June 24, 2011
June 29, 2011

In fact, for many, variation is the quintessential ingredient. Most notable of course would be Louie Simmons and the entire Westside crew. Check out this quote from an article Louie wrote a fair, few years ago about overcoming plateaus in the deadlift:

“Most lifters deadlift too often and too heavy. This has an ill effect on the central nervous system. A better method is to use a variety of exercises that mimic the deadlift or special exercises that develop the individual muscles that are used while deadlifting (the conjugate method).”

Now, Westside applies that approach to all their lifts, but on Sunday CFDC was chiefly interested in how it affects deadlifting.

Strength: Deadlift Variations

Three variations were chosen for the day: (1) Sumo Deadlifts; (2) Good Mornings; & (3) Rack Pulls (including High and Low Pulls). Class was divvied up amongst the three variations as follows:


Sumo Deadlifts

Begin with your feet in a wide stance with your toes pointed out at about a 30-45 degree angle – the specific width of your feet is personal preference, but it’s imperative that your knees remain in line with your feet throughout the lift (as opposed to having the knees collapsing inward). Your hands should take a narrow grip on the bar, inside your legs, no wider than shoulder width. Your shoulders should start directly over the bar, and the bar should be touching your shins from the outset. In this position, your hips will much lower than would be for a conventional deadlift, with your chest up. The hands should make contact with the thighs only after the bar clears the knees and the hips start to push through, near the top of the lift.


Good Mornings

To set-up, place the bar on your upper back, slightly below the top of the shoulders/traps. Take a stance that closely mimics your deadlift stance (for most, this will be with feet directly under the hips) while keeping your knees soft (i.e. not locked). Now, simply unlock the hips and push the butt back as far as possible. The key is to get your hips to slide back (a horizontal-only movement) as much as possible while keeping a tight arch in the lower back. Lower your torso to a point just above parallel (the exact point will depend on personal flexibility) and then squeeze the glutes and drive the hips forward to return to standing.

GMs are about hamstring flexibility and hip mobility – i.e., the movement is governed by the amount of hip travel that your hamstrings will allow. Trunk flexion (bending at the waist) plays NO PART in a GM! As such, when you’ve pushed your hips back as far as your hamstrings will allow, STOP; any movement past this point will simply be bending at the waist, which is neither productive nor safe.


Rack Pulls

Although rack pulls can be performed in a variety of ways, class focused on two forms on Sunday: A high or ‘isolation’ rack pull; and a low or ‘sticking point’ rack pull.

High Pull/Isolation Pull

“High” in this case means the bar is set to a height just above the knees. Your shins should be perpendicular to the ground, and the bar should start directly over the heels of your feet, with your shoulders directly over the bar. To initiate, push your hips back until you can grab the bar, keeping a tight lower back arch, and then squeeze the glutes to force the hips forward while pushing with the hamstrings and pulling with the upper (and lower) back. The movement should be short and forceful, and will allow a lifter to move weight which is in significant excess of their actual DL.

The purpose of this lift is to mimic the phase of the deadlift where the bar has passed your knees, meaning the shins are perpendicular to the ground and the hips are moving forward more than upward. During this phase of the DL, the quads have essentially exited from the picture and the weight has moved backwards to a point over your heels, so that the work is being done by the hamstrings, glutes, erectors, and increasingly, the mid and upper back. (Paraphrased from the article “Rack Em Up — Rack Pull Variations” by Dr. Nikhil Rao)

Low Pull/Sticking Point Pull

For the low bar rack pull, start with the bar set to a height just below the knees, the place where many of us start to stall out on our deadlifts. The key word there is “start” – working from the point where the weight begins to slow down, as opposed to where it actually stops. This varies from lifter to lifter, but usually ranges from a few inches off the floor to the height of one’s knees.

To perform the low rack pulls, set the pins to a height where the weight is suspended off the floor but is still below the knee (mid to upper shin). When gripping the bar, your shins should be close to vertical, but not quite, as though you’ve just initiated your deadlift from the floor and are pulling it up your legs. Unlike high rack pulls, doing pulls at this height will cause you to keep the weight light, as you will not have the benefit of the momentum garnered by the initial pull from the floor to help you through the sticking point. (Also slightly paraphrased from Dr. Rao’s article cited above)


Met-Con: Team 10min-AMRAP of 5 Pull-Ups, 10 Push-Ups, 20 Double Unders

Done in teams of 3 with each teammate completing all reps of a movement before the group could rotate. Substitute for the DUs was 20 Mountain Climbers and 20 Single Skips.

Great work everyone! Expect to see this same set-up show up in a few weeks where everyone will be rotated to a different exercise. In the meantime, feel free to post what you thought of the DL-variation you worked with on Sunday, as well as the weight you worked at.



  1. Dan Samarov says:

    Loved the supplemental deadlift work. I think breaking it down by sections is incredibly helpful. Worked with Chris, Sebastian and Ben with the bar elevated to just below my knees. Got up to 495 feeling like I kept good form, got one rep on 545 and failed one attempt at 600, but my back was rounding considerably on both. I feel like I had a hard time getting myself “under” the bar on this one. Watching Chris do it (absolutely killing both 545 and 600 for sets of triples) I saw him getting great drive with his hamstrings and kept his back position throughout the lift. Will need to pick his and Tom’s brain on this one. Both Sebastian and Ben looked solid on the bar, good form throughout.

  2. Steph says:

    Nice and very informative write-up! Maybe Salty should wake up at 4am to work on the blog more often 😉

    It was interesting to see the different exercises done to focus on everyone’s specific weakness on the deadlift. From what I saw, it seemed everyone benefited from the breakdown and improved his/her form on the movement they were working on. Well done everyone!

  3. edgy reggie says:

    Good mornings: I worked with my “brother,” Tom A., on this exercise. I worked up to 82.5 kg x 3 on the good mornings. They felt good; even though, my glutes were still sore from all of the beat-downs last week. I may have had something left in the tank, but I decided to not push it any further.

    Met-con: Greg, Dian, and I were on a team. Thanks to Coach for providing ring pull-ups as a substitute for (strict) pull-ups on the bar; my forearms and shoulders thank you as well 🙂

    Because I was spending some time setting up the rings for my pull-ups, I missed the memo about performing the mountain climbers (as *cough* punishment *cough*). As a result, I did 50 skips (round 1); 50 skips (round 2); 20 skips, 20 mountain climbers, 20 skips (rounds 3 and 4). Oh well…

    What’s embarrassing (in a sense) for me is seeing newer CFDC’ers (e.g., Ben, Greg, and Dian) perform double-unders while I’m still trying to get the hang of them after nearly five years at CrossFit DC. Go figure. 🙂

    (Yes, I am well aware that I need to practice my double-under attempts more.)

    Post-class: Greg and I went on a nice, long bike ride from SW DC to National Harbor via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (a little over fifteen miles round-trip according to Gmaps Pedometer). Later, I did yoga with Winnie (and I really needed it at that point).

    (For anyone interested in going to Winnie’s class, the next one will be on July 10, 2011.)

    All-in-all, it was a good day. 🙂

    “Not too bad for an old man.” – CFDC’s own ODB

  4. edgy reggie says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. edgy reggie says:

    For all of you coconut water lovers, check out this article: http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/

    (It’s all one long URL with no spaces between “/web” and “/2011”; I had to break it up so that it could fit the comments section.)

    Thanks to the “Lift Like a Girl!” Olympic lifting competition for giving me my first taste of coconut water.

    Congratulations, once again, to Sara on a job well- done in Saturday’s competition. Congratulations and job well-done also to all of the ladies who competed in “Lift Like a Girl!”

  6. Greg says:

    I just started doing double unders, it took me a year before I could get the rhythm so I’m sure you will get there soon Reggie.

  7. Maiko D. says:

    I feel you Reggie. Something about us 2nd Gen CFDCers and not getting those DUs! lol 😉 Took me waaay too many years to get to where I am now.

  8. SBV says:

    Tuesday’s class will, in all likelihood, be my last at Crossfit DC. So, I just wanted to take this opportunity to list a few thoughts/memories from my year spent training under Tom and with all of you.

    In somewhat chronological order:

    1. Watching Salty do burpees during my first class, which made me realize that my intensity was nowhere near where it needed to be;

    2. Spending Wednesday nights at CityFitness with Tom learning how to overhead squat (going from literally not being able to overhead squat with a bar to doing sets of five at 155#);

    3. Competing in the 2010 Courage Games;

    4. Learning how to climb a rope;

    5. Fight Gone Bad 5;

    6. Representing CFDC along with Julia, Mark, and Sara at the Mid-Atlantic Hopper’s Team Event;

    7. Watching Reggie dance to old school hip hop on Sunday mornings while deadlifting;

    8. Setting ridiculous personal records on Olympic lifts at the Baltimore Open;

    9. Competing at the Charlottesville SuperFit Games;

    10. Trying to find Mark during any metcon involving bodyweight movements so I could try to stay with him (never happened, though);

    11. Supporting other CFDC members at the DC’s Most Primal event;

    12. Getting my first muscle-up;

    13. “Smelling like Balance,” according to Mary Catherine, whenever I got home from class; and

    14. Destroying Ethan on all metcons.

    I’ll always appreciate the tremendous coaching and all the encouragment from other members during workouts. I’ll now be moving to Arlington and joining a new family, Potomac CrossFit, which should be a new and exciting challenge. I hope the CFDC community continues to grow so that many more athletes get to have the experiences that I did. Looking forward to tomorrow night!

  9. Dre says:

    I love working out with everyone at CrossFit DC. You all are such inspirations!! Reached a PR in deadlift…165! Ya! Can’t wait for next time 🙂

  10. Erica says:

    I was very intrigued by yesterday’s class and enjoyed breaking down the movements. I am still not used to doing one rep of anything and forget that if I just have to do 1, I can add more weight. But I also still remain too worried about getting too sore from lifting too heavy. I think I got one rep around 140#s on the sumo (I need to pay better attention) and then couldn’t get the bar to move. I am with Reggie (although feel so confident he’ll get there) that I cannot do double unders and as a result end up having to do the mount climbers. Maybe we should have a double under workshop 🙂

    I’m super sad that MC and Ben aren’t going to be around anymore. I really hope they come back to visit on Sundays!

  11. Sara says:

    @Sebastian – We will miss you and MC. It is great to hear all your memories and hope you 1)make many great new ones at PCF and 2)come back to visit with us.

    I worked with MC and Max on Good Mornings. It was my only option as I am laying off of all pulling exercises for the next week to give my left arm a rest. I don’t remember what I went up too. I think it was 120×3 and I think I did 3 or 4 sets at that weight.

    I scaled the metcon to exclude the pull-ups and just did AMRAP 10 push-ups and 20 DUs. I think I got 7 rounds. I am always slow when it comes to push-ups but definitely am much better at them.

  12. Tom Brose says:

    Sebastian, we’re definitely going to miss you. Remember, you are always a part of CFDC, so don’t be a stranger. Its been a pleasure watching you grow as an athlete and test your limits, as well as spur on your classmates. You definitely brought the good natured smack talking to a new level, for every ones benefit. Mary Catherine has been a great addition as well, so positive and encouraging to all. Its been great seeing her push herself past what she thought she could do.

    Regarding Double Unders (or any pesky skill move): Go get it. Really, everyone has the physical capability to do them, it requires the mindset that you WILL get them.

    As for the substitute, it is NOT punishment. I don’t think 20 mountain climbers and 20 skips has the exertion of 20 double unders. It definitely doesn’t require the focus and co-ordination, or bring the frustration factor into play. The only way to see if you agree…is to get the double unders down.

  13. Ethan says:

    I will be sorry to see you go. It was a always a good time working with you even though I always had to take weight off the bar for your sets.

    Tom, I hope you have something good cooked up for tonight. Even though I allowed myself to melt this past week while on vacation, I still plan on cheering SBV on when I finish 1 minute before him.

  14. SaltyHat says:

    Dan and Sebastian, thanks for the ego boost – I wish everything in the gym worked as well as rack pulls and burpees (and yes, it’s more than a little ironic that we are also discussing DUs in this comment string).

    Sebastian, to echo those comments above, you and MC will be sorely missed. You will be in good hands over at Potomac, but you both will always be considered CFDC family – here’s hoping the bread crumbs lead you back our way every now and again.

  15. SaltyHat says:

    @ Dre, great having you back in class too, and nice work on the DL! We’ll gladly support your player-coach lifestyle any day.

  16. Ben says:

    Really enjoyed class on Sunday. The met-con was tough, but I was able to finally string some double-unders together and didn’t keep my team members waiting too long. The modified deadlift work was great. Got up to 455 for two reps, thanks to Tom and Chris for the coaching on form. Both Dan and Chris provided plenty of motivation to keep working at it with their 545 and 600 pound lifts respectively.

    Hope MC and Sebastian come back to visit every now and then for a Sunday class.

  17. Aww, thanks so much for all the kind words, guys!! We’ll definitely miss everyone 🙁 Tom and Chris, thanks for all the unbelievable coaching! I’ve learned so much in my time at CFDC and really appreciate all the time you put into making us better.

    See you all at class tonight!
    Xoxo (can you write that on a CF blog?),

  18. Mark Minukas says:

    Sebastian, we’re going to miss you, man! Are you going to stay with CFDC for competitions or are you going to switch over to the dark side (Potomac CF)??

    Either way, hope my back gets better soon so I can catch up with you on deadlifts.

  19. TomandAmi says:

    SBV and MC – I have enjoyed class with you both and will miss you. Good luck in your new digs and I am sure we will see each other again – Hopper Challenge? See you tonight – assuming my other lives do not intervene unexpectedly.