CrossFit is known for being intense. But the fitness regime is also known for its close-knit community. If you join a CrossFit gym, don’t expect to walk in and do a class or workout without talking to anyone; members often form close bonds, which extends outside the gym as well.
Perhaps one reason why the CrossFit community is so close is that class-goers are accomplishing something hard together—this is not your average workout. CrossFit’s “hero workouts” are especially physically demanding. A hero workout is a way to honor a fallen military member, giving tribute to their service by pushing your own body to the limit. One hero workout that’s known to be particularly challenging is the Murph workout.
Never heard of it? In classic CrossFit fashion, the Murph workout is a test of both physical and mental strength. Here’s what to know about it.
How Did the Murph Workout Originate?
According to CrossFit coach Ray Fleser, who co-owns Ironclad Fitness North, the Murph workout is a memorial for Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. Michael Murphy. Lt. Murphy died in Operation Red Wings, a military operation that took place in Afghanistan in 2005. “Lt. Murphy and his team were doing surveillance on a group of Taliban [members] and fell under attack,” Fleser says. He explains that the team was outnumbered and didn’t have any way to communicate for more help.
“To make a call for back-up, Lt. Murphy ran to the top of the mountain and exposed himself to fire so he could call for support,” Fleser says. “He knew that phone call would cost him his life, but there was no choice, so he laid down his life to make that call.”
Fleser says that the Murph workout is a workout that Lt. Murphy used to do when he was alive. Now, it’s done at CrossFit games and on Memorial Day in honor of him. “The workout itself was his favorite to do and at the time it was referred to as ‘Body Armor’ because it was done wearing a 20-pound vest,” says Lisa Seymour, co-owner of Core City Fitness.
How to Do the Murph Workout
Seymour says that the Murph workout consists of the following:
- One mile run
- 100 pull-ups
- 200 push-ups
- 300 air squats
- Another one mile run
As Seymour mentioned, traditionally this is all done wearing a 20-pound vest as Lt. Murphy used to do.
“There [are] two methods of finishing the Murph workout,” Seymour says. “While you have to start and finish with a one-mile run, the 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 air squats can either be done in order, or partitioned.” She says that the most common strategy is to partition the reps into 20 rounds of five pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 air squats.
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Is your jaw on the floor right about now? There’s no doubt that the Murph workout is super intense, but Fleser says it can be modified so those who want to honor Lt. Murph but are intimidated by the workout in its traditional format have a way to do so. “We have people of all levels participate in the Murph workout on Memorial Day,” he says. For beginner athletes, his gym modifies the workout to the following:
- Run one mile (or distance that will take under 10 minutes)
- 20 rounds (or 30 minutes) of the following: five pushups, 10 push-ups, 15 air squats (all assisted as needed)
- Run one mile (or however far someone can run in 10 minutes)
“Everyone can do this workout and honor Lt. Murphy by operating within their means,” Fleser says. “As you can see by what we encourage, the movements and distance are scalable. We also conceptualize volume for athletes: If you’ve never run a mile before, today is not the day to run two, amidst hundreds of squats. Modify that distance to something manageable so you can walk tomorrow!”
What Are the Benefits of the Murph Workout?
Completing the Murph workout is no small feat, and both CrossFit coaches say the benefits are mental, physical and spiritual. “Spiritually, you honor the sacrifice of Lt. Murphy, and the millions of Americans who have died for [our] country,” Fleser says. “It’s a chance to come together as a community on Memorial Day each year and honor the men and women that have fallen in the line of duty in our own special way,” Seymour adds.
Mentally, Fleser says that completing the workout is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. There will be moments that you want to quit, but he says pushing through mentally is extremely rewarding.
“Physically, you develop tremendous calisthenic conditioning,” Fleser says. Calisthenics is a form of strength training that works muscle groups while using little or no equipment. The push-ups and pull-ups involved in the Murph workout are great examples of this. The Murph workout is a true full-body workout, involving the arms, abs, thighs, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. The mile runs add a cardio element that benefits the entire body, especially the heart.
If you want to try the Murph workout, Seymour recommends checking with a local CrossFit gym. There, she says that a coach can evaluate your fitness level and help you figure out what modifications need to be made (if any) to the Murph workout so you can try it without putting yourself at risk for injury.
Not only is the Murph workout a great way to test yourself mentally and physically, it’s also a way to honor Lt. Murph, who sacrificed his life for others. Keeping that in mind makes the workout seem more doable—at least a little.