If you want to tackle the CrossFit Murph workout but aren't quite ready to accomplish it as-is, try these simple modifications to get in an incredible WOD.
Advertisement
Woman doing pull up workout in empty factory shade
Credit: AdobeStock

CrossFit is known for its brutal workouts of the day (WODs), but what many newbies don't know is that some workouts go above and beyond the sport's usual intensity. These are called "hero WODs," and they generally honor a fallen member of the military, making them more meaningful than the average sweat sesh. Among the toughest and most notorious? The Murph CrossFit workout.

"The Murph WOD is a hero workout named after Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy," explains Blake Shutterly, a CrossFit coach at NEOU Fitness. "It is one of the most difficult workouts you will ever do — most hero workouts are. They're not only physically challenging but also mentally challenging. Most CrossFit gyms around the world perform the Murph challenge on Memorial Day." Once a year is pretty standard, she says, but some gyms will program the CrossFit Murph workout on other holidays or even on a regular day to test members' limits. (FYI, here's how to avoid CrossFit injuries and stay on your workout game.)

What does Murph WOD entail, exactly? The CrossFit Murph workout itself consists of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and another one-mile run, all done consecutively. Unsurprisingly, that last mile run is killer. "The second run is where you have to remind yourself over and over why you're doing the workout," says Shutterly. "Take one step at a time and just keep going. You're going to want to stop, but the feeling that you get when you finish that last mile, knowing that you gave every ounce of effort you had left, is an unparalleled feeling."

The most challenging part of the Murph WOD is the sheer volume and length of the workout. As such, the Murph CrossFit workout is probably best left to the experienced WOD-ers rather than total fitness newbies still learning proper form and building strength and endurance. No matter if it's your first or tenth Murph WOD, though, a little strategizing can help ensure you make it through the whole thing.

Each exercise set can be broken up in order to make the Murph WOD feasible for the average person. If you do decide to break up the reps, make sure you keep track of how many sets you've done on a piece of paper. Another way to scale down the Murph CrossFit workout is to simply cut it in half. This is a great choice for those who have never done the Murph WOD before or for folks who haven't mastered the movements just yet.

As with all hero WODs, your mindset is key. "You can expect your arms to start to fail on the push-ups, and your legs to turn to Jell-O from the squats," says Shutterly. "Your mind will want you to stop before your body does, so it's important to remember the bigger meaning behind the workout, and that will always keep you going." And trust, it's worth it to make it to the end. "It's really gratifying when you finish knowing you gave it your all and pushed harder than you normally would in a regular workout," says Shutterly.

How to Do the Murph CrossFit Workout for All Fitness Levels

How it works: Begin the Murph WOD with a one-mile run, then perform 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats, breaking up the reps as you see fit. To meet your fitness level, consider using one (or all) of the below modifications. Then, finish the Murph CrossFit workout with another one-mile run.

You'll need: a resistance band and a plyo box

Murph CrossFit Workout Pull-Up Modifications

If you've never done pull-ups before, Shutterly says it's a good idea to try them for the first time under the supervision of a coach to ensure your form is correct and avoid injury. Though there are some folks who can do the 100 pull-ups in the Murph WOD without a problem, you'll probably need to modify the exercise in order to complete this volume of reps.

Banded Pull-Up

Instead of strict pull-ups, many athletes opt for the kipping version, which uses momentum to make completing more reps easier, or utilize a resistance band. "Using a band adds some assistance to a regular pull-up and allows you to primarily use your upper body," says Shutterly. The thicker the band, the more assistance you'll get.

woman doing banded pull-up
woman doing banded pull-up
Left: A.
Right: B.

A. Loop the resistance band over the pull-up bar and pull one end through the other, creating a loop. Put one foot through the loop and assume a "dead hang" position, with arms fully extended.

B. Squeeze lats while bending arms to pull body up to the bar, keeping elbows close to sides and avoiding swinging. Continue to pull up until chin is above the bar, then slowly lower down to the starting position.

Jumping Pull-Up

If you don't have access to a resistance band or simply want to try something a little different while powering through the pull-up portion of the Murph WOD, try modifying with a jumping pull-up. "A jumping pull-up is another scale down that lets the athlete jump with their legs to get their chin over the bar," says Shutterly. "It still requires pulling, but a little less since you're using the power from your lower body."

woman doing jumping pull-up
woman doing jumping pull-up
Left: A.
Right: B.

A. Set up a box underneath the pull-up bar in a position you can easily jump up and land on it and at a height that allows you to hold the bar throughout the movement. Stand on the box with hands resting on the bar shoulder-width apart.

B. Jump up until chin is just over the bar, then squeeze lats and arms to momentarily hold the position. Slowly lower down until feet touch the box to return to the starting position.

Murph CrossFit Workout Push-Up Modifications

Now, it's time for the next section of the Murph WOD: push-ups. For push-up newbies, consider trying a modification, such as the box or banded push-up. "I like these two modifications because [they] allow you to stay in proper push-up form and not resort to dropping your legs or knees to the ground," she says. "This keeps your core engaged, and with most movements, the core is the meat and potatoes of the movement." That means you'll still get maximum benefits from the moves even though you're not doing the originally prescribed version of the CrossFit Murph workout.

Even if these push-up variations feel like child's play, don't go too hard right from the get-go. "If you're doing standard push-ups, be smart with how many you're doing at a time," says Shutterly. "You may feel great starting out and want to do 10 or more reps at a time, but that will quickly go downhill if you aren't used to the volume. Breaking it up into much smaller sets with short rests will take you further, much quicker."

Box Push-Up

If regular push-ups aren't your jam, try the box push-up modification while you tackle the Murph CrossFit Workout. "The higher up the box, the easier it is," says Shutterly.

woman doing box push-up
Credit: David Goddard / @davidgoddardphotography
woman doing box push-up
Credit: David Goddard / @davidgoddardphotography

A. Start with hands shoulder-width apart on the edge of the box. Step both feet back into a high plank position with heels lifted off the floor.

B. Engage core by tucking tailbone and drawing navel in toward spine. Lock in lats by drawing shoulders down and away from ears. Engage glutes and quads.

C. Push elbows out so arms form a 45-degree angle to body. Slowly lower chest down toward the box, keeping core engaged throughout the movement and ensuring body forms a straight line from head to toe.

D. Quickly push back up to starting position.

Banded Push-Up

If you don't have access to a plyo box during your Cross-Fit Murph WOD, try looping a resistance band attached to a pull-up bar around your hips to perform modified push-ups. "Just like the banded pull-up, this adds a little bit of assistance on the way up," says Shutterly. (Related: Yes, Wide-Grip Push-Ups Are Very Different from Regular Push-Ups)

woman doing banded push-up
Credit: David Goddard / @davidgoddardphotography
woman doing banded push-up
Credit: David Goddard / @davidgoddardphotography

A. Start in a high plank position with hands directly underneath shoulders and legs extended, feet hip-width apart.

B. Engage core by tucking tailbone and drawing navel in toward spine. Lock in lats by drawing shoulders down and away from ears. Engage glutes and quads.

C. Push elbows out so arms form a 45-degree angle to body and look down to keep neck neutral. Bend elbows and lower chest, stopping 3 inches above the floor. Keep core engaged throughout the movement, ensuring body forms a straight line from head to toe.

D. Quickly push back up to starting position.

Murph CrossFit Workout Squat Modifications

Next up in the CrossFit Murph workout? Squats. To make the lower-body move a tad less challenging for total beginners, try a modification, such as the air squat with a target. That said, "no matter what version of a squat you're doing, remember to squeeze your butt when you stand up," says Shutterly. "This will alleviate some of the work your quads will be doing." Avoid crashing down into the bottom of the squat, too, especially since the second mile-long run is coming up.

Air Squat

"You can modify an air squat by adding a target for the butt to hit when you sit down into your squat," says Shutterly. "The higher the target, the easier the squat." If you're familiar with the squatting movement, though, you likely won't need a modification.

woman doing air squat
woman doing air squat
Left: A.
Right: B.

A. Place a chair, bench, or box that will be acting as your target against a wall. Stand in front of target with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes turned slightly outward. Engage core.

B. Inhale, hinge at the hips, then bend knees to lower into a squat position until glutes touch the target or thighs are parallel or almost parallel with the floor. Simultaneously, extend arms out in front of body.

C. Exhale and press into mid-foot to straighten legs to stand, hips and torso rising at the same time, to return to the starting position. Simultaneously, return arms back to sides.