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14.3 – I Didn’t “Back” Down

For years I have avoided any kind of serious weights when doing deadlifts. In the summer and fall of 2010, we did a Wendler weightlifting training cycle in which we would establish a one rep max for various lifts, including the deadlift. Each week we did a series of reps based off percentages of our one rep max weight, and at the end we were to retest the max effort based on completion of the cycle and see improvements. I did. I went from a 300-pound deadlift to 315-pound deadlift.

And then I stopped deadlifting with heavy weights.

Coming into CrossFit I carried a long-time back injury. I had had a bad lower back since helping my brother-in-law move his stuff into his dorm several years ago. Due to my back injury, I had never really felt comfortable deadlifting. With years of chiropractic treatment, closely monitored instruction from my coach Brian, and a nice adjustable weight belt, I was able to muddle along with the movement. The norm for me became scaling reps or weights to make it through workouts in the hopes of being able to walk the next day.


Fast forward to 14.3—eight minutes of deadlifts (increasing in number and weights and box jumps).

I knew it was coming. Last year we did an Open workout that was shoulder-to-overhead, deadlift and box jumps but the weight was only 115 pounds. Having done all the Open workouts, I knew there really was no avoiding the fact that over the five weeks, deadlifts were going to pop up.

This week, they did.

And not some paltry 115-pound stuff, but real deadlifts with “big boy” weights. From time to time I had pulled deadlifts in the 225-pound range, but just like the entire CrossFit worldwide community I knew that this workout was going to get heavy and it was going to get heavy quickly. Obviously rounds one and two (135-pound deadlifts for 10 reps and 185-pound deadlifts for 15 reps) were going to be manageable but after that I really wasn’t sure how my body, and especially my back, was going to respond.

I watched the videos, read the tips and the articles from coaches and CrossFit gurus around the world to give myself the best chance to be successful and, more importantly, not seriously injure myself. As a precaution, I went to my chiropractor before 14.3 to make sure my back and posterior chain were adjusted so could give myself the best chance to walk out of my box in working order.

In preparation, I watched a video that suggested a 30 minute warm-up, part of which was to build up to an 80% max pull of a deadlift. I rowed, did leg swings, some foam roller work, practiced stepping up on the box (I knew box jumps would burn out my legs really quickly so I didn’t even play around with the idea of doing those) and then built up slowly from 135 pounds to a couple of lifts at 225 pounds. It felt okay, good actually.

I grabbed my judge, reminded him about the time-based tie-breaker (I sure as hell was not planning on doing this twice) and then commented, “Maybe I’ve been saving my back from deadlifts for three years just for this one moment.” He laughed, the clocked ticked down and I went.

Rounds one and two (135 pounds and 185 pounds combined with step ups) went fine. I just paced out my nice grinder reps, slow and steady, and got through them easily. I switched out my plates and pulled 225 pounds for five reps. At this point I reassessed how things were going. Prior to the warm-up I told myself that I wasn’t going to risk another long-term stint of back injury and chiro work just to get a better score. At five reps, I felt fine. 10 reps, 15 reps – still going along slowly but surely. I split the last five up in a three then two format, and started to grind out my step-ups on the box.

I was proud that I had done that many reps at that weight and I felt good. But then something occurred to me, I didn’t really know which plates to put on for 275 pounds or if I could even pull it off the ground. As I pounded out my last to reps on the box, I looked over at the clock realized I still had over a minute left. I paused, grabbed two 25-pound plates and slapped them on the ends and braced myself. I got my butt low into a “clean and jerk” position and I pulled….

Despite the months and years of not deadlifting, despite that fact that in warming up I didn’t even try this weight one single time, nor had I done anything over 250 since 2011, I lifted the damn weight off the ground. Not only that, I got it three times before the buzzer AND I could still walk when I was done.

93 reps, my official score on 14.3 and that’s three reps at 275 pounds.

Not every Open workout is going to be your favorite. Some of them you might just consider skipping. This could have been that workout for me. But I faced my fears and reservations, prepared and executed my game plan and I was able to experience a great success. Who knows, maybe I’ll start deadlifting again?

What has your experience in the 2014 Open been like? Any triumphs you’d like to share? Email me at

Stay on the grind.

Jamie Toland (JTol)
On Twitter at @JTolgrinder and Facebook JTol Grinder.