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Chasing The Whiteboard: Why the RX button is bunk

By October 6, 2016No Comments

You may have noticed a change in the whiteboard lingo at CrossFit 405.

The “RX” label has been removed from the WODs. Instead, we have three categories of workout movements: advanced, intermediate, and novice. And like everything we do here at CrossFit 405, there’s a reason for replacing those two letters with these words.

One way of phrasing it is this: RX means “prescribed.” The whole workout is “RX’d” as long as you follow one of the versions on the board and/or do as the coach advises.

“But I wanna do the big-kid level! I wanna hit the blue button on the whiteboard!”

Well, if it were possible, we’d probably remove the RX button on the whiteboard, too.

Here’s why. Every workout is intentional. Aaron programs the WODs in 12-week(ish) long cycles with specific goals in mind. One day we might be training a specific aerobic threshold; another workout might focus on practicing technique under fatigue. It’s all different, but it all has a purpose. And if you pick a weight you can barely move for a workout that’s supposed to be fast—just so you can climb The Whiteboard—you’re missing the point.

There was no special reward for doing the RX’d level before, and there’s no ribbon for doing the advanced level now. CrossFit 405 wants you (and I’m preaching to myself, too) to get the benefit of this intentional programming. And for that to happen, you have to stop worrying about your place on The Whiteboard.


(Just don’t click it, if that helps.)


If the coach says you should be able to do 15 reps unbroken and the “advanced” weight is something you can barely do 5 times, should you do the advanced weight?—just because you can, just so you can press the coveted blue button on The Whiteboard?


Because in the long run, chasing The Whiteboard will not benefit you.

The coaches have discussed the intentions of the programming during class, but I know a lot of us half-hear what they say and wonder if we can swing the advanced-level, just to climb The Whiteboard. But to get the most out of this programming (and your CrossFit experience in general), we have to stop. Stop the RX addiction. Stop The Whiteboard-Disappointment-onset Depression. Stop comparing our own achievements to others’.


That said, there are some benefits of The Whiteboard.

Pros of Whiteboard:

1. It provides a competitive edge that makes you push yourself. Competition is great. It’s how we get inexpensive price-match deals and exciting sports. (Yay capitalism and America’s unhealthy obsession with sports!)

2. It can serve as a guide for how hard to push yourself. (So-and-so did 5 rounds and we’re usually on the same level, so I can do at least 5 rounds.)

3. It gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment. “I’m not at the bottom! I got to push the RX button!”

4. It is exciting when you make the top of The Whiteboard. There is something satisfying about pressing that damned blue button. You carry yourself taller the rest of the day and you’re excited to come back for another WOD. You want to keep winning.

Cons of the Whiteboard:

1. You should listen to the coach’s instruction (and your own body) to determine how hard to push yourself

2. Using other people as a barometer of effort can impede you from detecting and recognizing your own abilities and thresholds. (What if you can really do seven rounds?)

3. “It gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment” …on the days you’re at the top of The Whiteboard. What about the days you give it 100% (or 75%, based on the intention), and you still rank number 5, or 10, or 15? You have to learn to acknowledge your accomplishments and effort separately from the standings of fellow athletes and your place on The Whiteboard.

**Don’t mistake this for the “everyone’s a winner” mantra. On the contrary, in competition, people lose. Someone wins. But your “everyday” at CrossFit is not a competition with anyone but yourself. Yes, use the person lifting next to you as motivation to push yourself. Try to keep up with the runner in front of you. But at the end of it, know that you are a determinant of your own effort.**

4. You experience discouragement when you don’t achieve the same level someone else did… even if the workout involves their forte and none of yours. You question your efforts. You’re grumpy.


I could go on all day arguing about benefits and harms of The Whiteboard, but the main point is this: the pros and cons of the whiteboard are all dependent on how you use it.

You have to realize what The Whiteboard is for. Aaron and the coaches use it to determine where the athletes in our gym stand. Do we need to work on more endurance WODs? Are the strength sessions helping everyone progress?—etc., etc. From there, Aaron can determine the best programming so that we can all improve our areas of weakness. But if the programmed WOD is supposed to be at 75% effort and everyone works at 99% just to climb The Whiteboard… that won’t tell the coaches much about what our 75% is. And you’ll have missed out on a valuable “recovery” workout that was likely prepping you for more strenuous work in the upcoming workouts (or recovery from previous work).

Some people criticize CrossFit because we use “tests as workouts” and don’t separate training from competing.

But that’s a fault in the athlete’s approach, not the programming. You should challenge yourself every day, but remember every day is not a test day. Listen to your coaches—they are trained, experienced, and have a reason for their instruction. Listen to your body—you know when you’re giving it 75% and when you’re absolutely dying. There are some days you have to scale it back a little bit—and your possible standing on The Whiteboard shouldn’t change that.

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