If a prescribed weight is not suitable for both men and women, what’s a CrossFitter to do?

We are a part of a flawed system, a conundrum of circumstances, a Pandora’s box of a programming problem.

If you are an individual who pays attention to CrossFit.com, then you might have noticed that there is generally only one weight posted for each workout. This has led some people to conclude that CrossFit fails to acknowledge the women of the sport or fails to account for the physiological differences between women and men.

While that isn’t a completely illogical line of thinking, let’s look at the flip side for a moment. If CrossFit HQ posted a women’s prescribed weight for every workout, then some people might argue that the sport is sexist for fostering the belief that women cannot be as strong as men.

Perhaps those making the CrossFit main site workouts are doomed either way, whether they prescribe one weight alone or two separate weights for men and women.

However, while the WODs posted on crossfit.com do not post women’s weights, they don’t necessarily post men’s weights, either. They do not specify the weight as men’s or women’s. They simply post an exercise with the prescribed weight next to it.

Instead, the prescribed weight is what it is, and according to Russell Greene of CrossFit HQ, “…an effective scaling should focus on individual capacity, not assumptions or generalizations.”1

But we can’t ignore the fact that, during events like the CrossFit Games, men are generally prescribed heavier weights than women. From a physiological standpoint, this makes sense. However, if that is the case in competition, why not program training from that standpoint? According to Greene, “Competition programming needs to generalize in order to create a level playing field,” whereas “Training, in contrast, should be individually, not generally, scaled.”

Well, if that is true, is there a way we can program each training workout to the individual with general fitness goals without having to prescribe an “Rx” weight and scale that weight? That’s where the concept of prescribing percentages comes in.

What exactly does “prescribing percentages” mean? It means omitting a prescribed weight altogether and instead prescribing a percentage of an individual’s one-rep max. For example, take Fran, a highly prominent CrossFit benchmark workout. Instead of prescribing 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women on thrusters, a coach could prescribe the thrusters at 40 percent of an individual’s one-rep max. So, if the heaviest thruster an athlete can complete is 150 pounds, then Fran would be performed at 40 percent of 150 pounds, which is 60 pounds.

The idea is to prevent abuse of the prescription system. Just because an individual is able to complete a workout at the prescribed weight does not mean that he or she should. The goal of a workout like Fran is to be a quick sprint to the finish line, not a long and drawn-out marathon. By prescribing percentages, coaches enable athletes to complete workouts while maintaining their technique throughout the WOD.

However, this method is not without flaws. The focus on general fitness within a team atmosphere draws many new athletes to CrossFit constantly; often, these individuals do not come from an athletic background. If an individual does not have the technical skill or mobility to complete a one-rep max, then it is impossible to accurately prescribe a percentage of a one-rep max in a WOD. In addition, performing one-rep maxes is a highly athletic, challenging, and scary experience. Many athletes do not desire to subject themselves to that intensity. Thus, accurately prescribing weights based off of percentages becomes difficult for those individuals as well.

So, if prescribing only one weight is failing to acknowledge women, prescribing a male and female weight is sexist, and prescribing percentages doesn’t work for the entire CrossFitting population, what is the solution?

The solution is the beauty of a reputable affiliated CrossFit box. Here, you will find a competent and capable coach who can evaluate each client individually, whether they are fresh-off-the-couch or have been training seriously for years. Through this assessment, the coach should guide each athlete into a scaling or percentage of the weight or movement that the athlete can use to obtain the intent of the workout. This knowledge and experience allows the coach to make each workout and exercise applicable to everyone’s personal fitness level, in turn promoting an overall safe and healthy environment where the clients obtain an overall better fitness level.

As it turns out, the responsibility of resolving this issue, for most athletes, shouldn’t be placed on the CrossFit web site. It should be placed on coaches at your local box.

  1. http://therussells.crossfit.com/2014/11/12/acsm-and-nsca-do-push-ups-like-a-girl/

Erin Richter is the owner and founder of CrossFit Old School in Bowling Green, KY. She received her L1 certification in 2008. She was a structural firefighter for seven years before coaching CrossFit full-time. She competed in the CrossFit Regionals in 2011 and 2012, and judged the competition in 2013.

Robert Lucas, Based out of Bowling Green, KY, has written content on a wide variety of topics, including fitness. He trains at CrossFit Old School and hopes to be strong one day. For more info, go to roberttlucas.wordpress.com.


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