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RX or Scaled? How to Choose

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There comes a point in every CrossFitters journey when they start to question whether they should be going RX or scaled.

If you’re new to CrossFit, the answer to this question is a bit more obvious. You’ll scale until you develop the technique and strength necessary to RX some workouts.

But whether or not you should RX isn’t always cut and dry, even if you’ve done CrossFit for a long time.

In this post I’ll explain what the terms “RX” and “scaled” mean, and I’ll give you some questions to consider when deciding between the two.

What Does RX Mean?

RX is CrossFit-speak for, “as written” or “as prescribed.”

To RX is to perform every single movement exactly as written with the prescribed loads.

And oh yeah–the movements need to be up to standard. For example, if your workout calls for air squats and push-ups, you have to hit a full range of motion if you want to hit that RX button.

Scaling a workout might involve reducing the load (aka, lifting lighter weights), decreasing reps, swapping out advanced movements for more beginner-friendly options, or some combination of the above.

As mentioned above, scaling is an obvious choice if you’re new to CrossFit and are building strength and skill. Scaling can also help keep you on track with the rest of the class, which will give you confidence as you’re getting started.

But what if you’ve been doing this a while?

RX or Scaled? How to Choose

Before we get into specifics on deciding whether to go RX or scaled, let me just say something really important.

At LEAST 90 percent of the gym will scale some part of the workout on any given day.

Here’s the thing. CrossFitters can be a bit competitive by nature. It’s easy to look around the gym and assume that your classmates are going RX. It’s also easy to fall into a comparison trap and to let that guide your decisions.

That being said, it doesn’t matter what the people around you are doing. IF they are going RX (and that’s a big “if”), they probably achieved that level of fitness by scaling for a really long time. And also, they probably still scale some workouts at least every now and again.

But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about how to decide between RX and scaled. Here are a few considerations.

Can You Do Every Single Movement in the Workout up to Standard?

Scaling is kind of a no-brainer when a workout calls for muscle ups and you can’t do a muscle up.

But when it comes to more simple movements, you need to get really honest with yourself about whether you can do the movements up to standard.

If a workout calls for weighted pull-ups and you can’t get your chin over the bar on a strict bodyweight pull-up, then (I say this with love) you need to check your ego at the door and scale.

I promise you, you’ll get there if you keep putting in the work.

Can You Hit the Intended Stimulus if You Go RX?

The intended stimulus is, in a nutshell, what our programmers hope you’ll get out of a workout.

In looking at our programming across a week, you’ll notice that we have a pretty good mix of metcons. Some involve heavier weights at a moderate pace. Some consist of 3 minutes of balls-to-the-wall fun. Others are bodyweight and 45 minutes long.

These workouts tap into different metabolic pathways. And training in all three pathways will make you a better, more well-rounded athlete.

It that doesn’t convince you let me tell you an autobiographical cautionary tale about scaling and the stimulus.

A few months into my CrossFit journey, as I started getting stronger, I decided it was much more fun to lift heavy than it was to go fast. I didn’t care if a workout was meant to be fast–I’d throw the RX weight on the barbell whenever possible and gut it out (often finishing several minutes behind everyone else).

Know what I got really good at? Going really heavy and slow.

Want to guess what I got pretty bad at? Sprinting and pushing the redline. And this only corrected itself when I had a come to Jesus and started scaling appropriately.

(Apologies to my coaches at the time, who really tried to get me out of that mindset.)

The stimulus exists to make you better. Scaling exists, in large part, to make you better.

Want to know what the stimulus is? Listen for language at the whiteboard like, “we’re looking for moderate to high intensity from start to finish,” or “attack attack attack!”

Sometimes, we’ll get even more specific and say things like, “pick a weight you can cycle the barbell for at least 10 reps,” or “aim for 0:45 seconds or less on the rower.” If you want to know whether to scale, these are some good starting points.

Your coach is there to help with these decisions if you have any questions.

How are you Feeling?

You might not think of exercise as a stressor, but it is! It’s a good stressor in most cases, but it still taxes the body.

And if your sleep has been out of whack and your lifestyle stress has been through the roof, going hard on a workout probably isn’t going to make you feel very good.

In fact, pushing too hard in the gym when your allostatic load (meaning, the combined effects of all the stressors in your life) is high could cause injury or burnout.

Live to fight another day in the gym if life is beating you down. Scale as much as you need (or just take a rest day!).

How to Choose Your Scales

Regardless of whether you go RX or scaled, you’re going to get a great workout. But how do you know which one to choose?

Every workout at 26 has three different versions, including RX and two scaling options.

These can help you get the ball rolling on how you might modify the workouts to meet your needs. But they’re far from the only options! Our team of coaches can customize your scales during each class, based on your goals, your experience level, and how you’re feeling.

Want to know more about how this works? Click here to schedule a gym visit and learn more about our classes.

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