Rx or Die

We have a little saying amongst the coaches when someone isn’t willing to be scale despite a coach’s suggestion called “RX or DIE”. These are the members at your gym who, no matter the workout, are going to try perform the workout as prescribed. I guarantee every coach that reads this article can immediately think of a member or two (or ten) that fits this description exactly. Below is a hypothetical coach/athlete interaction:

Coach: The workout today is 5 Rounds of 4 Muscle Ups, 6 Power Snatches at 135/95-lbs and 12 HSPU. This workout should not take more than 12 minutes. Muscle Ups should never be more than 2 sets, Power Snatches should be performed touch-and-go or fast singles, and the HSPU should not exceed 2 sets. 

RX or Die Athlete: Coach, I think I can do this RX.

Coach [to RX or Die Athlete]: Isn’t your best set of muscle ups 5 reps in a row? Let’s do 2 muscle ups per round.

Athlete: Yes, but they are feeling really good today.

Coach: Ok, but you know that once you get out of breath things get a lot more challenging right? We want you to be able to stay moving and not get stuck at the rings.

Athlete: I can definitely stay to 2 sets.

Coach: Ok, what about the power snatches? Isn’t your max power snatch 175lbs?

Athlete: Yes, but that was 3 months ago, I’m feeling strong coach!

Coach: Let’s use 115lbs for this workout, it will help keep you moving better. You know when you get tired you start to press those snatches out, that is going to make the HSPU a lot harder.

Athlete: I know, but I’m gonna try 135-lbs.

Coach: For the HSPU I think the right number for you is 8, remember when we did the hero workout “Nate” last week, and 4 was a struggle by the end. We don’t want that to happen again.

Athlete: Yes, but that is a 20 minute AMRAP coach, not a 12 minute workout, I got this!

Can you guess how this plays out? Mister or Miss Rx or Die does alright on the first round completing it in the appropriate amount of time, and is able to stick to the sets you prescribe. But by round 2, the wheels are falling off and the next three rounds are a shit show. Heave and pray that they get over the rings on the muscle ups, the snatches end up being failed or badly pressed out, and their HSPUs make it look like they’re trying to use their neck like a po-go stick (yikes). They finish the work out in 21 minutes, and while they did manage to complete the workout, they are easily 5 minutes behind their next closest counterpart. As their coach, you go over to them, give them a high five, say something like “you survived”. While they may be proud of their accomplishment, if this is a practice at your gym that you’re not trying to eradicate, then you sorely misunderstand the concept of relative intensity.

Now that you’ve gotten this far and are aware of the problem at hand, here are a few scenarios that you use with these Rx or Die Athletes. The desired end state is that after you listen to their justification for going Rx, you can get them to see the workout from your perspective, thus allowing them to get the desired stimulus. I like to call this conversation THE WHY.

The first strategy after hearing your athlete out is talking about safety.

“Listen Bob, today’s workout has 45 deadlifts at 275-lbs and your max deadlift is only 315-lbs. You know that on rounds 3, 4 and 5 you’re going to be out of breath and I know you don’t want to hurt yourself. You remember how hard it was to brace your midline when we did “Diane” last time? Let’s use 225-lbs – that way it’s still really heavy, but  in those later rounds we won’t have to worry about you injuring your back. It will also give you a much better workout and put you closer to losing the weight you came here to lose”

In this scenario, you are communicating with Bob that performing the workout as prescribed is really not appropriate because of the possibility of injury. By talking with him about safety, Bob can understand that you’re looking out for him and his health. If you explain to him that you want to continue to see him improve and avoid injury, he’s going to understand that you care about him, and for most, that is enough to make them understand the why.

The second strategy is talking about the stimulus.

“Carol, today’s workout has us going through a 10 minute AMRAP of 10 chest-to-bar pull ups, 10 box jumps and 10 shoulder to overhead at 75-lbs. We’re looking for everyone to get more than 5 rounds. I think you’ll be just fine with the box jump overs and the barbell, but I think we should either do 5 chest-to-bar pull ups or 10 chin-over-bar pull ups each rounds so that you can stay moving. What we are trying to avoid is a lot of standing around in between sets. If you do 10 CTB pull ups I think by round 3 you will be doing too many sets and all that rest will reduce the effectiveness of this workout, and I want you to get the best workout possible.”

By communicating with Carol that your ultimate goal through scaling is to get her the best workout possible you are giving her the why. You can explain that through scaling her workout you have not made her workout easier, but instead make it harder because you expect her to keep moving for a greater portion of the 10 minutes. In this scenario she will most likely come up to you at the end and tell you that she now understands why you scaled it the way you did, that’s a win.

The take home message here needs to be this: as their coach, you are the “captain” of their fitness ship, ultimately it falls upon you to direct your athletes to a safe, efficient and effective workout. Your athletes need to understand that you have the final say on what weights, skills, reps, etc should be performed in their workouts. While this may sound harsh, you have to educate your athletes and help them understand that your scaling comes from a place of caring and love and is a means of helping them, rather than holding them back. If you can convey this message you will have much more success in reaching these RX or Die Athletes and your gym will have more healthy, happy and fitter athletes.


Written by Matt Sherburne


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