If you want to tackle CrossFit's toughest workout, but don't think you can accomplish it as-is, you can still get an incredible WOD in with some simple strategizes and modifications.
CrossFit is known for its super-intense workouts of the day (WODs), but what many newbies don't know is that there are workouts that 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 workout. Among the toughest and most notorious? The CrossFit Murph workout.
"The Murph WOD is a hero workout named after Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy," explains Blake Shutterly, a CrossFit coach at Neo Fifth in NYC. "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 old day to test members' limits. (FYI, here's how to avoid CrossFit injuries and stay on your workout game.)
The CrossFit Murph workout is probably best left to the frequent WOD-ers rather than newbies still learning proper form and building strength and endurance. And though the Murph challenge is extremely tough, 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. (Related: Tips to Build Mental Strength from Pro Runner Kara Goucher)
What is it 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. The most challenging part of the Murph WOD is the sheer volume and length of the workout, so, a little strategizing is required to make it through the whole thing. The strength training moves can be broken up in order to make the Murph challenge feasible for the average exerciser. 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 so you don't lose count. Another way to scale down is to simply cut the workout in half. This is a great choice for those who have never done the Murph workout before, or for those who are newer to the movements.
Of course, 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 jello from the squats," she says. "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."
How it works: Begin the Murph WOD with a one-mile run, then move on to these exercise modifications (if needed) to complete all the reps. Finish with another one-mile run.
Total Time: up to 1 hour
1. Banded Pull-Ups
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 women who can do the 100 pull-ups in the Murph WOD no problem (we're in awe, too), you will probably need to modify the exercise in order to complete this volume of reps.
Instead of strict pull-ups, many athletes opt for the kipping version, which uses momentum to make completing more reps easier. An option that will work for many people, though, is utilizing a resistance band to complete the reps. "Using a band adds some assistance to a regular pull-up and allows you to primarily use your upper body," she says. The thicker the band, the more assistance you'll get. Loop the band over the bar and pull one end through the other, creating a loop. Put one foot through the loop and assume a "dead hang" position, with your arms fully extended. (For more tips, see: How to Finally Nail the Pull-up)
Squeeze your lats as you bend your arms to pull yourself up over the bar while keeping your elbows in close to your sides. Bring your chin over the bar, then slowly lower down to the starting position. Be sure not to swing or use momentum to carry yourself up over the bar. (Related: 6 Reasons Your First Pull-Up Hasn't Happened Yet)
2. Jumping Pull-Up (Another Modification Option)
If you don't have access to a resistance band or simply want to try something a little different, here's another option. Remember that this modification, along with the others, is meant to be an option for completing the 100 reps in the Murph workout, not in addition to them. "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."
Set up a box underneath the pull-up bar at a place where you can jump up and land on it easily while still holding onto the bar. Start standing on the box with hands shoulder-width apart.
Jump up until your chin is just over the bar, and squeeze your lats and arms to hold yourself up there for a second. Then, slowly lower down until your feet touch the box. Repeat until reps are completed.
3. Box Push-Up
Now, it's time for the next section of the Murph WOD: push-ups. "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."
The same principle applies to modifications of this move, like the box push-up. "The higher up the box the easier it is," she says. Start with your hands shoulder-width apart on the box, and assume a plank position with your heels off the ground. Squeeze your core and glutes to maintain a sturdy position.
Lower your chest down toward the box, with elbows close to the sides of your body, but not touching. Push back up to starting position while maintaining tension in your core and glutes. (Related: The Killer Push-Up/Plyo Workout That Only Takes 4 Minutes)
4. Banded Push-Ups (Another Modification Option)
To get more of a regular push-up feel, try looping a resistance band attached to a pull-up bar around your hips. "Just like the banded pull-up, this adds a little bit of assistance on the way up," says Shutterly. Remember that this modification, along with the others, is meant to be an option for completing the 200 reps, not in addition to them. Start in a full plank position with hands shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and core throughout the entire movement.
Bend your elbows and lower your chest down to the floor, while ensuring that your lower body stays off the ground. Keep your elbows close to your body as you push yourself back up to the starting position. "I like these two modifications (banded and box push-ups) because it allows 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 if you're not doing the originally prescribed version of the Murph workout.
5. Air Squat
Next up in the Murph workout? Squats. "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. Start with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
Lower down to just below parallel with your knees driving out. You can choose what to do with your hands, but most people find it comfortable to extend them out in front of their body, then return them to their sides when they stand. "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."
Keep your back in a neutral position (not overly arched) and remember: It's not a great idea to crash down into the bottom of a squat, especially since the second mile-long run is coming up. "The second run is where you have to remind yourself over and over why you're doing the workout. 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." (Think that was hard, step up to our 30-day squat challenge that will totally transform your butt.)
(All photos courtesy of David Goddard/@davidgoddardphotography)