CrossFit’s “DT” workout is a “simple” structure of 3 different barbell movements that’s actually a challenging test of physical and mental endurance.
The workout is 5 rounds for time of:
- 12 Deadlifts
- 9 Hang Power Cleans
- 6 Push Jerks
The prescribed weight is 155/105 (for men/women).
The first time I attempted DT, scaling the weight to 55 lbs from the prescribed 105 lbs, I finished in 15:25.
Seven weeks later, I repeated DT at the same weight and finished in 9:39.
That’s almost a full 6 minutes faster, a remarkable improvement in just 7 weeks.
When I have a big win like this, I like to review what factors led to the improvement, and extract the lessons or general principles from the success so I can attempt to apply them in other realms.
Life is patterns, and the same fundamental principles and patterns of success that apply in the realm of physical workouts also apply in the realm of productivity, business, and relationships.
In Part 1 of this series, I dove deep into the top 3 factors that led to my vastly-improved performance.
In this essay, I’ll share the key lessons and principles I learned from this review.
In Part 3, I’ll share how to apply some of these lessons to other parts of life beyond physical workouts, and offer some examples from how I already do this in my life and work.
Top 5 Lessons I Learned from CrossFit’s DT Workout
(1) Strategy Outweighs Strength
If there’s one overriding lesson to extract from this workout it’s that strategy outweighs strength or physical capacity.
I don’t want to discount the work I’ve put in to build strength and improve my conditioning. I struggle with neuromuscular coordination issues and work with physical therapists/athletic trainers/coaches to groove the pathways necessary to perform barbell movements and build strength.
I’ve put in a lot of effort to build my strength and improve my conditioning capacity.
In the past seven weeks have I made improvements in these areas? Absolutely.
Do those improvements account for a 6 minute time improvement? Unlikely.
The big differentiator was strategy.
As I detailed in part one, the strategy I used in my second DT helped me cut out 18 extra reps compared to the first time I did this workout, and was the primary factor in helping me cut my time.
Lesson: having a good strategy can compensate for a lack of strength or capacity.
The importance of a good strategy can’t be overstated; it leads to the next three lessons.
(2) Little Things Add Up
As I detailed in part one, the approach I took in my first attempt at DT resulted in two extra reps from the start.
That may not seem like much until you do the math:
2 reps per round = 10 reps over 5 rounds.
Moreover, the impact from those extra reps isn’t distributed equally. The extra reps function like compound interest, increasing the fatigue factor as you move through each round.
This makes it more likely you’ll need to break up sets within each round.
This is exactly what happened in my first DT.
Those two extra reps from round one became 18 reps by the end of round five — adding another half round to the workout.
Lesson: Don’t discount the little things. Over time, little things become big things.
(3) Leverage Momentum
The strategy of resting the bar after 11 deadlifts and 8 hang power cleans not only eliminates the need to do extra reps, it also leverages momentum to tackle movements that I find more challenging.
I struggle with cleans and push jerks, but I am fairly confident with deadlifts — especially at the relatively light weight of this workout.
The first step to a hang power clean is to deadlift the bar from the floor. The first step to a push jerk is to clean the bar to the shoulders.
In both cases, the hardest part — at least psychologically — is task initiation: picking the bar off the floor.
The first time I did DT, each time I faced the bar before the cleans and push jerks, I had to “gear” up for the task of the movement I find difficult.
The strategy I followed for my second DT eliminated that psychological hurdle.
By taking the last deadlift into the first hang power clean and the last hang power clean into the first push jerk, I leveraged the momentum from one “set” within the round straight into the next set.
In both cases, I leveraged an easier movement into a more challenging movement.
Instead of “gearing up” for the movement I found challenging, I focused on the easier movement and rode the momentum.
Lesson: Overcome the psychological hurdle of a challenging task by leveraging momentum from an easier task.
(4) Every Interruption Increases Fatigue and Recovery Time
The third way that the strategy I used in my second DT helped was that it minimized the number of breaks I needed to take.
Workouts like DT are often a described as “mind over matter” — meaning that you should focus on getting it done and not on your physical pain or fatigue.
I prefer to frame it a different way: workouts like this are about getting your mind out of it completely.
As much as possible in a workout like this, it’s important stay in flow.
Ideally, you’d have a regular cadence of strategic rest, both between sets within a round and between rounds, and each rest break would be the same.
Every time you put the bar down is an interruption to your flow.
Each time you drop the bar is an opportunity for your mind to get in the way and remind you that this workout is really hard and that you’re too tired. It will encourage you to quit.
Each time you drop the bar requires a greater surge of mental and psychological energy to restart. You have to “re-motivate” yourself to continue.
Over the duration of the workout, this leads to longer recovery times between breaks. Longer recovery times means more time for your mind to get in the way.
Fatigue is fatigue. The more mental energy you need to restart, the less physical energy you have available for the lifts.
Lesson: Interruptions to flow increase recovery time and fatigue.
(5) Repetition Decreases Resistance
For as much as I mostly like CrossFit, this workout represents everything I dislike about the sport: what I call “barbell lifts as cardio.”
I like to do my lifts in a slow and controlled manner, paying attention to alignment and form.
DT is not that. It’s complex and technical lifts done for speed.
The first time I did DT, I was convinced it stood for “died trying.” I was not a fan of it.
When I saw it on the schedule again only seven weeks later, at the end of another heavy test week, I was apprehensive. I almost skipped class to avoid it.
Instead of running away or succumbing to my resistance, I went towards it. I showed up at 5:30 determined to get through this challenge.
Although it was still challenging on my second time, it was considerably easier. Not only did I complete it almost 6 minutes faster, but also my nervous system held up better.
I recovered faster.
All hard things get easier the more we do them — and the less we resist them.
In fact, as much as I hate to admit this, I’m actually looking forward to the next time we have DT on the CrossFit program. Armed with my new insights and lessons, I’ll be aiming to get my time below 9:00.
Lesson: Resistance makes hard tasks more difficult, but the more you do something, the easier it gets.
- At least for me, deadlifts are easier than cleans and cleans are easier than push jerks. Your experience may be different. ↩