This is how it should go per Mark Rippetoe!
CrossFit Journal Article Reprint. First Published in
Issue 52 - December 2006
There is room on this planet for another approach to testing
absolute strength. And it apparently falls on my broad, hairy
shoulders to announce the development of a different way to do
Coach Glassman discussed this with me recently, in a conversation
about increasing CrossFit’s strength base. We have talked many
times about the fact that people who come to CrossFit from
a strength-training background tend to perform better in the
key aspects of the program. When you’re stronger, metabolic
conditioning is easier and endurance stuff (i.e., 5k or 10k runs)
is about the same—and workouts like “Diane” (three rounds, at
21-15-9 reps, of 225-pound deadlifts and handstand push-ups) are
just not possible without a considerable amount of strength. In
essence, it is easier for a lifter to improve his or her time on
“Diane” than it is for a runner to develop the ability even to finish
the workout without scaling it back to a very light weight. So the
conversation focused on a way to work more strength into the
program while maintaining the CrossFit approach to it.
Powerlifting has been very successful in its approach to strength
testing and training, but it is plagued with what some consider
to be significant problems. I have great respect for powerlifting,
having competed, coached, and announced in power meets for 20
years. Without belaboring the issue or attempting any judgment
beyond these comments, I see two main problems with it. First,
the use of equipment that enables otherwise impossible weights
to be lifted inflates the total. “Raw” meets, where the only
equipment allowed is a belt, address this issue. But the second
problem remains: the bench press. It requires special equipment,
it cannot be done with limit weights safely without spotters, and
it is not a very functional exercise since it is performed while
lying on a bench that supports the weight during the movement.
The way to bring more strength to the CrossFit approach is
with the CrossFit Total. The CrossFit Total is the sum of the best
of three attempts at the squat, the press, and the deadlift, the
three most effective lifts in existence for developing and testing
All three lifts are done while standing on the floor. They require
minimal and inexpensive equipment. They are not technique-
dependent to the extent of the Olympic lifts, yet they require
technical proficiency beyond mere passing familiarity. They are
safe when performed correctly, since they can all be performed
without spotters—alone in a garage if necessary. In a meet
situation, the lack of spotters for two of the lifts speeds the
progress of the meet and reduces personnel requirements. The
lack of expensive personal equipment reduces the investment
necessary for participation. But most importantly, the CrossFit
Total more accurately reflects the level of functional strength
available to an athlete than any other test available.
Judging the press has been a problem before. The clean and
press was the first of the three lifts in weightlifting until it was
eliminated from competition in 1972. It became a problem
because the lifters figured out a way to incorporate a multiple
torso whip along with a radical layback into the movement,
making it into a type of dynamic bench press from a standing
position. Apparently this posed an insurmountable problem to the
federation, who thought the meet was too long with three lifts
anyway. The CrossFit Total’s press rules will not permit excessive
layback, as we’ll see later. And since we are not doing a clean and
press, we are not redoing an older lift with previously set records
and an already established strategy. We will have to develop our
The press can be done out of the same racks that were used
in the squat, thus eliminating the need for a separate apparatus
for the lift. It also needs no spotters, since a miss is just walked
back into the rack, or in an emergency dropped on the platform
without anyone getting killed. So the whole three-lift test can be
done with a bar and plates, one set of stands or a power rack, and
a platform. In fact, the test can be done alone if necessary, since
people who are used to squatting alone have already developed a
way to handle a miss, either in the power rack or by dumping the
bumper-plate-loaded bar off the back safely. This greatly simplifies
individual testing as well as organized competition.
The rules for the lifts will need to be simple and well
understood by everybody, both the lifters and people in
the position of judging them, so we’re all on the same page.
The idea is that when you post a CrossFit Total, yours
will be done to the same standards as everyone else’s.
The lifts must be easy to judge, easy to understand, and as
difficult to corrupt as possible. By starting out with a clear
picture of what we want and don’t want from a CrossFit
Total, many millions of hours of bitching, hard feelings, and
confusion can be averted. It must be understood that good
form in the lifts is inherent in the rules for testing them.
The order for performing the three lifts will be squat,
press, and then deadlift. The best single attempt for each
of the three lifts are added together for the CrossFit Total.
There is no time limit for each lift or for the length of the
session in which they are all performed, but they must all
be performed during one session—i.e., you cannot leave
the area to rest or perform other activities between the
three lifts. Multiple progressions to the best attempt are
not allowed; do not work up to your best squat, then
change an item of equipment or clothing and work up to it
again to try to better your first effort.
The press is also done from the racks. The
bar is held in both hands in front of the
neck, taken out of the rack and walked back
away from the rack. No contact with the
rack is permitted until the bar is replaced
in the racks. Once the stance is assumed
it cannot change until the lift is completed.
The starting position must be upright, with
the knees and hips fully extended and the
chest up. The bar must be in contact with
the top of the shoulders or the chest,
whichever individual flexibility permits.
After the starting position is correctly
assumed, the bar is pressed overhead until
the elbows are completely extended, with
the bar in a position directly above the
ears. Once this position has been attained,
the bar is lowered back to the front of the
shoulders and walked back into the rack
Any halt in the upward motion of the bar, identified
as the part of the bar between the hands, constitutes a
missed attempt, as does any change in the position of the
feet against the floor during the attempt, any bending of
the knees, or excessive backward lean of the torso as
identified by A) the position of the most anterior aspect of
the armpit, B) the most posterior aspect of the buttocks,
C) the plane formed by a straight line between these two
points, and D) the movement of that plane to a position
behind the vertical. Any deliberate attempt to raise the
bar counts as an attempt. Spotters are not permitted for
The CrossFit Total
The CrossFit Total
The deadlift is performed with the bar on
the platform or floor. The lifter assumes
a position facing the bar, with the bar
parallel to the lifter’s frontal plane. The bar
is gripped with both hands, and pulled with
one continuous uninterrupted movement
until the lifter is standing erect with knees
and hips fully extended, the chest up and
shoulders back. Once this position is attained
and the bar is motionless, the bar is lowered
under control with both hands back to the
ground. The bar may not be dropped.
Any halt in the upward motion of the bar
constitutes a missed attempt, as does failure
to assume a fully erect position with both
knees and hips extended. Any attempt to
raise the bar counts as an attempt.
The equipment that can be used is minimal. A belt of
any type can be worn but is not required. Knee wraps or
sleeves are permitted, but if they are used they must be left
on for the entire duration of the session in which the lift
is performed—e.g., they must be put on before the squat
is warmed up and left in place until the last squat attempt
is completed. Wrist wraps are permitted; lifting straps are
Any type of footwear may be worn, although a formal
contest would require an actual shoe of some type. The
shirt should be a close-fitting stretch material, like a t-shirt
or a golf shirt, tight enough that the back position can be
clearly observed during the press. Close-fitting shorts will
allow the bottom position in the squat to be observed.
Long pants are not permitted, and neither the shirt nor the
shorts can have any supportive characteristics whatsoever.
Singlets are not allowed.
The squat must be done from the squat stands or power
rack. The bar must be placed on the back and walked out
to clear the rack completely. No contact with the rack is
permitted until the bar is replaced in the rack. Once the
bar is lowered, the stance cannot change until the bar is
to be racked. The starting position
must be completely upright, with the
knees and the hips fully extended
and with the chest up. The hips are
lowered until the top surfaces of
both of the legs at the hip joint are
lower than the knees, and then the
bar is lifted back up. The bottom
position is identified by A) the apex
of the crease in the shorts formed as
the hips are lowered, B) the surface
of the top of the patella, C) the plane
formed by a straight line between the
two, and D) the dipping of the hip end of that plane below
horizontal. The finish position is the same as the starting
position, and the athlete must return to it before the bar is
racked. When the finish position is secure, the bar must be
walked back into the rack and successfully replaced.
Any halt in the upward motion of the whole bar, identified at
its position on the back rather than at its ends, constitutes
a missed attempt, as does any change in position of the feet
against the floor during the squat. Any deliberate attempt
to lower the bar counts as an attempt. No more than two
spotters are permitted, and they are not allowed to touch
the bar during the attempt, which is finished only after the
bar is successfully replaced in the racks. The spotters are
permitted to steady the racks, and to take the bar if the
lifter loses control of it. Any touching of either the bar or
the lifter by any spotter invalidates the attempt.
Now that we know exactly what we’re doing, we need to figure
out the best way to do it. For people not used to doing single
maximum attempts, some tips on how best to safely do them
are in order. After a warm-up, the squat will be performed first.
Some squatting with the empty bar should have been included in
the general warm-up so that the knees, hips, back, and shoulders
are not too terribly surprised. Anyone in a position to attempt
a legitimate CrossFit Total should be familiar enough with their
capabilities on the lifts to have a fairly good idea of just what
might be possible for a one-rep max (1RM). This number is what
you warm up intending to do. A meet situation will involve three
attempts, and this is a good way to determine a true 1RM.
The CrossFit Total
The first attempt would be a weight you know you can do for a
heavy set of three. The second attempt would be a weight you
know without any doubt that you could do for a single, having
just done the first attempt. And the third attempt is the weight
you want to do, based on your performance on the previous two
attempts. If you have made a mistake setting your first attempt,
the next two will need to be adjusted, but you should know what
you can triple, and this will always be a safe first attempt. And
since you know this weight, you know what weights to use to
warm up for it: you’ll use the lightest weight that you normally
start with for your first warm-up when you train, and 90% of
the first attempt for the last warm-up, with either three or four
relatively even increments in between these two. For instance,
warm-ups for a 405-pound first attempt on the squat would be:
135 x 5
185 x 3
225 x 2
275 x 1
325 x 1
365 x 1
If you don’t have a damn good idea of what you can do for a
heavy triple, you don’t need to be doing a CrossFit Total yet.
After the squat, rest a while (long enough to rest, not long enough
to get cold) and follow the same procedure with the press.
Since press numbers will be much lighter, the warm-ups will be
closer together, and you might choose to use fewer intermediate
warm-ups. This is fine, since the squat has provided quite a bit of
systemic warmup, if not actual fatigue. After a rest and a drink
following the press, the deadlift warm-up might be abbreviated
even further, with a heavier first warmup and only two or three
intermediate sets before the first attempt.
Done correctly, the CrossFit Total is perhaps our best tool for
telling us the things we need to know about a very important
aspect of our training. It is my sincerest hope that it also makes
a contribution to the training of athletes currently outside our
community and functions as a way to introduce them to our
methods, and to the good people of CrossFit.
Here are some basic precautions that need to be followed
1) Don’t be stupid.
Don’t total if you’re injured to the extent that
a total will aggravate the problem. This will
cost you in at least training time, and possibly
time off of work if you’re ultra-stupid.
2) Don’t be greedy.
Learn to recognize the difference between
greed and ambition, and be merely ambitious.
3) Don’t be pig-headed.
If your first attempt tells you that you need to
lower your second, do so, without a misplaced
sense of diminished self-worth. It’s a test,
and it’s designed to measure what’s there,
not create something that’s not. That’s what
training is for.
Anyone in a position to attempt a legitimate CrossFit Total should be familiar enough with their capabilities onthe lifts to have a fairly good idea of just what might be possible for a one-rep max.