum weight lifted, maybe a number of reps or rounds. Beside the score is one other thing - a notation of whether the workout was done "scaled" or "Rx'd". Rx'd means that you did a prescribed weight or movement skill level in your workout, and scaled means that you did less weight, a less difficult skill level, fewer reps, etc. Some gyms even have something called a super prescribed level, which means more weight/reps or higher skill level than prescribed.

Now some things about this are fun. It can be fun to make your workout a bit of a competition, seeing who has been there and trying to beat their score. Trying to get a certain score or achieve an "Rx'd" by your name can be very motivating and push you beyond what you would usually do. But there is a dark side to this, and it's performance pressure. Frequently I saw people push themselves to do an Rx'd weight or skill when they weren't strong or skilled enough (okay, I did this too), and their quality of movement was compromised, not to mention doing this on a regular basis will beat the crap out of you and hinder proper recovery. People would fight for a score and ignore what their bodies needed to do, shortcutting form and even lying about their reps (I did not do that, but it happened a lot).

When we decided how we would write programming at Barbell Strategy, we decided two things. First, we would not score workouts. We don't use a whiteboard, we don't write down names, we don't compare you against each other. If you want to engage in a little friendly competition, that's fine -  it's good to compete and push yourself, but we will not foster a score-based environment. Second, we decided we would not give prescribed weights for workouts or refer to movements as either Rx'd or scaled. Each person doing the workout has unique needs, so we decide on a case-by-case basis what weight and movements you should do. Sometimes we push you, sometimes we take the pressure off to help you learn a movement, sometimes we let you decide what's most appropriate for you that day.

The benefit of this approach was obvious to me the other day, when I noticed that we had a roomful of very strong, fit, motivated people who were doing appropriate weights for their experience levels with the movements and holding themselves to very high standards of form. I never, ever worry about "cheating reps" because there is no score to achieve. You all have taken responsibility for your own training, your own progress, and your own safety, and that is so gratifying to see. I hear a lot of lip service at other gyms about "leaving your ego at the door" (not picking on one gym in particular, this is all over). But we don't have to tell you that. Removing (or at least reducing) performance pressure makes the gym is a safe haven for learning without ego, and it makes it a supportive environment where you never have to worry about someone beating your score. You're all here to learn and improve, and to help each other learn and improve. That makes me so proud.


deadlift 2x5
after each set, do 3 pull-ups or pull-up progressions


front squat 3-3-2-2-1-1-1 to a new 1RM

Endurance Option

accumulate 15 deadlifts at 5RM
after each set, do 3 pull-ups or pull-up progressions


same as above, but don't struggle on the singles

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