Why don’t we DEADLIFT more?

Great question! This has come up recently and it’s a great observation. The way we are training is meant for high(er) volume work, especially with pulls off the floor. We rarely max out on the deadlift and see it maybe once every two weeks in workouts. When we do see it in workouts, it is usually at a medium to heavy weight. There is a method to this madness…

A) What do we know about deadlifts?

1) Deadlifts are a relatively low-skill movement that require relatively low amounts of mobility and athleticism. Pick it up and put it down. If you are proficient at moving weight with the proper form and muscles (posterior what?) then you should have no problem using 50-75% of your 1-RM in a conditioning session.

2) Deadlifts (“slow” lifts off the floor) place a tremendous amount of stress on your CNS (central nervous system). This can be hard to recover from if you are eating and sleeping well — more so if you are not.

3) To receive significant benefit from the movement, you have to move more weight/rep than say a faster pull off the ground (i.e. clean or snatch). More weight = more stress to the CNS (see #2).

B) What do we know about cleans and snatches?

1) They are relatively high-skill movements that require relatively high amounts of mobility and athleticism. If you suffer from poor mobility in the ankles, hips, back and shoulders – you’re screwed.

2) Cleans and snatches (fast pulls off the floor) do not stress the CNS as much, because you are using less weight than you would in a deadlift. Less time under load @ a lighter weight = less stress to the CNS = easier/faster recovery.

3) The benefits to mobility, strength, power and athleticism cannot be understated. If you can snatch 225#/155#, chances are you are strong, fast, explosive and mobile. If a guy (or girl) can catch 315# in the bottom of a clean, chances are his/her midline is “pretty strong” too… (Who needs a strong midline to deadlift?)

C) Time to geek out…

In physics:

Velocity = Distance / Time

Acceleration = dVelocity / dTime (change in velocity divided by change in time)

Force = Mass x Acceleration

Work = Force x Distance

Power = Work / Time

Stay with me…

***Scenario A:

Let’s say you deadlift 275#. For the sake of argument, let’s say you move the weight from the ground to full hip extension (24″) and it takes you 2 seconds to complete the lift. (I timed some lifters during our sessions today – the fastest lifts were right around 1 second, while the slowest lifts were up to 5 seconds.)

Velocity = 24/2 = 12

Acceleration = 12/2 = 6

Force = 275 x 6 = 1,650

Work = 1,650 x 24 = 39,600

POWER = 39,600 / 2 = 19,800

***Scenario B: 

Let’s say you power clean 185#. For the sake of argument, let’s say you move the weight from the ground to the rack position (36″) and it takes you 0.25 seconds to complete the lift. (I tried to time these, but they were too fast… It is said that a power clean will take about this long.)

Velocity = 36/0.25 = 144

Acceleration = 144/0.25 = 576

Force = 185 x 576 = 106,560

Work = 106,560 x 36 = 3,836,160

POWER = 3,836,160 / 0.25 = 15,344,640


These two scenarios are not filled with arbitrary numbers or mere conjecture… They are real-life situations that we have seen in the gym. For example, today’s conditioning session consisted of 36 deadlifts at 275# (over the course of 3 rounds). We have had workouts in the past that have had 36 power cleans at 185# (over the course of 3 rounds).

1) Scenario A vs Scenario B: In scenario “B”, Force, Work and Power were all increased SIGNIFICANTLY. This is the holy grail for athletes in ANY sport, and ESPECIALLY in ours…

Force: 1,650 vs 106,560

Work: 39,600 vs 3,836,160

Power:  19,800 vs 15,344,640

The numbers don’t lie: power cleans at 185 produced more Force, Work and Power, and did so in LESS TIME. This is not my opinion, this is physics.

2) “Time under load”: This is probably the most important factor here. I mentioned loading the CNS above and recovering from maximal loading. John Wellbourn has been quoted as saying that it takes the body 10 days (TEN DAYS) to fully recover from a true 1-RM deadlift. The fact is this: we can stimulate a similar (if not greater) response in Force, Work and Power and do so with less damage to the CNS.

Take the conditioning from today: 36 deadlifts at 275#. Assuming all 36 were done at a speed of 2 seconds/rep, that would be 72 seconds under load @ 275# (assuming you dropped the bar from the top and did not lower it back to the ground).

If we had done the same rep scheme with power cleans at 185#, assuming all reps were done at a speed of 0.25 seconds/rep, that would be 9 seconds under load. 12.5% of the time spent loading the CNS and at a LOWER weight. Once again, stress to the CNS has been reduced drastically, while Force, Work and Power have all been increased drastically.

Keep this in mind: You can deadlift slowly. You cannot clean or snatch slowly. Try it… and then get back to me with the damage report…

3) Athleticism and CrossFit Specificity: Not only do you need to be strong in CrossFit, but you need to be mobile, powerful and athletic. We used power cleans in the above example, but full cleans would be an even more appropriate movement to highlight. If you can clean 185# with good technique – you will have no problems deadlifting with regards to mobility. However, I have seen men and women that can deadlift a HOUSE, but fail to clean light weight due to lack of mobility and strength in the bottom of a squat… PLUS: THIS IS PART OF YOUR SPORT. A BIG PART. When is the last time you saw a CrossFit competition that did not include cleans or snatches of some variety?

CAVEATS: So why deadlift at all?

1) Time under load can be a good thing!

To properly adapt to a strength stimulus, time under load can do wonders. Have you ever done a 1×20 maximal set of heavy-breathing back squats? The time spent under load can do amazing things for your muscles, tendons, joints and also stimulate a blistering hormonal response that can be HUGELY beneficial to strength gains — not to mention mental fortitude…

2) Muscle Memory (Specific Movement Motor Patterns)

Deadlifting is also a part of our sport. We have to be able to do heavy 1-RM and 3-RMs and also be able to do high volume/high rep sets in workouts. If you haven’t deadlifted in a year, chances are that when you go to pick up the bar, you will do it wrong (weight forward, no loading of hamstrings, midline not set…) For that reason, we also need to deadlift. When it is appropriate.

3) Max Effort Lifts

Like #2, you will need to be STRONG. Not just strong in your fast pulls, but strong in your slow pulls as well. Total-body all-over strong — and this is best developed by using a combination of both fast pulls and slow pulls. Volume, weight and intensity are all crucial factors here. I hope you have a coach…

By no means am I advocating NOT deadlifting — I am merely pointing out some of the reasons we do not deadlift on a weekly basis. Deadlifting is one of the pillars of a legitimate strength and conditioning program – and if you aren’t doing it, you’re missing out on some BIG TIME strength opportunities!

Lift smart, lift hard. Lift smarter, not harder 😉

Modified Outlaw Training


High Bar Back Squat:

High Bar Back Squat: 1X5 @ 80%, 2X3 @ 85%, 3X1 @ 90%, 1X1 @ 95% – rest as needed.


3 rounds for time of:

Run 400M
21 C2B Pullups
12 Deadlifts 275/185#


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48 comments on “12.10.23
  1. Dillon W says:

    a) HBBS: 275/295/310/330
    b) 16:06

  2. Deadlifts aside, where is the workout at?

  3. Jeff V says:

    a) 310/330/350/365
    b) 12:45

  4. Feliz says:

    A) HBBS 130/140/150/155
    B) DNF -Did the first round at 155, then @ 185. Used the red band for chest to bar. Did 8 DL on round 3.

  5. Dru Sellers says:

    A) 220/235/245/260
    B) 18:42 as Rx
    Good night that was a tough workout. Lots of mental strength to push through those pull ups and deads.

  6. MarkB says:

    A) 235/245/255/265
    B) DNF – 2 rounds + 400m

  7. Reid says:

    a) 265/280/295/310
    b) 12:02

  8. Chels says:

    Muscle up practice 2/3/3/3/3/3
    A. 180/195/205/215
    B. 14:39- pull ups sucked today!

  9. The Kingpin says:

    24:13? Deadlifts were really hard

  10. Andrew Gray says:

    HBBS: 250/265/280/295
    Conditioning: 12:50. First time doing butterfly c2b pullups throughout a wod.

  11. Chad Vazquez says:

    HBBS 205/215/225/235
    2 rounds 16 Pull-ups. Scaled deadlift and CTB

  12. Jeff V says:

    Sweet – your blog post got a shout out from the mothership!

  13. moballxf says:

    Great read!! Passed it along to my favorite cf’ng friends.

    Sent from my iPhone

  14. Scott H. says:

    12:40 RX

  15. Rich says:

    How are you going to compare two different Olympic lifts and twist to so it’s now Crossfit and amazing?
    The record for a raw deadlift (a deadlift performed without the aid of a deadlift suit, where only a weight belt is allowed) is 460.4 kg (1,015 lb) by Benedikt Magnusson.
    The current record holder is Behdad Salimi of Iran, who snatched 214.0 kilograms (472 lb) in the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships, held in Paris.
    Crossfit isn’t original. It’s a little bit of everything, twisted for muscular endurance and stamina.

  16. Hi. Nice blog post. Minor detail in your acceleration formula…

    Acceleration = 2x distance / (time^2). It has been a while but s = ut + 0.5at^2.

    It doesn’t really change the point you were making though 🙂

  17. Jessica says:

    4 deads short of completing 20 min cap. Had to use a band to get through C2B. Will move to smaller band next time to try to progress.

  18. […] a side note…just read the deadlift post and kept nodding my head, seeing as I PR’d a 1RM deadlift on sunday…yes, my CNS hurts, […]

  19. arobin46 says:

    Interesting article. I think it is good that deadlifts don’t come up too often in a Wod. There is too much of a tendency for form to go to hell with fast sets of 15 – 20. The competitive crossfitters can hold their form perfectly on the way up and down, but novices and intermediates tend to lose their form very quick, leading to injuries.

    This leads me to a question I have had for a while but never posted anywhere. Why is the CrossFit standard for deadlifts the “conventional deadlift” instead of Sumo deadlifts. At all boxes, CrossFit competitions and even the open, regionals and the games, the sumo deadlift is forbidden for deadlifts. (The SDLHP is an entirely different lift not fit for this discussion.) I always hear people say “you can lift a lot more with sumo so it is not fair.” If that is true, which it is not, then who cares. Lift more.

    The reason I believe that a Crossfitter should be allowed to choose their deadlift stance, is that different stances are meant to accomodate different body types. When I competed in USAPL powerlifting, I would say probably 65% of lifters used conventional deadlifts and 35% used sumo style. Imo, Sumo is easier to learn and the stance itself prevents “turtling” and other deadlifting errors. I think it would be a much safer lift for CrossFitters to do in high numbers, and for some do for thier 1rm. Why do you think Sumo style is taboo in CrossFit?

    • Andrew Gray says:

      I agree. I think the difference between sumo stance and traditional stance is just like the difference between HBBS and LBBS. Both have different uses and advantages, but really it should come down to which one you prefer for the event at hand.

    • Outstanding! I agree that for most CFers, form goes to hell when reps go above 10. To answer your question, in truth I really don’t have a very good idea why the SDL is not used more often. The conventional DL and the Sumo DL work slightly different muscles and in slightly different ways.

      Personally, I prefer the Sumo DL and have found that I can lift more weight this way. I have also found that I can keep my body in a better position when I am using the Sumo DL. The conventional DL places more shear on my low back – when I am in the SDL stance I can drop my hips lower and keep my back slightly more vertical.

      Why is is that CFHQ and most CF competitions do not allow the SDL? I don’t know, but I would have to suspect that it is for the same reason that standards have been placed on maximum width of hand placement in the HSPU — someone might be able to place their feet extremely wide– essentially reducing to the ROM of the lift to several inches.

      Hope this helps – thanks for reading!

      • BFP says:

        I believe the reason CFHQ is against sumo is an artifact from Rippetoe, who at one point (maybe SS? I’ll have to check..) said that the conventional deadlift is a “more athletic” movement, which is a completely ridiculous because from what I’ve observed, it’s all about body types.

        I personally wish this stigma against sumo went away because it really is a lift that a large number of people can benefit from.

  20. Sarah says:

    Nice article Michael. Your focus on CNS recovery is so often overlooked…. especially in the days leading up to a major event like CF Games. I’m always curious how many top athletes blow it by fatiguing the neuro-muscular system inside the 10 day window before the event. It’s not hard to do. A max effort track workout of 400’s will do it. It’s an unanticipated mental challenge – a time to let go and trust the training…a time when less is more.

  21. RB says:

    A. No back squats — Did heavy BS in Oly lifing the night before
    B. 16:01

  22. GNT says:

    Great article.
    What resources do you recommend for further insight into CNS fatigue?

  23. @BFP — Exactly — it is all about body types. Powerlifters look to shorten levers. This is best done by changing stance, grip and hip and knee angles. Once again, not sure why — but we are where we are!

  24. jschu15 says:

    Reblogged this on crossfitathomeblog and commented:
    A little bit of geeking never hurt nobody…

  25. […] Great article on oly lifts vs. the deadlift. Worth the read plus lots of nerd stuff if you’re into that. Why we dont deadlift anymore […]

  26. […] HERE’S a recent article written by one of CrossFit Central’s coaches talking about the differences of these two lifts as they relate to each other in force, work and power. […]

  27. I definitely like the the “Geek Out” section. This gives our profession credibility when we are able to show solid scientific reasoning for implementing the exercises we do. Plus, I’m a bit of a math geek…so I LOVEthe numbers.

  28. […] CoachWinchester – A cool post on why the olympic lifts and power correlates to increased strength. […]

  29. julienpineau says:

    i am curious,how are your athletes getting better at deadlifting if you do not challenge their form by working at around 90% or more? Rep work is one thing but it does not prepare you for a true 3RM
    Also maybe those people you saw failing on a “light” clean while being able to deadlift a house did so because of bad technique and not necessarily lack of mobility and strength at the bottom of their squat

    • Agree 100%! When it comes to failing cleans and snatches, form or technique is often, if not always the culprit. However, technique and mobility are often inseparable. We have found that those with better mobility and flexibility can pick up on the technique better because they can get their bodies into better position more easily.

      It is always a case-by-case or athlete-by-athlete situation. Some have great mobility, but do not have the strength. Some have great strength, but not enough body awareness or mobility. Some have both great strength and mobility but are not adept when it comes to technique.

      This is something you as an athlete or coach have to evaluate.

      As far as training deadlifts for performance — make sure you read the Caveats section — we do deadlift and we do deadlift heavy, but it is controlled and very specific training. We limit the deadlifts in order to keep CNS stress to a manageable level and also to avoid injuries.

      The more you deadlift heavy (once, twice or even three times a week for some people) the more chance you have to injure yourself.

      Even Louie Simmons and his lifters do not lift at 90% often. Hence the conjugate method. They switch up %’s stances and grips as well as add in auxiliary work to ensure they remain healthy and injury-free.

  30. […] HERE to read entire article.  It is worth the […]

  31. […] Also, here’s a great article about why we’re doing so many Oly lifts in regular classes. […]

  32. […] What I know now is that squatting, pulling and pushing sleds, loaded back extensions, and other bits of speed and posterior chain work is the training. The deadlift ought to be just the test. Standout coach at Red Black Gym in Austin, Michael Winchester, nailed it in a recent article on the cost benefit to training the deadlift.  […]

  33. With havin so much content and articles do
    you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation?
    My blog has a lot of unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help protect against content from being ripped off? I’d
    definitely appreciate it.

  34. […] There’s an often quoted argument that some of these movements cause injuries. In our experience and our injury stats show a far greater incidence of back injuries through deadlifts than power cleans, and though push ups than handstands. As an aside, here’s a great article by Michael Winchester on Why Don’t We Deadlift More? […]

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