Want to put your fitness to the test? You need to try this CrossFit challenge

The Murph challenge is notorious for being one of the toughest CrossFit workouts. But CrossFitter and writer Alice Porter claims it’s the perfect way to test your fitness, whatever level you’re at.

When it comes to fitness, most of us want to make progress. We want a return on our financial and time investment – namely, increased strength, fitness and/or endurance capacity.

And while tracking strength progress is quite straightforward (simply noting how much more you’re able to lift now compared to when you started will give you the best answer), it’s slightly harder to know if your actual fitness has improved.

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That’s something the CrossFit community has been thinking over. CrossFit workouts tend to involve a combination of weightlifting, fitness and gymnastics. Because of this, workouts known as ‘Hero WODS (Workout Of the Day)’ have become increasingly popular for testing overall fitness and endurance. 

Dedicated to veterans who have died in the line of duty, Hero WODs are usually made up of a fairly small amount of movements and completed ‘for time’ (ie as fast as possible).

The most well-known workout of this variety is called Murph. It has become notorious as the ultimate fitness test, pushing athletes to the limit with a few simple movements completed in large quantities, starting and ending with a one-mile run. 

Each Hero WOD is generally completed on a specific day of the year (30 May), when people in the CrossFit community around the world will try the workout – aiming to improve their time year on year. 

Not only is it a great benchmark to test yourself against but because the movements involved are some of the most well-known exercises, you definitely don’t have to be an experienced CrossFitter to give it a go.

“You can use Murph as a benchmark to test your body for high-volume endurance workouts,” says personal trainer Hannah Ashby, who does the Murph challenge once a year.

What is a Murph workout and which exercises does it include? 

The traditional Murph workout involves completing the following movements for time:

  1. 1 mile run
  2. 100 pull-ups
  3. 200 push-ups
  4. 300 air squats
  5. 1 mile run

In CrossFit, there is always an RX version of the workout, which means it is completed as prescribed and to competitive standards. For Murph, the RX version involves completing all of the movements in order while wearing a weighted vest. However, there are many ways to scale and modify the workout.

How to modify Murph for all abilities

If you’re intimidated by the volume of the movements in this workout, you can break them down. Try doing a 100m run followed by 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups and 30 air squats, followed by another 100m run – and attempting 10 rounds.

“I often incorporate elements of Murph into regular workouts, partitioning it so I’m completing smaller amounts of the movements, which helps me prepare to do the full workout start-to-finish once a year,” Ashby says.

However, it’s best to avoid trying Murph with a weighted vest unless you’re used to training in one as, let’s be honest, the workout is probably tough enough as it is. “I usually wear a weighted vest for all parts of the workout apart from the pull-ups,” Ashby says.

If you’re not confident with some of the movements or have an injury, there are lots of modifications and alternatives. If you can’t run due to an injury, you can do the same distance on a machine like a rower or an ergonomic bike.

A hundred pull-ups is a difficult task for anyone, so Ashby suggests completing jumping pull-ups instead, jumping up to the bar before pulling your chin over it, to give yourself some momentum, or using a resistance band to support your weight. “You can also swap out the pull-ups for sit-ups,” Ashby suggests.

When it comes to the press-ups, you can complete these on your knees if you’re unable to do them from a plank position, or to an incline, resting your hands on a box. And finally, the squats can be completed sitting down on a box if you struggle with mobility or have an injury.

Tips for completing the Murph workout 

Think of it like a mental workout

“It can be hard to get through Murph mentally because doing 300 squats, for example, without a break is repetitive, so if you’re not used to these types of workouts, you’ll probably feel like giving up,” Ashby says.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When you’re 250 squats in and you feel like giving up, trying to channel positive energy could be a great way to build mental strength. In fact, completing workouts like this might even boost your mental health in other areas of life; this 2022 study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that exercising regularly could increase resilience.

Find a group to do the workout with

A 2017 study found that working out in a group lowers stress by 26% and significantly improves quality of life and Ashby stresses the importance of having supporters around you when completing a tough endurance workout like Murph. 

Just like with running a marathon or attempting another endurance challenge, having people to cheer you on will undoubtedly make the experience easier.

Find a CrossFit box completing the workout or try and recruit a fitness-loving friend who might be up to the challenge of attempting Murph with you.

Pace yourself

Particularly if you’re an experienced runner, one mile might not seem like a long distance to run. But if you rush through the first section of the workout, you’ll find yourself not only physically but mentally defeated by the time you get to those 300 squats and the final run.

“Partition your sets to avoid fatiguing – don’t start with 20 press-ups because the rest of the set will feel too difficult,” Ashby says. Instead, she recommends breaking down the movements into sets of 10 or even five, so you can keep your energy levels high throughout the workout.

What happened when I tried the Murph workout 

I’ve trained at a CrossFit box for about 18 months and I have managed to avoid doing the Murph workout up until this point… but I decided it was finally time to give it a go.

I’ve done similar workouts to this in the past, with lots of repetitions for time, but I seriously struggle with pull-ups – I still haven’t managed one strict pull-up without using a resistance band – so I was not looking forward to trying Murph.

I also have a knee injury, which meant I couldn’t complete the run, so I decided to do the one-mile sections of the workout on a bike instead. Coming off the bike, my legs were already sore, so I was almost glad to be moving onto pull-ups… until I started them. 

I decided to do half of the pull-ups using a resistance band and the other half jumping up to the bar, doing five assisted pull-ups at once and 10 jumping pull-ups. Maintaining my form throughout the 100 reps was difficult and I had to take a lot of rest in between sets towards the end.

Can’t run the mile? Complete the distance on a rower or bike instead.

Next, I decided to complete the press-ups on an incline, placing my hands on a box and pressing down towards it. My upper-body was already fatigued from the pull-ups, so my shoulders started burning immediately during the press-ups. I split my sets into 10 reps, which meant 20 sets – a seriously intimidating number. Surprisingly, this was probably the worst section of the workout for me as it seemed to go on forever and I knew I still had a long way to go.

Wanting the workout to be over as soon as possible at this point, I decided to do 30 air squats at a time so I only had to complete 10 sets. And despite having a pretty strong lower-body, the last sets were still a challenge – especially knowing that I had to get back on the bike immediately after.

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By the time I made it to my final mile on the bike, I was so glad that the workout was nearly over, I actually had a sudden burst of energy and managed to make it through the entire distance without resting.

It took me just over an hour to complete the whole thing and I felt like I’d pushed my body to the limit by the end of it. It’s a workout that releases a serious dose of endorphins by the end and I felt incredibly proud on leaving the gym, albeit extremely relieved that it would be at least another year until I attempted Murph again.

Images: Getty

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