Test Your Strength With These 4 Benchmark CrossFit WODs

Fran and Grace are two of the best-known CrossFit WODs, or workouts of the day. (Image: Drazen_/E+/GettyImages)

What do Madonna and The Bachelor have in common? Nobody likes them only a little bit. Add one fitness craze to that list, too: CrossFit.

CrossFit is a training style that draws from a variety of sports and types of exercise, like gymnastics, running, rowing, weightlifting, powerlifting and HIIT, to create workouts known as WODs, or workouts of the day. CrossFit WODs aim to make you fitter for anything you might encounter in everyday life.

What does that mean, exactly? "Basically, everything we do in the gym is functional, which means it mimics and translates to everything we do outside of the gym like sitting down, picking things up or climbing stairs," Tony Milgram, coach at ICE NYC in New York, explains.

Likely you've heard CrossFit is kind of intense. That's also true. "Training your body at a high intensity prepares you to be able to handle anything life might throw at you at or below that level," explains Milgram. Keep in mind: That level of intensity is relative to you.

"That's what makes CrossFit so unique," says Stacie Tovar, CrossFit Games competitor and co-owner of CrossFit Omaha and Go Far Fitness, who explains that even in the same class, everyone will do a slightly different iteration of the WOD. "All CrossFit workouts are completely scalable to meet you at whatever fitness level you're currently at."

Because of that, Milgram says, there's no one typical CrossFit WOD. One day's effort might include completing a gymnastics exercise like a handstand push-up and a barbell overhead press, while another might require that you complete as many rounds as possible (or AMRAP) of burpees and wall balls, he explains.

"This variety is what makes CrossFit so effective and keeps folks from getting bored, which allows them to stick with the fitness routine for a long time," says Milgram.

In general, CrossFit Inc. recommends a three-days-on, one-day-off schedule. But every athlete has to find a plan that works best for their body and schedule. If you've never exercised before, your body may need more time to recover, advises Milgram. As a competitive CrossFit Games athlete, Tovar trains six days a week. Regardless of your fitness level, Tovar stresses that it's important to make time for adequate recovery and to listen to your body.

"It's necessary to allow the body to heal, recover and rebuild itself so you can come back to the gym feeling your best," she says.

CrossFit Benchmark Workouts

In CrossFit, there are certain workouts that reoccur throughout a calendar year. These are often referred to as benchmark workouts. Benchmark workouts all have female names and are affectionately known as "The Girls."

"These are full-body workouts that are meant to be repeated every few months so you can measure your performance, track your progress and see your improvement," explains Tovar. Every time you complete one of these baseline workouts, you're able to see how much you've improved in overall fitness and CrossFit training.

Want to give one a try? Below, CrossFit coaches break down four benchmark workouts, making now the perfect time to give the sport a try — even if you've never stepped foot in a gym before.

Before you dive in, a word of caution from Tovar: "If you've never done CrossFit before or are just starting to get back into fitness, you should modify and scale all the movements in these workouts," she suggests, saying it's expected that you don't do the programming exactly as written (or, "RX" in CrossFit lingo). That means doing things like lowering down in weight, lowering to your knees in a push-up or using a resistance band to lighten the load in a classic pull-up. "The overall goal is to stick with CrossFit and continue to improve your fitness so that you are able to accomplish that."

1. Fran

The goal: Complete 45 total reps of both thrusters and pull-ups, broken up into a specific rep scheme.
Do: For time

  • 21 thrusters (RX: 65 pounds women, 95 pounds men)
  • 21 pull-ups
  • 15 thrusters
  • 15 pull-ups
  • 9 thrusters
  • 9 pull-ups

Thruster

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and barbell wracked at your shoulders. Elbows should be below your hands.
  2. Lift your chest, push your hips back and bend your knees.
  3. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Explosively drive up and out of the squat.
  5. Maintain the momentum of the bar by powerfully extending your arms and pushing it overhead to arms' length.
  6. Bend your arms and lower the bar back to your shoulders before squatting down and repeating.

Pull-Up

  1. Hang from the bar using an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance.
  2. Engage your core. Pull your body weight upward until your chin is over the bar. Lower back down to start.

If you've ever watched a CrossFitter string together a few pull-ups, you may notice they're a bit more dynamic — or fluid. These are called kipping pull-ups, and involve the athlete creating momentum to swing their body up to the bar to move through faster reps.

"If you can do three strict pull-ups in a row and have the prerequisite shoulder mobility, you can give kipping pull-ups a try," says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company. Otherwise, he suggests scaling the movement down to banded strict pull-ups, ring-rows, or an inverted barbell rows.

2. Grace

The goal: Complete 30 clean and jerks (RX: 95 pounds for women, 135 pounds for men).
Do: For time

  • 30 barbell clean and jerks

Barbell Clean

  1. Stand behind a barbell with feet hip-width apart. Hinge forward at the hips keeping a flat back, and grab onto the barbell with an overhand grip.
  2. Pull the barbell off the ground by keeping your chest up, arms straight and feet flat on the ground. The first movement of the bar resembles the deadlift with a slight backward motion. The arms remain straight and act as straps during the first part of the clean.
  3. Cross the barbell over your knees. The shins should be vertical at this point with the majority of the weight shifting form the mid-foot to the heels. At this point, your torso and hips start extending to continue pulling the barbell in a vertical motion.
  4. Extend the hips when the barbell reaches two-thirds up the thigh from the knee. The hip extension should be a forceful, powerful movement to accelerate the bar. The barbell will touch your thigh as you extend the hips.
  5. Drive the barbell upward as you throw your chest up and shrug your shoulders. This movement causes a short, quick jump to continue the vertical movement of the barbell.
  6. Drop your hips into a squat position. The arms will act to pull you under the barbell and will bend slightly.
  7. Catch the barbell in the rack position where the bar sets on the top of your chest and shoulders. The rack position is essential for continuing the clean and jerk with an efficient jerk movement.
  8. Stand up out of the squat and keep the barbell in the racked position.

Barbell Jerk

  1. Reset the feet and grip as you prepare for the jerk. Your grip should be slightly wider than shoulder-width with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Drop your hips slightly with a short, quick downward movement, about a quarter-squat.
  3. Drive your legs upward with no pause at the bottom. Any pause or hesitation at the bottom of the quarter-squat will reduce the amount of energy and force for the jerk.
  4. Press the barbell above your head and drop your hips again into a quarter-squat. The two steps of moving the barbell vertically while dropping your hips happen simultaneously. The end result will be you standing with your arms fully extended and legs in a quarter-squat.
  5. Stand up out of the quarter-squat while keeping your arms extended to finish the clean and jerk exercise. You may drop the barbell or release the weight when both feet have come together with your hips fully extended.

3. Cindy

The goal: Do pull-ups, push-ups and squats, divided into manageable blocks of five, 10 and 15, respectively.
Do: 20-minute AMRAP

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

Pull-Up

  1. Hang from the bar using an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance.
  2. Engage your core. Pull your body weight upward until your chin is over the bar. Lower back down to start.

Push-Up

  1. Start in high plank with hands shoulder-width apart, fingers facing forward. Make sure your head and spine are aligned.
  2. While keeping the same body position, slowly lower your body toward the mat while allowing your elbows to shift outward. Once your chest or chin has reached floor level, press upward through the arms until they're fully extended.

Air Squat

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your knees and toes facing straight ahead.
  2. Squat down in the same way you'd sit into a chair — by pushing your hips back — then bending your knees.
  3. Go as low as you can without your heels coming off the floor or your back rounding, then push back up again.

4. Diane

The goal: Complete 45 reps total of handstand push-ups and deadlifts (RX: 155 pounds for women, 225 pounds for men).
Do: For time

  • 21 deadlifts
  • 21 handstand push-ups
  • 15 deadlifts
  • 15 handstand push-ups
  • 9 deadlifts
  • 9 handstand push-ups

Deadlift

  1. Stand with your feet outside your shoulders. Point your toes out slightly.
  2. Stick your hips back and bend forward to grab the barbell below with both hands, using an overhand grip.
  3. Sink your hips down, flatten your back and pull the bar off the ground until you're standing straight up.
  4. Lower it back down to the ground under control with your back flat.

Handstand Push-Up

Tip

This is an advanced movement that requires an incredible amount of shoulder strength and stability. You should only try it if you’ve already been training your shoulders for years and have a coach present, says Milgram.

  1. Get into a handstand position against a wall, with your face facing the wall.
  2. Bend your elbows to lower your head to touch the ground.
  3. Push through your hands and shoulders to raise your body back to the full handstand position.
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