Did the “Hardest CrossFit Benchmark” Just Get Harder?

May 26, 2023

Brittney Saline, With Melissa Yinger

“Set up three bars and storm through for time.”

“Set up three bars and storm through for time. Post time to comments.”

Those were the notes accompanying the workout the first time Linda was published to CrossFit.com. Linda is: 

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps of the triplet:

Deadlift: 1.5 x bodyweight
Bench press: bodyweight
Clean: .75 x bodyweight

It might not look too bad, especially to those who favor barbell-centric workouts. But in my experience, the workouts that look easiest on paper tend to be the deadliest of all, and Linda — or the “Three Bars of Death,” as CrossFit athlete Scott Kustes dubbed it back in 2004 — is no exception. 

Neither is the Semifinal twist on Linda, debuted last weekend by the individual men and women competing in the North America East and Africa Semifinals. Some might argue it’s even harder than its predecessor. 

Semifinals Linda

For time: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps of: 

Dumbbell bench presses
Squat cleans

Time cap: 17 minutes

♀ 220-lb deadlifts, 60-lb dumbbells, 105-lb squat cleans
♂ 295-lb deadlifts, 90-lb dumbbells, 145-lb squat cleans

Female athlete performs dumbbell bench press

Two changes make this spin on Linda interesting: the use of dumbbells instead of barbells on the bench — anyone got a new nickname idea? — and a standard loading prescription as opposed to bodyweight. 

Let’s talk dumbbells first.

“I think everybody knows that dumbbells are a little more challenging,” Adrian Bozman, Competition Director and programmer of the Semifinal Tests, said at the North America East Semifinal. “You gotta stabilize them a little bit more. There’s a little bit more nuance to being able to be successful with a dumbbell lift than a barbell lift.” 

He added: 

“And especially when you start to fatigue, you can mask things with a bar that you can’t mask with a dumbbell.” 

And judging by many of the competitors’ faces as they moved from the deadlift to the bench, they were definitely under fatigue, possibly due to an experience called “vasodilation,” or when the blood vessels widen to increase blood flow, which causes blood pressure to drop. And when blood pressure drops, not as much blood reaches the brain. 

“And so that can make you feel lightheaded, dizzy,” said Dr. Sean Rockett, Head Orthopedic Surgeon for the CrossFit Games. “You have so much blood that is being demanded by your muscles … and sometimes blood to the brain gets sacrificed a little bit.”

Then after the bench press, athletes still had to move weight. And here’s where Linda — Semifinal version or not — gets even more wicked. The clean weight is light to moderate for athletes at this level, and the temptation to go touch-and-go was real. And while that may have been manageable for a short while, athletes who did so soon discovered that touch-and-go cleans just meant they went back to the deadlift with a still-skyrocketing heart rate.

Amanda Barnhart performs a squat clean

Later heats of men and women proved singles to be the better choice. Sure, they take a tiny bit longer, but the “rest” provided while the barbell fell to the floor made it just a hair easier to breathe at the top of the next round. 

Semifinals Linda may be cruel, but you don’t get to this stage of competition if you can’t handle a little torture, even — perhaps especially — when the odds are against you. 

This test arguably favored the biggest athletes, and the wins went to athletes weighing more than the average for the field of competitors: At 205 lb, the men’s winner, Samuel Cournoyer, weighs about 8 lb more than the average; at 160 lb, women’s winner Amanda Barnhart outweighs the women’s average by almost 12 lb. 

Still, a number of lighter athletes defied the odds with surprisingly high placements, including Spencer Panchik, who managed a top-10 test finish at a bodyweight of 190 lb, and Caroline Stanley, who took second at 145 lb. (In fact, top scores from both divisions were significantly faster than scores posted in 2018, when the standard version of Linda was programmed as a Regional event. As the saying goes, it never gets easier; you just get fitter.)

What would the test have been like had Linda’s original prescription of loading based on bodyweight been preserved? That would put Cournoyer on a 307.5-lb deadlift and a 153.75-lb clean; Barnhart at 240 and 120 lb (the dumbbells required for bodyweight dumbbell bench presses would be monstrosities). For the deadlifts, that’s about 60% of both Cournoyer’s and Barnhart’s listed 1-rep maxes. 

I’m no analyst, but I bet they could handle it.

Because as another CrossFit athlete once posted to the CrossFit message board back in 2006, “You know you’re doing it right when … you really, really, really want to stop, but only your pride keeps you going.” 


All photos by Charlotte Foerschler