Every Memorial Day, CrossFitters emerge from their boxes ready to rumble. Totaling a two-mile journey — plus 600 bodyweight reps while wearing a weighted vest — the Murph CrossFit workout will challenge even the most hardcore athletes.
Murph sandwiches 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 air squats between two one-mile runs. If you’re performing this WOD (workout of the day) as written, you’ll be wearing a weighted vest the whole time. This popular benchmark workout is not for the faint of heart. It’s designed to test you and push your fitness to the max, especially in the heat of a rising summer.
Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to survive Murph, as well as strategies for Murph to try as a beginner and at all levels of your training.
- What Is the Murph Workout?
- What Are Good Murph Times?
- Strategies for the Murph Workout
- How to Scale Murph for Beginners
- How to Scale Murph for Intermediates
- How to Scale Murph for Advanced Athletes
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A classic WOD in CrossFit circles, Murph first appeared on CrossFit’s website in 205 as an official Hero WOD. It was named after Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy, who died that year in Afghanistan. Murphy reportedly used to perform a version of this workout, which he called Body Armor.
In its current iteration, Murph involves three bodyweight movements — the pull-up, the push-up, and the air squat — performed between two one-mile runs. You’ll do 600 reps total, in addition to a grand total of 3,200 meters of running (that’s two miles).
The idea here is to develop the cardiovascular capacity to run a mile at a solid clip, then stop and perform a very high number of bodyweight exercises. You’ll need to recover from those very efficiently in order to get back to your run and get over the finish line.
There’s another twist to Murph: you need to finish each exercise before moving on to the next. So, you need to finish your first mile before attempting your pull-ups. You’re required to complete your pull-ups before starting your push-ups. Then, finish all your push-ups before starting your air squats. You can’t start your second run until you complete all 300 air squats.
Especially without the option of skipping around to give your muscles a break, Murph makes for an extremely difficult WOD.
Here’s what it looks like, all written out.
- One-Mile Run
- 100 Pull-Ups
- 200 Push-Ups
- 300 Air Squats
- One-Mile Run
Women: 15-pound weighted vest | Men: 20-pound weighted vest*
While CrossFit allows trans athletes to compete with their cisgender peers, no weight prescriptions are provided for nonbinary athletes. Athletes of any gender can scale the weight as needed, or even perform Murph without a weighted vest.
Just completing Murph is impressive all on its own. Many athletes start off their CrossFit journey aspiring to master simply one pull-up. Imagine the accomplishment of being able to do 100 pull-ups, especially as a small part of a much bigger workout. For a lot of CrossFitters, time isn’t all that relevant — with a WOD like Murph, the goal may be to simply finish.
But once you’ve gotten one Murph under your belt, you might want to start training for next Memorial Day. Here are some times you might want to aim for, based on your general experience level.
- Elite: under 35 minutes
- Advanced: between 35 and 40 minutes
- Intermediate: between 40 and 60 minutes
- Beginner: between 60 and 85 minutes
Remember that these categories are broad. A realistic assessment of your level for this specific workout may be different than your fitness level generally. You might be a very advanced lifter but hate running. Account for your current weaknesses when you’re setting a goal for yourself. You’ll set yourself up for even more success.
Whether you’re building your own CrossFit WOD or doing a classic, you’re going to want to go in with a plan. That’s quadruply true for a beast like Murph. The last thing you want to do is dive into the deep of this powerhouse of a workout without a clear idea of how you’re going to get from the starting line to the finish.
Sure, the plan might go out the window midway through the first mile. But in CrossFit, you’ll have a plan to back up your backup plan — so it’ll all be okay.
Much like in so many others, pacing will save you in this workout. You don’t want to come out of the gate too strong and flame out by trying to earn a PB (personal best) on your mile time. Instead, run a steady pace that you can comfortably sustain for at least two miles.
On actual game day, you might find that the pace that would usually be comfortable feels way too fast. That’s okay — slow it down if you need. Nerves may be a big factor. Shake them off with confidence. It’s better to start out conservatively and speed up toward the end than to burn all your energy on the first charge.
Similarly, have a plan on how to break up your reps. You won’t want to plan to do 50-rep sets of pull-ups — not if you want to actually function through the rest of your workout. But you might plan to break your sets up into bigger chunks during the air squat portion.
Remember: as you get more tired, the moves get easier. For most athletes, pull-ups are harder than push-ups, which are harder than air squats. But you’ll be least fresh by the time your air squats roll around. So, you’ll have to get to know yourself pretty well to map out an effective plan.
Practice high-rep sets of your bodyweight moves in the weeks leading up to Murph. Do you completely burn out after a 20-rep set of push-ups? If yes, then that’s not the rep scheme for you. Cut your max effort into thirds or quarters.
If you know your push-up endurance taps out around 25 reps, plan to do sets of eight, 10, or even five reps. Aim for a rep scheme where you don’t need more than 10 to 30 seconds of rest between sets.
If you feel yourself pushing too hard toward the beginning of your sets, back off. Better to choose to go slower early on rather than be forced to take extremely long, unmanageable breaks later in the workout.
The more anaerobic power you’re able to generate, the better you may perform at Murph — at least, that’s what’s been suggested by a 2020 study of 11 men doing Murph with an average of three years experience with CrossFit. (1)
Research suggests that on average, CrossFitters’ total Murph time is mostly spent on bodyweight exercises, rather than running times. (1) That makes sense: 600 bodyweight reps for time is a much bigger stretch for most athletes than running one mile (twice).
Apparently, the more anaerobic power your body can generate, the better you’re likely to do at this bodyweight portion of the workout. So yes, practice the bodyweight movements to get an idea of how many sets you should break your workout into.
But don’t forget to load the barbell nice and heavy, too. The more power you generate in the workouts, the better you’re training your muscles to generate the force they’ll need to during the most grueling portions of Murph.
Get Comfortable Running
Just because most of your Murph time is likely to come from your bodyweight exercises doesn’t mean your run times are unimportant. Practice running both long runs and quick tempo runs. If two miles is the longest you’ve ever run in your life, you’ll want to get more running under your belt before tackling Murph.
Don’t just practice running — get used to running interrupted by calisthenics training. Maybe that means dropping and giving yourself 20 every time you hit a complete lap around the track. It might mean stopping the treadmill belt mid-mile to bang out some air squats or hopping up onto the pull-up bar.
If you’re planning to wear a weighted vest, get comfortable wearing one for long periods of time during your run. Make sure you find the shirt that your vest fits best with so that the fit isn’t chafing or too tight. Just like you have to practice your form when training with a different barbell or other training implement, moving with a weighted vest is a skill that demands refinement.
Drink (Lots of) Water
Even if you’re doing Murph in the dead of winter, you’re going to break a sweat. But if you’re like so many other CrossFitters and are sweating it out in punishing early summer heat, you’ll want to pay even more attention than usual to your hydration.
The last thing you want is for your performance to suffer because your body doesn’t have enough water. It’s not only unpleasant — it can be downright dangerous to push through dehydration to complete a workout.
Make sure you’re drinking at least two or three eight-ounce glasses of water in the hours leading up to your workout. Stay hydrated while working out by sipping water every 10 or 20 minutes.
Murph may not be easy, but that doesn’t mean that athletes who are just starting CrossFit can’t partake in the Memorial Day challenge. If you want to add this CrossFit workout to your repertoire, don’t worry: you can. It’ll just take some adjustments.
Modify the Movements
First and foremost, the movements themselves can be challenging. For example, some athletes may not yet have conquered their first pull-up. One hundred would then seem impossible — but you can still do Murph.
Whether your joints can’t handle the run or your knees need something more forgiving than 300 air squats, here are some ways to modify your workout to complete Murph.
- One mile (1,600 meters) on a rowing machine
- One mile (1,600 meters) on a ski erg
- Incline Push-Up
- Kneeling Push-Up
- Dumbbell Bench Press (light weight)
Air Squat Alternatives
- Air Squat to Box
- Air Squat to Medicine Ball
Skip the Weight
This one’s simple — you don’t need to wear a weighted vest during Murph. Instead, just complete your run as you normally would.
Don’t worry about not being challenged. With or without a weighted vest, Murph is a challenge even for elite athletes. You’ll get plenty of gritty training stimulus from the combination of two miles and 600 total reps of bodyweight exercises.
This version of Murph sort of explains itself: you’ll be performing one-quarter of the workout as written. It’ll go like this:
- 0.25-Mile Run
- 25 Pull-Ups
- 50 Push-Ups
- 75 Air Squats
- 0.25 Mile Run
In this version, you’ll only be performing 150 total reps sandwiched between a total of a half mile. But don’t get the wrong impression. This is still an intense workout with a relatively high rep count — especially if pull-ups aren’t your forte or you’ve just learned to master the push-up.
Once you’ve got over a year of CrossFit under your belt or you’ve done Quarter Murph a couple of times, it may be time to up the ante. You can still modify the movements if you need to, but you’ll likely be able to tackle more volume than you could as a beginner. Here’s how.
Murph in Rounds
By completing Murph in rounds, you’ll be taking the Quarter Murph and multiplying it. So instead of doing Quarter Murph and calling it a day, perform Quarter Murph four times in a row. In doing so, you’ll complete one “full” Murph.
The benefit of splitting it into rounds is that you’ll be doing the same total volume but taking more breaks in between. For example, instead of having to do all 100 pull-ups before moving on to push-ups, you only have to get to 25 reps at once. Then, you’ll have a big break from pulling while you do push-ups, air squats, and another run.
Once again, this one is what it sounds like — you’ll perform half of Murph. That translates into the following:
- 0.5-Mile Run
- 50 Pull-Ups
- 100 Push-Ups
- 150 Air Squats
- 0.5 Mile Run
It may not be the full version, but it’s certainly nothing to turn up your nose at. You’ll be getting in a full mile run and 300 bodyweight exercise reps — not too shabby.
More advanced athletes can also turn to this version when they’re a little short on time and want to get in some intense training without spending quite as much time.
If you know your CrossFit box inside and out, chances are you’ve conquered the full version of Murph at least once or twice. Sure, not everyone opts to do it — but if you have, you might already be chasing the next big thing.
Here are some ways to scale up Murph.
Incorporate a Hill
When you’re running outside, you’re generally going to encounter some ebbs and flows in your incline level. Some streets are hillier than others, while racing tracks tend to be more consistently flat. And if you’re doing Murph on a treadmill, you’ll have direct control of your incline.
Regardless of where you’re doing this WOD, you can increase your workout intensity by adding hills to your run. This might mean running half a mile in a different, hillier part of your neighborhood. Then, run the other half-mile back to your home or gym where your pull-up bar is located. You’ll benefit from both an incline and decline run.
With a treadmill, the process is a little more straightforward. Set the machine to a higher incline than you normally run with, but make sure that you can maintain a run rather than a fast walk or slow jog. Simply do your entire mile that way (and repeat in the back half of the workout).
Add Some Progressions
Increasing the intensity of your run is one thing. Add another layer of intensity to your bodyweight moves, and Murph will take on a whole new meaning of challenging. Try the following bodyweight progressions on for size:
- 10 Muscle-Ups + 90 Pull-Ups
- 20 Plyometric Push-Ups + 180 Push-Ups
- 30 One-Legged Squats (15 per side) OR 30 Jump Squats + 270 Air Squats
You can choose to only progress one or two movements, or you can choose to do it to all three. Just make sure you’re taking note of what modifications you use to keep accurate track of your time.
More on CrossFit Training
The Murph CrossFit workout is no walk in the park. Instead, you’ll be powering your way through two one-mile runs, separated by 600 grueling bodyweight reps spread across three challenging compound exercises: the pull-up, the push-up, and the air squat.
Want even more of a deep dive into the wide world of CrossFit? Once you’ve done Murph, try these WODs on for size.
- The CrossFit Angie Workout, Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level
- The CrossFit Cindy Workout Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level
- The CrossFit Fran Workout Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level
- Carreker, Ja’Deon D., Grosicki, Gregory J. Physiological Predictors of Performance on the CrossFit “Murph” Challenge. Sports (Basel). 2020; 8(7).
Featured Image: Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock