What Is CrossFit's Murph Workout and What Makes It So Hard?

Every Memorial Day, hardcore CrossFitters, celebrities (like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and John Krasinksi), exercise newbies and weekend warriors alike flock to CrossFit gyms (known as "boxes") across the U.S. for one purpose: To tackle "The Murph" workout.

The CrossFit workout, Murph, isn't for the faint of heart. (Image: Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/GettyImages)

The Murph is easily one of the best-known CrossFit workouts in the country. But its significance reaches far beyond its reputation as a grueling feat of fitness. Here's what it takes to do it — and why you should consider trying the Murph for yourself.

What Is “The Murph” Workout?

Participants in this grueling workout begin and end their workout with a one-mile run, and in the middle, they knock out a whopping 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats. And the entire workout is done wearing a 20-pound vest (women can wear a 14-pound vest).

"It's definitely a tough workout," says Jenna Stankus, head coach at CrossFit 518 in Schenectady, NY. Still, she says you won't hear anyone complain about doing the Murph.

Why? Because the Murph is more than just a workout; it's a "Hero WOD" (workout of the day) — a workout that's also a tribute to a fallen first responder or member of the military. "[Hero WODs] are meant to be challenging in order to honor the sacrifice that these soldiers have made in defense of our freedom," says Alison Heilig, a CrossFit coach and NASM-certified personal trainer.

The Murph was named after Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005, and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. In fact, the Murph was a favorite workout of Lt. Murphy, though he called it Body Armor. Lt. Murphy's story (along with other members of SEAL Team 10) was later recounted in the book Lone Survivor, as well as a movie by the same name.

Many CrossFit boxes and individual CrossFitters will even sign on to take part in the official Murph Challenge, an annual fundraiser hosted by Forged that benefits the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Scholarship Foundation. Started in 2007 by Lt. Murphy's parents and brother, the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Scholarship Foundation now awards 27 educational scholarships per year.

"It's exciting for people to be part of something bigger than just what's going on at their [CrossFit] box," Stankus says.

Who Can Do “The Murph”?

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be super-fit or a seasoned CrossFitter to do the Murph workout. "The idea of CrossFit is that everything is universally scalable," Stankus says. In other words, you can modify the workout however you need to in order to make it doable.

For example, if you want to try the Murph workout but you're new to exercise in general — or new to CrossFit in particular — or you have movement limitations (ex. you can't squat to full depth), you can always split the Murph workout in half (800-meter run, 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 squats, 800-meter run).

You can also modify the exercises according to your comfort and fitness level. If running is uncomfortable for you, substitute the run segments with an alternative form of cardio (ex. rowing, air bike, walking). Can't do an unassisted pull-up? Use bands, perform jumping pull-ups or swap out the pull-ups for inverted rows. Similarly, if regular push-ups give you trouble, elevate your hands on a box. And if you struggle with squats, try squatting to a box or bench.

Beyond modifying exercises and splitting the workout in half, there are different ways to attack the Murph workout. While you have to start and end the workout with the run (or alternate cardio), you can feel free to split up the pull-ups, push-ups and squats however you wish. It's also worth noting that you don't have to wear the weighted vest if you're not ready for it.

So, if you're hesitant to try the workout because you don't think you'll be able to complete it as-written, know that most CrossFit coaches will work with you to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience. "We have people in their 60s who will come in and do this workout alongside teenage kids," Stankus says.

What's more, skipping the workout just because you can't do it as-written misses the point of doing the workout in the first place. "It's not about doing the workout as prescribed, it's more about coming in and being part of something bigger than yourself," Stankus says.

That said, if you have a chronic health condition or other health concern, you'll want to work with your doctor and coach to determine if trying Murph (even modified) is a good idea.

Doing the WOD Cindy is a great way to prep for the Murph workout. (Image: Mike Harrington/Taxi/GettyImages)

How to Prep for the Murph Workout

Both Heilig and Stankus agree it's critical to go into Murph with a plan of attack. During her first year doing Murph, for example, Heilig initially tried to complete all reps of one exercise before moving on to the next. She managed to get through the pull-ups just fine, but found she hit a wall once she passed the halfway mark on the push-ups.

At that point, she decided to shift her strategy: "Instead of just wasting time staring at the floor, praying for another push-up, I would just start moving on the squats," Heilig says.

One great way to split up the body-weight exercises — and hopefully avoid the same burnout Heilig did on the push-ups — is to organize them like "The Cindy" (another well-known CrossFit WOD). Perform five pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats for as many rounds as you can manage within a 20-minute time period.

Do the math and you'll discover that the Murph workout is the equivalent of doing 20 rounds of Cindy (plus the two miles of running). "Then on the floor you're just making chalk marks to signify how many rounds you've done," Heilig says. In fact, practicing Cindy regularly is a great way to prep for Murph.

"You get this feeling of what it's like to flow through these movements, and though people don't hit 20 [rounds], at least you're mentally prepared," Heilig says. She also recommends practicing the three movements (pull-ups, push-ups and squats) after a regular workout when you're already exhausted, "because you're going to be tired during Murph."

Pick one move to tack on to the end of your workout and see what it feels like (not to mention, how long it takes) to do 50 push-ups, 20 pull-ups or 100 squats. "Because that's the killer, that's the part of [Murph] that makes it so challenging, is the volume of these movements," Heilig says. Start with a rep count that's challenging but doable and gradually increase reps as you feel able.

For more information or to register for the Murph Challenge, visit the event's official website. And get inspired checking out past Murph action by searching #MurphChallenge on Instagram.

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