Nope, you don't need to be a CrossFit Games athlete to try the Cindy WOD.

By Gabrielle Kassel
March 04, 2020

What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "iconic"? Chances are it's Cher or Prince. Or maybe Friends and That 70's Show. For a lot of CrossFitters, it's the Cindy CrossFit workout that comes to mind.

Categorized as a benchmark workout, the Cindy WOD is "as iconic as CrossFit workouts come," says Tony Milgram CF-L1, coach at ICE NYC in New York. "It's one of the few workouts that almost every single CrossFitter in the world has done, and will repeat every few months to measure their progress."

Admittedly, that might sound a little intimidating. But while many CrossFit workouts feature heavy-ass barbells, gymnastics movements with Cirque du Soleil vibes, and confusing equipment like the GHD machine, ski ergometer, or sled, Cindy CrossFit workout does not. On the contrary, the popular workout entails doing three simple body-weight movements: the push-up, pull-up, and air squat. That's part of why Milgram says, "Cindy is an incredibly accessible workout that non-CrossFitters, CrossFit Games Athletes, and everyone in between can do—or a variation of—and get a good workout in."

Curious? Here's what you need to know about the Cindy CrossFit workout, including what the heck the Cindy workout is, why it's challenging and beneficial, and how to scale the workout to meet you at your current fitness needs.

What Is the Cindy CrossFit Workout?

Cindy is an AMRAP-style workout, so the goal is to complete as many rounds of the following three-movement circuit as you possibly can before a twenty-minute timer goes off. Your score is how many rounds—and the resulting total number of reps—you complete. (If you're just keeping score for your own process—opposed to competing in the CrossFit Games—feel free to count partial rounds or reps because that effort totally counts.)

Here's the Cindy workout:

20 Minute AMRAP

  • 5 pull-ups

  • 10 push-ups

  • 15 air squats

If you think that sounds simple, you're absolutely right. "It is simple but very effective," says Libby Landry CF-L3 CrossFit coach at CrossFit Invictus and member of CrossFit headquarters seminar staff.

In fact, one 2014 study by the American College of Sports Medicine found just how effective it is: Researchers put a group of CrossFitters through the workout and found that, on average, they burned 13 calories per minute or about 260 calories total in just 20 minutes. (For comparison, jogging only burns around 150 calories in that same amount of time.)

The reason the Cindy workout burns so many calories is that it's expertly designed. "There's little interference between movements as they all target different muscle groups," explains Landry. The pull-ups work your lats, back, and biceps, the push-ups work your chest, front delts, and triceps, and the squats work your quads, glutes, adductors, and hamstrings, she says. So while you're doing one movement, the muscle groups used during the other two movements get to rest...without you actually stopping and resting. The result? You're more-or-less moving and grooving non-stop, which jacks up your heart-rate and ramps up the calorie burn, explains Landry. (Related: You Should Be Doing These Three Types of Cardio)

How to Try the Cindy CrossFit Workout

Before you try the limited-rest, full-body, and oh-so-taxing workout, you need to figure out whether or not you can do the workout exactly as it's written (in CrossFit, this is known as doing the workout "Rx"), or if you need to scale the movements down.

Can you perform a push-up? How about 12 in a row? Can you perform a pull-up? How about eight in a row? If you answered "yes" to all four questions, Milgram says you've got the necessary strength and skills to complete the workout as written. If not, "no worries, there are a myriad of ways to make the workout work for you. You just need to scale the movements," says Landry.

To scale the pull-ups...

If you can't complete a strict bodyweight pull-up, Landry recommends doing banded pull-ups, toe-assisted, or jumping pull-ups from a box, instead. If none of those are available, try ring or TRX rows.

You might be wondering if kipping pull-ups (aka pull-ups that use momentum to bring your chin over the bar) are allowed. Yes, they are—but Milgram says you should incorporate them only if you're proficient in the movement and have previously strung them together in a workout. "You'll be cranking out a lot of reps in this workout, so if you can't kip safely, you risk injuring yourself," he says. (Related: Here's What a Chiropractor and CrossFit Coach Have to Say About Kipping)

To scale the push-ups...

If you can't do a push-up or can't do a lot of push-ups in a row with good form (reminder: that means elbows back, tight core, chest to the floor), modify the movement to knee push-ups, hands-elevated push-ups (with your hands on a step, bench, or box), or floor dumbbell chest presses. "Don't be a hero: If you start with regular push-ups and the mechanics break down, scale the movement to avoid hurting yourself," says Landry.

To scale the squats...

As for the squats? "The goal is to descend past parallel," says Milgram. If you can't due to limited mobility, just squat as low as you can. (Pssst…. Here's how to use a PVC pipe to boost mobility).

If you're a total beginner...

If you're brand spanking new to fitness in general, Landry recommends making the workout a 10-minute AMRAP (instead of 20) or building in a 1:1 work to rest ratio. Meaning, you'll complete a round, rest for the same amount of time it took, then start again and follow that pattern for 20 minutes. "Cindy accumulates volume very quickly, more volume than makes sense for someone who's new to exercise," she says. (See more: What You Need To Know About Training Volume)

How to Make Cindy WOD Even Harder

Two words: Go faster! "It's not possible for Cindy WOD to be too easy for you because you can always move faster," says Milgram. (Although, the Mary CrossFit workout is kinda like Cindy's scary big sister.)

You can try wearing a weighted vest, doing strict pull-ups (assuming you'd normally do kipping pull-ups), or doing chest to bar pull-ups, he says. Just understand that these scales are going to slow you down and make the workout less cardiovascularly focused, and thus change the intended stimulus of the workout.

"If you can't do Cindy as it's written, don't try to do a higher-skill variation, says Milgram. "Just focus on learning the movements in the original workout." K?

What's a Good CrossFit Cindy Workout Score?

A "good" score will depend on your current fitness level. Elite CrossFit athletes (do the names Tia Clair Toomey, Kari Pearce, or Annie Thoridottir ring a bell?) can complete 25 rounds, according to Landry. The one and only time the workout made an appearance in the CrossFit Games in 2009, legendary athlete Chris Spealler crushed his opponents with 38 freaking rounds!

"Intermediate CrossFit athletes should expect 15 to 20 rounds and beginners should aim for 10," she says. But if you're new to CrossFit, instead of tapping into your inner competitor, Milgram recommends focusing on your form and pacing. "Start the workout at about 70 to 80 percent and look at the clock after you've completed one round. Aim to finish every round that follows in about the same amount of time."

Whatever variation of Cindy you do, "write your score down," says Milgram. "Then come back and try this benchmark WOD again in three months, and be amazed by how much you've improved."

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