Deadlifts & Handstands: Your Guide to Tackling CrossFit Open 20.3

By Marcherry Garnica
Oct 26 2019
Deadlifts & Handstands: Your Guide to Tackling 20.3

Deadlifts & Handstands: Your Guide to Tackling CrossFit Open 20.3

As always, Wednesday brought us another cryptic clue courtesy of Dave Castro:

Is that a boat? Are we going to feel wrecked (Answer: Always yes)? Why are there so many rips?

Turns out, that clue was a reference to a 2018 WOD making a comeback, as 18.4 became 20.3.

If you weren’t around the CrossFit world for the 2018 Open, this was a killer workout that saw a lot of scaling. And the same is true for this year.

Let’s break this WOD down into its three main parts: Deadlifts, handstand pushups, and handstand walks.


Lots of people have been crossing their fingers to see some heavy deadlifts in the 2020 Open, and… they got their wish.

Weights for RX on this are 225 lb/315 lb for men, and 155 lb/205 lb for women. Scaled is 135 lb/185 lb for men and 95 lb/135 lb for women.

Either way, heavy.

Here are some tips for getting through the lift that makes up the bulk of this workout:

Drop if you have to

Yes, completing the whole 21-15-9 progression of deadlifts without dropping the bar in the middle of a set makes you feel like a badass, but is it always the best use of your energy?

Guiding the bar back down to the floor every single time, especially on the heavier second set of lifts, puts a lot of strain on your lower back and can easily fatigue your arms. Instead, try getting to the top of your lift and dropping the bar at least a couple times each set. This saves you some energy that you can use otherwise to rock out the handstand pushups or make up some time when things get heavy.

If the bar starts to really get heavy for you, it’s OK to single your deadlifts. While you may feel like you’re wasting time, you’re actually saving your energy and banking the time you would spend catching your breath at the top to guide the bar back down.

Try negative split sets

Ben over at WODprep suggests planning to do negative split sets on your deadlifts.

That means breaking the bigger sets into a few smaller sets with reps that decrease each time. So, instead of trying to bang out 21 deadlifts at once (Though you certainly can!), try smaller sets of 8-6-7, dropping the bar briefly between each set.

This conserves your energy and gets the larger amount of reps out of the way early.

Reverse grip

This WOD has a lot of deadlifts – 90 to be exact – at pretty high weights. Things can get really grippy really fast if you’re not careful.

If you’re someone who typically deadlifts with your hands both facing the same way, whether that be palms toward you or palms out, try a reverse grip instead. 

This gives you a little more stability and saves your forearms for the moves where you’ll really need them – the handstand pushups and handstand walks.

Handstand Pushups

Here’s the move that is likely to knock a lot of people down to scaled who otherwise could have RXd the deadlift weight.

Handstand pushups are one of the most complex, difficult gymnastics moves in all of CrossFit, and you’ll have to be able to do 45 of them to get through this WOD.

If you’re able to do handstand pushups:

The most important part of the handstand pushups in this Open workout is that your heels clear the line on the wall. Your reps won’t count, even if you have perfect form, unless your heels come above the line.

To make sure you’re doing this, you’ll want to practice a few reps before starting the WOD to get your hand placement down. Mark your ideal hand placement with chalk if you need to, but be sure to clean up after yourself when you’re done!

Too wide hand placement will mean you’re not able to get your heels high enough, even if you kip.

When you go to begin each set of HSPU, ask that your judge indicate to you that your heels are above the line and you’re ready to start. This prevents you from getting no-repped on your first try because your heels weren’t above the line to start out.

Tier Three Tactical recommends breaking your HSPUs into sets to save your energy and your shoulders. If you can do 10-15 HSPU unbroken, try sets of 6-8 during 20.3. If you can do 5-10 unbroken, go for sets of 3-4. Any fewer than 5 HSPU unbroken and you should go for singles.

If you’re not able to do handstand pushups:

The scaling option for handstand pushups is hand-release pushups. These must be done on your toes if you’re under 55 years old, or on your knees for those 55 and older.

To help you get a little extra lift with each pushup, try releasing your hands and your toes together. This, says Ben from WODprep, gives you a bit of a kip-like motion and can help you conserve energy.

If you need to rest, rest at the bottom of your pushup, not the top. Let your chest rest on the ground, breathe a little, and then get back at it.

If you’re adventurous:

For those who don’t really care about their overall score and who want a challenge, give HSPU a try! 

There are a lot of opportunities to try HSPU, and you can always just drop your whole WOD down to scaled if you can’t execute them.

Just be sure that you’re being safe, such as keeping an abmat or two under your head so you don’t come crashing down and hurt yourself.

Handstand Walks

This is another skill that doesn’t show up in a lot of day-to-day WODs, and is going to separate RX from scaled.

If you’re able to do handstand walks:

The line is absolutely crucial here. You cannot start your handstand with your hands across the line or it doesn’t count and you have to start the rep all over again.

It’s much better to start well behind the line and waste a little bit of time than to cross the line right out of the gate and have to repeat the full 50m.

Breaking up your handstand walks is totally OK. It’s better to execute each 50m set in two or three tries than to risk getting wobbly and falling over. 

If you’re not able to do handstand walks:

Scaled on handstand walks is bear crawls.

These may seem easy (After all, kindergarteners do these in gym class!), but you’ll be fatigued and it’s really easy to let your form suffer on these.

Go for wide-legged bear crawls over a more narrow stance. It may feel weird, but you’ll be able to move faster and your legs will fatigue less quickly, especially after all those deadlifts.

Just remember: Smooth is fast, so don’t rush these. You don’t want to trip yourself up and spill into a faceplant.

If you’re feeling adventurous:

Again, this WOD is a great opportunity to give some of these more rare skills a try.

Shoot for the moon and give some handstand walks a go! You might just surprise yourself!

What’s your best advice for tackling 20.3?

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