Take on the Murph
- 1-mile run
- 100 pull-ups
- 200 push-ups
- 300 squats
- 1-mile run
Done wearing a 20-pound vest (women can wear a 14-pound vest).
Every Memorial Day, hardcore CrossFitters, celebrities, 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.
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The Murph is easily one of the most popular CrossFit routines. But its significance reaches far beyond its reputation as a grueling feat of fitness. Here's what it takes to do the workout — and why you should try it this year.
What Is the Murph Workout?
People who take on this CrossFit routine do a one-mile run, knock out a whopping 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats, and then round things out with another one-mile run. Men and women wear a weight vest that weighs 20 or 14 pounds, respectively.
"It's definitely a tough workout," says Jenna Stankus, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, CrossFit coach and owner of Hardwired Fitness in Schenectady, New York. Still, she says you won't hear anyone complain about doing the workout.
Why? Because the Murph is more than just a workout. It's a Hero WOD.
Hero WODs (workouts of the day) are tributes to a fallen first responder or member of the military. "[They] are meant to be challenging in order to honor the sacrifice that these soldiers have made in defense of our freedom," says Alison Heilig, CPT, certified trainer, CrossFit coach and author of The Durable Runner.
The workout was named after Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005, according to CrossFit. After his death, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.
The Murph was a favorite workout of Lt. Murphy, although he called it Body Armor, per CrossFit. The story of Lt. Murphy (and the other members of SEAL Team 10) is told in the book Lone Survivor, as well as a movie by the same name.
Many CrossFit boxes and CrossFitters 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 30 educational scholarships per year. To officially register for the challenge, go to TheMurphChallenge.com.
"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 WOD?
The Murph is tough, yes, but you don't have to be super-fit or a seasoned CrossFitter to do it. "The idea of CrossFit is that everything is universally scalable," Stankus says. In other words, you can modify the workout however you need to make it doable for you.
For example, if you want to try the Murph workout, but you're new to exercise, new to CrossFit or have movement limitations, you can always split the Murph workout in half. That equals a 800-meter run, 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 squats and another 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 a pull-up? Use bands, perform jumping pull-ups or swap out the exercise 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.
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 everything in it 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.
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 the Murph (even modified) is a good idea.
How to Get Ready for the Murph Workout
Know Your Strategy
Both Heilig and Stankus agree it's critical to go into the Murph with a plan of attack. During her first year, for example, Heilig initially tried to complete all reps of each Murph exercise before moving 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.
Train With Cindy
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 is a great way to prep for the 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 trying the three Murph exercise (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 [the workout] 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.