Of Prescriptions and Suggestions

I’m a Crossfitter (if you don’t know what that means, Google can help); like most Crossfitters, I do my workouts at a box. And I happen to think my box, Crossfit South Brooklyn, is the raddest, baddest, box on the planet. Reason #53 for why they are so good is that on the home blog, our coaches (the raddest, baddest coaches..you see where this is going?) frequently post links that make me think a bit more about food, fitness, and sometimes the state of the planet.

Recently, we were presented with two links, each containing articles on the need to ‘scale back’ ego when confronted with the Rx for a workout i.e., the prescribed weight/reps scheme (Do x reps with y weight, for instance). The reasons for such self-effacement in the face of the specifications of a workout are very good, of course: know your limits, don’t injure yourself, get a good workout at a weight or distance or reps scheme that works for you and gets you the intended training effect and so on.

But it seems to me that this sort of reassurance is not going to be very effective when we take a look at the language involved in this affair.

RxD, remember, means “as prescribed.” That is, this is a prescription. This is not a suggestion (no matter how many times we are told by Crossfit coaches that this is “just a suggestion”). This is what we are prescribed. And when we do not do what is prescribed, we fail to abide by it. A prescription carries a normative weight with it: do this, this way. It doesn’t say: do this in some way you’d like. It is hard not to think that in not following the Rx, that one has, in some way or the other, fallen short. And that is precisely why in the context of Crossfit, to do a workout RxD turns into an aspirational ideal; the day you do it is the day you did the “real workout”, the “workout as it was meant to be”; it is not just the day you got to follow someone’s “mere suggestion.”

Crossfitters’ responses to RxD weights and rep schemes reflect their understanding of this notion of prescription. That is why people ask at their box “Who did this RxD?” And that is why people respond, in an admiring tone of voice, “X was the only one who did that WOD RxD“.

When we do not follow a recommendation or suggestion, we are easily and plausibly viewed as exerting a very good choice; when we do not follow a prescription, we can still have very good reasons for doing so (as in when I do not follow certain social or religious prescriptions) but my actions take on a different hue.

So, I think if the Crossfit ‘community’, such as it is, wants to get people to chill out about the Rx for WODs, it might be worth thinking about using language that discards some of the normativity of the Rx, and moves to something that captures a bit more of the intended “do the right thing for yourself within this framework (that of the WOD at hand)” flavor.

2 thoughts on “Of Prescriptions and Suggestions

  1. This is interesting, particularly in light of Crossfit’s (and the related (synonymous?) Paleo “community”‘s) regard for more typical prescriptions – i.e. prescriptions arising from conventional medicine, nutrition, exercise “science,” etc. Maybe calling the workouts “Rx’d” and then encouraging us to seek out a more reasonable, self-tailored (or coach-tailored) variation is actually consistent with the underlying Crossfit/Paleo doctrine that many prescriptions are wrong, issued with incomplete knowledge, and should be approached with a skeptical eye?

    The treatment of prescriptions also subverts the idea that a prescription is specifically tailored to an individual’s circumstances, and not just a suggestion offered to the general population… have we unearthed the hidden Crossfit agenda?! 🙂

    1. Melon, you know, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it is certainly an intriguing way of thinking about the use of “prescription” by the world of Crossfit i.e., it certainly subverts the notion of “prescription, encouraging a perhaps less-gullible, less-immediately accepting treatment of any normative statement in the world of diet and exercise. I’m not sure if this is the hidden Crossfit agenda, but why not talk about it as if it is? 🙂

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