The CrossFit Mary Workout Was the Biggest Challenge of the CrossFit Games This Year

And how mere mortals can do it.

Photo: Michael Valentin/CrossFit

Tune in to the CrossFit Games every summer and you can expect to be blown away by the competitors' strength, endurance, and pure grit. (Case in point: Tia-Clair Toomey, this year's female winner and a total badass.) From legless rope climbs to the 1,000-meter swims—and everything in between—the athletes (the 'Fittest on Earth') spend four days pushing the boundaries of fitness and inspiring many people to lace up their sneakers and go for the heavier weights.

Every year, the CrossFit Games surprise viewers with new and unexpected challenges. Last year, it was an epic first day of workouts, which included about seven miles of biking, maximum-weight back squats, shoulder presses, and deadlifts, and a 'marathon' row of more than, yep, 26 miles (and, yep, all in one day). This year, the Games left athletes breathless with lots of cardio-dominant workouts early on.

One particularly mind-boggling moment, though, came on Friday, when American athlete Karissa Pearce, who finished fifth overall, shocked spectators, judges, and other competitors by hammering through an unheard-of 695 reps (that's 23 rounds) of the 'Mary' CrossFit workout to win the event. The goal of the Mary CrossFit WOD: to complete as many rounds (with proper form) in the given time, a popular CrossFit workout format known as an AMRAP. Fun fact: Pearce even got through almost 20 more reps than the male winner, American Noah Ohlsen.

"I don't know if I've ever heard of anyone doing 23 rounds of Mary before," says Eric Brown, CrossFit Level 3-certified trainer, owner of New York City's CrossFit Union Square. "That was a feat in itself. It just showcased how incredible these athletes have become."

According to Brown, the Mary CrossFit workout is essentially a jacked-up version of the well-known Cindy CrossFit workout, which goes like this:

Cindy CrossFit Workout

20-min AMRAP:

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 15 air squats

In the Cindy workout, you have 20 minutes to get through as many reps as possible of the prescribed number of pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats. Rest? Not a thing.

The Mary workout, though, turned up the heat (a lot) by swapping regular push-ups for handstand push-ups and regular air squats for single-legged squats. Both these moves are highly technical, requiring not only incredible strength but balance and core stability, too. (The gods of the CrossFit Games also rejiggered the number of reps for the push-ups and squats to account for how dang difficult these variations are.) Here's exactly what the 2019 CrossFit Games competitors worked through:

Mary CrossFit Workout

20-min AMRAP:

  • 5 HSPU (handstand push-ups)
  • 10 pistols (a.k.a. single-legged squats)
  • 15 pull-ups

Simple as Mary may seem, the short, snappy workout proved to be a brutal test of competitors' gymnastic ability, strength, and drive under pressure. (Uh, not to mention, this was the final workout of the day, after they'd completed a 6,000-meter ruck run carrying 20 to 50 pounds, and the Sprint Couplet workout of two 172-foot sled pushes and 15 bar muscle-ups.)

That's exactly why Pearce's performance blew everyone away: "She did better in this crazy variation of Cindy than I've ever seen someone do in the normal Cindy workout," says Brown. While the average gym-goer may complete somewhere around 450 reps (that's 15 rounds) of Cindy, most pros at the Games churned out about 600 reps (that's 20 rounds). Pearce went ahead and blasted through 23 rounds of the even-harder moves in Mary. (Want to try another iconic CrossFit WOD? Check out the Murph CrossFit Workout, and how to break it down.)

Try the Mary CrossFit Workout

Want to channel Karissa Pearce's badassness the next time you're at the gym but can't do a pistol squat to save your life? (Most people can't, btw.)

"Start with Cindy," says Brown. "It's still going to challenge you, but you're not going to have to be upside-down or squat on one leg."

If you're not ready to rip out full-on pull-ups, you can modify them by doing banded pull-ups or swapping the pull-ups for ring or TRX rows. Same goes for the push-ups. Drop to your knees as needed—just keep moving! Once you have the equipment you need for those pull-ups, just set your timer to 20 minutes and see how many rounds you can get through.

Ready for CrossFit Mary in all her fury? Peep these tips on how to do a handstand push-up, how to master the pistol squat, and how to finally do a pull-up, and get after it.

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