You only have to say the word “Murph” to a CrossFitter to elicit a visceral reaction. Most of us will groan, grimace or shudder as we trace the phantom scars on our palms.
Murph isn’t just a WOD, it’s THE WOD. With 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 air squats sandwiched between two 1-mile runs, it’s the longest Hero of them all. Add the weighted vest, and it’s arguably the hardest. We’ve seen it take down Games-level athletes, and most of us have experienced personal Murph-related devastation in our own boxes.
But, for as brutal as it is, Murph is a WOD you can prepare for. Most boxes program it on Memorial Day, which gives you plenty of notice. You have more than enough time to incorporate some supplemental, Murph-specific training.
We asked Chris Hinshaw, Reebok running expert and endurance coach to the CrossFit community, for his advice to those who are attempting Murph for the first time or are hoping to improve on last year’s performance. Here are a few of his tips.
Train for Volume
Most athletes need more than 40 minutes to complete Murph, and few show up prepared to work consistently for that amount of time. “They underestimate the volume and the fatigue that will be created within that volume,” Hinshaw says. To get through Murph in one piece, you need to make sure your training addresses endurance, not just strength and speed. “Your one-rep max is not going to help you in Murph,” he says.
Similar to how a runner trains for a marathon, you should prepare for Murph by practicing the individual movements, gradually increasing the amount of reps so that your body becomes accustomed to longer periods of time under tension. In other words, the first time you attempt to do 300 air squats should not be this Memorial Day.
Use Rest Strategically
Facing reps in the triple digits is intimidating, even for experienced CrossFitters. To help build an athlete’s endurance and confidence, Hinshaw incorporates generous rest periods at first. So, for example, he may have an athlete chip away at 100 pull-ups by doing sets of five followed by 30 seconds of rest. Even though his pace is slow, the athlete knows he’s capable of accomplishing the total amount of work. Over time, Hinshaw slowly “squeezes out” rest by upping the number of reps per set, thereby eliminating rest periods. Eventually, he’ll ask for sets of 10, then sets of 15, and so on.
Plan for a Conservative Opening Mile
After underestimating Murph’s volume, running the initial mile too fast is the second most common mistake Hinshaw sees CrossFitters make. And, based on his own personal experience with Murph, he knows that it’s nearly impossible to recover from it. “I have a five-minute mile. I did it in six minutes, and I thought it was easy. My second mile took me eight minutes and 32 seconds. It was way too fast, and I suffered the whole way,” he says. “I wish someone told me that you can’t go out hot.”
Bottom line: Resist the urge to PR your first mile. Instead, use a pace that you could realistically sustain for a 10K race.
Make Sure the Vest Fits
If you plan to wear a weighted vest, a tight fit is crucial. In the past, Hinshaw has even resorted to using Goat Tape to adhere vests to athletes’ bodies. “If that vest doesn’t stay in a consistent location, it’s going to be incredibly uncomfortable,” he says. “It’s going to be a distraction, and it will ultimately cause you frustration that will lead to a bad experience.” Find a vest that feels like it’s a part of you during every movement.
Know Your Weakness
Murph is brutal on the body, but it’s just as tough on the brain. While building endurance is essential, self-awareness and mental fortitude is just as important. According to Hinshaw, this means knowing your weakness and at what point in the WOD it will begin to work against you. It’s not enough to simply “embrace the suck.” You need to understand and anticipate it.
“If you underestimate the amount of difficulty that you’ll be in at that particular moment, your brain is going to shut you down and start preserving energy because it’s afraid that you mismanaged your energy,” he says. “But if you assess the difficulty that you’re going to be in at that most difficult point, then yeah, you’ll still be suffering, but you’ll have a much better experience because you’re not surprised.”