CrossFit Open Workout 18.4 Recap: You Need to Improve Your Deadlift

CrossFit Open Workout 18.4 Recap: You Need to Improve Your Deadlift

CrossFit Open Workout 18.4 Recap: You Need to Improve Your Deadlift

Written by OPEX Head Coach Matt Springer

OPEX Coach Matt Springer is back to help coaches and athletes analyze and learn from their performance in CrossFit Open Workout 18.4. One of the things he specifically targets is how to improve your deadlift in a balanced fashion to prepare yourself for a future event like this in the next CrossFit Open season. Take a look below!


Open 18.4 is a wrap, and we all need more strength. Specifically related to the deadlift. However, I’m not suggesting that if you didn’t do well in this workout that all you should do is deadlift constantly until the next CrossFit Open. You need to tackle this movement in a balanced manner.

Balanced fitness is about:

  1. Understanding the requisites for your function
  2.  Identifying your relative biases 
  3. Challenging fashionable trends 
  4. Developing Confidence in the training process 
  5. Producing Longevity

Longtime audience members will recall the moniker of balanced fitness. Before the marketplace became littered with hundreds of training templates, I could count on one hand how many training options existed for the preparation of functional fitness. One of those options was Optimum Performance Training; today what is OPEX.

Of course, if you ‘followed OPT’ you knew two things: (1) You were opting out of a strength-biased program and (2) You were opting into the only design available for well-roundedness. People came through the proverbial front door because they knew absolute strength adaptations were not the limiting factor to their progress. And this was their only home to find a construction of that idea as a training method.

But after 18.2, and especially after 18.4, my pulse says the marketplace believes they need to be stronger for the sport. Reversion to biased training designs. While strength has never not been a priority, I am taking this opportunity to evaluate that idea from a different angle. What we do not need are 100,000 people following 5/3/1 starting March 27th. Consider the following event variations:

Event A

Deadlift 1-rep max


Event B

3 rounds

1 Deadlift 455/320lbs

2 Ring muscle-ups

3 Squat cleans 250/175lbs

4 Handstand push-ups


Event C


Deadlifts 225/155lbs

Handstand push-ups


Event D

5 rounds

Run 400 meters

15 Deadlifts 155/105lbs


Event E

15-minute AMRAP

15 KB swings 55/35lbs

15 Burpees


Rep-max deadlift training will not prepare you for the litany of possible events in functional fitness. You are going to be specialized towards events A & B, while Ok at event C, and completely unprepared for events D & E. Similarly if this were post-2013 Open, people would have prepared for deadlifts with iterations of hero workouts and grinders. Their paradox would be inverted.

Playing this game means you need an evaluation of what holes you have, how big those holes are, if you need to attack them, and with what urgency. There is no one-size-fitz-all model. However, since we are discussing strength-adaptation as a limiting factor in 18.4, let’s review how you might approach the offseason. Consider this is a perspective of balanced fitness, where we need to optimize for the possibility of all events while not biasing what we most recently failed at.


  1. Make sure a hinge is actually a hinge. If you woke up Sunday morning after 18.4 with a sore low back, you probably need help reconfiguring the movement pattern. Likely people with low back soreness defaulted to knee and lumbar extension in making repetitions (i.e. a barbell clean-grip front loaded squat). Phase 1 is about dropping barbell weight to 30-40% of your BS maximum, practicing RDLs, and learning how to engage proper musculature in the movement. How long? Until you can do it correctly.
  2. This is my personal weakness as a coach in 2017: You have to have the work capacity to train deadlifts. People who are naturally good at squatting, like most talented CrossFitters, find deadlifts TIRING. It becomes an intellectual trade-off to hide from the movement, in favor of not losing multiple training days to soreness. Phase 2 consists of creating density in your work capacity to hinge. Imagine a modified dynamic effort cycle of pulling, where 50-55-60% maximums repeat in consistent waves of greater repetitions per cycle. You will know the bus has stopped because training leaves you less and less sore.
  3. For as much trash-talking as I did about absolute strength building in the deadlift, NOW would be the time to begin building the movement. Why? Because the contractions are going to train the correct prime movers, and you have enough accommodation to the movement to not be sore for 3-5 days afterwards. Phase 3 reflects a linear push to new heights for your 3-rep, 5-rep, and 8-rep maximums on the movement. You need to keep the barbell in your hand, work the eccentrics, and actually train touch-and-go strength-endurance. Getting caught up in the 1-3 rep ranges is for the ego and does not reflect the work requirements in functional fitness. Script this to take 9-13 weeks.
  4. Next, you need to make your deadlifts aerobic. You need to understand how to breathe and bend, at the same time. How to invert and bend, at the same time. People classically exit a deadlift strength cycle and contract too fast. They are stronger but ‘blow up’ in workouts. We need to bridge the gap from events A & B to events like C & D. This idea is called transfer of training. A trick I picked up from the late-James Taylor is attaching an @2020 tempo, initially, to deadlift-based MAP work for pacing instructions to the athlete. During this time frame make every third or fourth ‘deadlift session’ a heavier pull, to maintain neural familiarity with the movement. More is not more in this case. A ‘tough’, ‘heavy’, or ‘solid’ repetitions are like 8.5 to 9 RPE. There would have always been room for more and you walk away with something in the tank.
  5. Based on your rate of adaptation through Phases 1, 2 & 4, it leaves us with variable duration in the year to work VARIED CONTRACTIONS of the deadlift in mixed work. Our immediate goals are to tests multiple types of contractions, like events C, D, and E, within a 4-week training block. And then proportionally pick-on them as needed. Generally speaking, most will have moved on from linear strength sets in the deadlift. Meaning, no more 5 x 5 or other iteration. You deadlift now in sport-specific situations, like metcons. A pro tip: Ensure you’re practicing deadlifts with high ventilation(breathing), as unfamiliarity here creates hesitation with bracing. And we all know how important transitions are…
  6. In a pre-competition setting, say 4-to-6 weeks pre-Open 2019, I do not like to train deadlifts with too much frequency or relative density. This has to do with CNS freshness and sharpening other characteristics. Also, the deadlift tends to be resistant against de-training. If total volume is dropping in preparation for the sport, certain movement choice inevitably meets the butcher’s block. In-season you might not touch the deadlift at all, especially if you’re hitting doubles for the events. The cost-benefit against your trunk stamina is simply too great of a risk. Daily readiness is the priority, with acceptance on 5-10% reductions in strength qualities through a 4 to 8-week season.

In closing, us coaches at OPEX will recognize my writings as an expression of the strength–speed continuum. This example has condensed the entire continuum into a single-year, a la block periodization. However, some individuals may be coming from YEARS of time spent on simply point no. 2, like a traditional bodybuilding scene. Other individuals might have spent YEARS of time on simply point no. 5, like traditional CrossFit affiliate-members. If you have disproportionality more time in one bucket versus the another, it is possible that you spend your WHOLE training year in one of the silos.

You and your coach make that type of decision-based on what gives you the breadth of capacity in this sport – Balanced fitness.

Perhaps that was a hydrant full of water to digest. If anyone has ideas to add to the conversation or would like clarity on a point, please drop a message in the comments below. Otherwise, shoot me a private message at

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