At his fourth CrossFit Games, Patrick Vellner came short of keeping champion Matt Fraser from a three-peat — but even in a second-place finish, Vellner, 28, proved that he’s one of the strongest athletes in the competition.

Vellner ran, swam, and took a particularly rough fall on the obstacle course (see above), but his standout showing came when it came time to shut up and lift heavy weights in the CrossFit Total event, which is designed to display max strength. Each athlete has 12 minutes (four minutes for each exercise) to complete the heaviest possible lift on the back squat, strict press, and deadlift. Vellner won the final heat of the event — against eventual champ Fraser, no less — with a combined 1,250 pounds, and placed second overall.

The highlight of Vellner’s Total run was a massive 595 lb. deadlift, which was the heaviest successful rep by any competitor during the event. That won’t break any world records for powerlifting — but within the context of the CrossFit world, where pure strength is put into the context of overall fitness, that’s an impressive number.

Vellner caught up with after the Games, giving us some insight on how he preps for such a high stakes max-weight lifting test. He provided five tips for anyone trying to beef up their numbers.

CrossFit/Shaun Cleary

Before you hit the weight room to max out on all of your lifts, just remember the context of Vellner’s CrossFit Total competition. When you’re lifting for your max, time should never be a factor. You’re not a competitor angling to become the Fittest Man on Earth — you’re someone who is exercising to become the best version of himself. Be careful to take long enough between attempts to recover properly, and always be sure to take the proper precautions like using spotters and power racks in case of failure.

1. For big numbers, practice your deadlift

Vellner turned in one of the top 2 finishes in the Total, but that doesn’t mean he blew away the rest of the field in every discipline. In fact, his 455-lb. squat was 45 lbs. lighter than Scott Panchik’s, and his 200-lb. strict press was 40 lbs. lighter than Craig Kenney’s.

Favorite Moment #2: Total Surprise I have to admit that when the crossfit total got announced i was less than excited. Raw strength events have never been my strong suit and I’m usually lucky to scrape out a top 15 performance. That combined with the fact that i rarely test my 1 rep max strength made it a challenge to strategize. My squat and press are fairly unremarkable, but I’m built to deadlift, and I knew I’d have to make my money there. I squatted and pressed well enough, I actually hit a 30lb back squat PR that matches my projected best squat that I used to do my percentage training. I made some aggressive jumps in the deadlift, energized by the crowd each time. I actually meant to lift 585lbs in the end, but just threw on the extra 5s since they were sitting right by the clips. Easy lift, another 40lb PR. In hindsight I wish I had lifted 600. It would have looked way cooler and won me the event, but hindsight is always 20/20. That event really swung the competition momentum my way and got me back into the conversation. Building my strength has been one of the biggest priorities in my training since I started crossfit so this event was a massive personal victory. I’ll never forget looking out into the crowd before that last lift. Goosebumps. Besides that Mat after the event admitted that he would always try to deadlift at the same time as me so that he’d feel like people were cheering for him, so that’s a win. Always nice to big league the champ haha. #deadlift #crossfittotal #crossfitgames #moments #guessimstrongnow #thanksforthecheers

A post shared by Patrick Vellner (@pvellner) on

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Vellner easily made up those differences with that 595-lb. deadlift. “If the strongest movement of yours in those three is the press, you’re out of luck,” he said. “If you put up 40 lbs. more than everybody else on the press it doesn’t matter at all because if your squat and your deadlift are sub-bar, you’re a goner.”

That advice isn’t just specific to a CrossFitter training for the Total — the deadlift should be an exercise for just about every type of lifter, no matter the focus. It’s a great way to build full-body strength. As your deadlift max rises, you’ll see gains in total body strength, so it pays to work on that number as much as you can.

2. Keep your eyes on your own lane

CrossFit Games athletes are competitive, but constantly comparing yourself to the guy next to you isn’t necessarily a winning strategy — especially in the weight room. “The Total is uniquely fun because it’s impossible to keep track of everyone’s weight,” Vellner said. “Basically, you can only put forth your own best effort.”

You can jockey back and forth against friends and lifting partners to get better in the weight room, but at the end of the day, you’re the only person who can finish your lift. Make sure that you don’t lose sight of your own abilities and goals when you’re lifting with other people.

3. Use the 1RM calculator

A theoretical one-rep max (1RM) might not be as satisfying as an actual one-rep max, but Vellner was pleasantly surprised by how accurate using a calculator can be. “A year ago, I did a heavy triple for my squat at 425, and I’ve been doing my percentages based on that hypothetical max ever since,” he said. “So, I said that, on a good day, I could probably squat 455, but I’d never actually lifted it. And yesterday, I did it, so my predictions were good.”

Using 1RM percentages can help to make your workout regiment much more intentional. Instead of using guesswork, you can know exactly the amount of weight you should be pushing for each rep — and it will be even more obvious when you’ve grown strong enough for a new max when your workout becomes too easy.

4. Don’t test your PRs too often

While it might be an exciting ego boost to lift as heavy as possible as often as possible, there could be some downsides to maxing out too frequently.

Vellner, who’s studying to become a chiropractor, doesn’t believe that always going big is the best strategy. “It’s just hard on your body to test a one-rep max on your deadlift,” he said. “It’s a lot of impact, so I try to avoid bad as much I can.”

Instead, he focuses on lower weights to build strength: “Doing more triples or sets of fives or sets of eight at a certain percentage below your max is super beneficial in building strength and then, down the road when it’s time to actually build to a max, you’ll be fine.”

He’s right. To build strength, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends a program that uses limited sets of low reps (fewer than 6 reps) of heavy weights (≥ 85 percent max).

5. Above all else, listen to your body

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Convincing athletes with ambitious goals to deviate from a training schedule can be difficult, but Vellner emphasized how important flexibility is for any regimen.

“If I come in one day and I’m trying to deadlift 400, and it feels really heavy that day because my nervous system is a little shot or I’m tired and certain muscle groups are sore, there’s no point in me being disappointed that I’m only at this percentage of my one RM,” he said. “If that’s the daily max that you can hit that day, that’s it. You’re still getting a heavy stimulus. You’re getting what you’re looking for, and I think if you get too hung up on what your maxes are and trying to hit those percentages too tightly, it can be taxing on you mentally and hard on your confidence.”

You should be training with the goal to progress to lifting heavier weights, but if your body isn’t feeling it the day you’re meant to test — or at any other time — don’t push your luck. Your body will

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