One of the biggest decisions an athlete makes during a workout is what weight to use. Each workout has an intended stimulus and choosing the wrong weight can keep the athlete from getting the type of workout that was meant for that day. When an athlete picks a weight that is too heavy for a workout they end up setting themselves up for not getting as much out of a workout as they could. I want to explain to you how we choose our weights at our gyms for each athlete and also give you three reasons why you should go lighter.
This year we have gotten away from having an Rx weight for a workout and have instead gone to having a suggested weight for each track. By having multiple options for an athlete for each workout, and more importantly explaining the intended stimulus for each workout to the athletes before the workout, we have been able to help our athletes go at their own pace much better. With the old Rx and scaled model for workouts we saw a few issues. First was that too many people were doing weights that were too heavy just so that they could get an Rx by their name. Yes they COULD do that weight for the workout, but that didn't mean that they SHOULD. What ends up happening is that a workout that is meant to take 8-12 minutes ends up taking 15-20 minutes and intensity is way down. The athlete is not getting the high intensity from the workout that is so potent and why CrossFit is so successful at getting people extremely fit. Another issue we ran into with athletes reaching to do Rx in a workout was that they end up picking weights that were too heavy and sacrificing good technique. In CrossFit, mechanics and consistency always come first. Then, when an athlete picks a weight that they can't keep good mechanics consistently with they are setting themselves up for failure. Finally, with the Rx and scaled model we always had athletes leaving the gym feeling defeated because they didn't do the workout Rx. They would say things like "Yea, I got a good time, BUT I scaled." We want every athlete leaving the gym excited about their workout and feeling motivated for tomorrow, not demotivated and frustrated.
The first reason to go lighter is that you get a better workout. Your intensity will be higher. What I mean by that is when you pick a weight that is too heavy you end up resting way more in the workout. Your heart rate comes down and you aren't giving your body the intended stimulus. The magic in CrossFit comes from intensity. Intensity is the reason that CrossFit makes the fittest humans on earth. When you push your body to its limit in a workout it has no choice but to adapt. Not every workout is meant to leave you on your back after, but on those that are if you pick a weight that is too heavy you will be missing out on the magic of CrossFit. If you are doing CrossFit consistently but aren't making the progress that you think you should then this might be a good question to ask yourself. Are you constantly finishing slower than the intended time domain for a given workout? If you are then you are probably going too heavy. Drop the weight for the workout and go faster. If you do this consistently over time you will make more progress.
The second reason to go lighter is that you keep better technique during the workout. If you pick a weight that is too heavy then you form will get worse as you get tired. Now there will be a little loss of form during a workout (this is just the nature of intensity) but if you have a weight that you can handle then you will still be moving safely. If you have a weight that is too heavy then you can start going too close to moving unsafely. This is one of the reasons that CrossFit gets criticized, but it is not CrossFit that is the problem. Remember that I mentioned before that CrossFit preaches mechanics and consistency first before Intensity. The problem is that people are trying so hard to do the weight Rx that they throw form out the window. Drop the weight down and keep your form solid. This will drastically lower your chance for injury and will also ingrain good technique into your muscle memory.
The third reason to go lighter is that it keeps you healthier. As I mentioned before you will be able to keep better technique throughout the workout. This means that you will be using the correct muscles for each movement and not overcompensating. By picking a weight that is too heavy you end up doing whatever you can to get the rep done. This leads to using the wrong muscles to do the work (quads instead of glutes, teres instead of lats, etc.) and can lead to overuse injuries. If you are constantly feeling beat up and always seem to have some type of pain (not soreness but pain) then you might be going too heavy in the workouts. Drop the weights down for a while and see how your body responds.
How we have our athletes choose their weights is first have them pick a track to follow about 75% of the time. This track should align with their goals (someone whose goals are to live a long and healthy life or to lose weight should not be doing the Competition track, etc.) and will keep them headed in the right direction over time. The weights in the tracks are just suggestions. They are not mandatory. Our coaches always go over the intended stimulus with the athletes before the workout so that they know what the weight should feel like. For example, if the workout starts with 20 deadlifts and the goal is to get them done in no more than 2 sets then the coach might say "Pick a weight that you feel like you could do 15-20 in a row. You don't have to start with that many but you should feel like you could." The athlete then knows that if the weight for their track feels heavy and that they don't think they could do 10 in a row then they should go lighter for the workout. Our coaches get a weekly video going over all of the workouts before the week so that they know the intended stimulus for each workout. This way they can best meet the athletes where they are and help them move at their own pace.
I hope you will take this article and apply it to your CrossFit journey. Weights in a workout typically come down to one thing: ego. If you can check your ego at the door and choose an appropriate weight each day then over time you will make much more progress and will stay much healthier. One final thought. The goal of a CrossFit workout isn't to make you stronger. That is what the strength portion of class is for. The goal of the CrossFit workout is to make you fitter. Choose a weight that will allow you to push yourself and you will end up fitter and healthier.