Being in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, I thought it would be timely to share my experience and insights on training for the Murph Challenge – a great cause, and a kick-ass workout.

The good news is that you won’t need weights or kettlebells (which I can’t find anywhere to purchase during this coronavirus pandemic). You will however need a pull-up bar (DIY, over-door, station), an area to run a mile or a treadmill (many options out there – we found a nice free one on Craigslist!), and ideally a weighted vest (what I use, but would consider a different brand / style next time).

I created a workout routine to prepare for the “Murph Challenge” which consists of pull-ups, push-ups, body squats, and running.

I started training in early January at my gym, but transitioned to home-based workouts in mid-March due to gym closures driven from the Coronavirus.

I didn’t have a pull-up bar, so ordered a pull-up station from Amazon (also great for dips and push-up!). I had a contingency plan to build my own pull-up bar in the garage if Amazon was sold out, but fortunately they had plenty available.

So what is the Murph Challenge?

The Murph Challenge is formally completed annually on Memorial Day. It’s in memory of a fallen military hero, LT. Michael P. Murphy, and is a favorite workout of CrossFitters across the land.  You can learn more about LT. Michael P. Murphy and the “Murph Challenge” on the official site:  The Murph Workout is also a very popular CrossFit Workout of the Day (WOD).

100 Pull-Ups, Say What??

When I first heard about the Murph Challenge from a friend, I was intrigued, and instantly intimidated. All I heard was “100 pull-ups”. WHAT?! However, it was actually great timing as I was looking for a new workout to begin 2020 with. 

I needed to learn more, so did some digging… The workout / challenge is straightforward and goes like this:

  • 1 mile run to start workout
  • 100 pull-ups
  • 200 push-ups
  • 300 body squats
  • 1 mile run to end workout
  • Everything should be completed within 75 minutes and ideally with a 20 pound weighted vest for men, and a 14 pound weighted vest for women.

At first glance, the challenge seems ridiculous! (no way can I do that!) BUT, if you slice it up into smaller chunks (“partitions”), it’s achievable, and not nearly as overwhelming.

There’s a definite mental component of this workout for me that I’m still working through. Once I begin a workout however, the heart starts pumping, I get into a flow, and everything settles. I haven’t quite put my finger on the mental side, but assuming it’s because I know the level of intensity required to power through and complete the workout (whether a training session or the actual challenge day).

The Murph is a much more intense workout than I’ve ever done on a consistent basis, but that’s a good thing – I needed some change!  I’m improving both physically and mentally from the training, the challenge, and the overall experience.

JUST START the Murph (modify as needed)!

Start slow, VERY SLOW if you need to. Remember:  Something is better than nothing.

Start small, VERY SMALL if necessary. Get into your workout clothes, tie those tennies, and do ONE pull-up, ONE push-up, and ONE body squat. If you need to do an assisted pull-up (or hang), so be it. The point is to just start the routine. It will only get easier.

The next day or workout session, do sets of TWO, then THREE, and so on.

If you’re struggling to get started, this approach will create momentum that will propel you forward, and ultimately evolve into a routine.

This seriously works – try it. 

Read more about establishing routines (aka positive “habits”) from James Clear.

My Baby “Murph” Steps

I started the Murph training without a weighted vest, and no running.

I did 10 partitioned sets (5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 body squats) to get a feel for the workout. From this point I SLOWLY scaled upward, pretty methodically.

Easing into the training allowed me to establish a baseline with which to fine tune the Murph training, and integrate it with my overall weekly workout regimen.

Is such a slow scaling necessary? Perhaps not, but it ultimately depends on the person and their situation.

To be perfectly honest, after completing the official Murhp Challenge on Memorial Day 2020, I would suggest scaling up the weighted vest quicker during the training, and have at least 4 weeks with the full weight (20lb or 14lb).

For me, the official challenge day was by far the hardest Murph sesssion. I suspect this was due to my body not having the stamina to handle the full 20lb vest load.  

Murph Challenge Training Tracker

You can find my exact training routine and tracker on an Excel spreadsheet available here.  If you’d like to use for your training, just delete and/or modify the contents as needed. It prints to a single page that I folded up and took to the gym to track my progress on the “Murph” portion.

So Many Murph Options

There are MANY training derivatives for the WOD or the Memorial Day Murph Challenge.

Following are a few links that offer different perspectives on training methods and modified workout options based on gender and fitness level.

Shape Magazine – “If you want to tackle CrossFit’s toughest workout, but don’t think you can accomplish it as-is, you can still get an incredible WOD in with some simple strategizes and modifications.” – “… exercise newbies and weekend warriors alike flock to CrossFit gyms (known as “boxes”) across the U.S. for one purpose: To tackle “The Murph” workout.”

“Murph” Crossfit HERO WODThis site provides a great explanation of the Murph workout and some unique derivatives for varying levels of experience and fitness. I wish I would have found this site when I first started! The average / expected times to complete the full Murph challenge of the fittest athletes is AMAZING!

I noticed that when Murph workout modification is discussed, it’s normally focused on the calisthenics. However, you can also consider other aerobic (cardio) options in place of the running.

You may want to consider such just to mix it up due to the weather, equipment availability, your mood, etc. I often jump-roped to replace a run. Jumping rope is a great cardio workout, and with a weighted vest, it adds a whole new dimension. Biking, swimming, and rowing are other options.

Here We Go! My Murph Challenge Path

Since I started in January, the official Memorial Day Challenge seemed a good fit, as it allowed plenty of time to train.  After doing some research, I thought the best way to accomplish the ultimate goal would be to break up the pull-ups, push-ups, and body squats into sets of 20 (partitioning). So you end up with the following:

  • 1 mile run to start workout
  • 100 pull ups =  20 sets x 5 reps
  • 200 pushups = 20 sets x 10 reps
  • 300 body squats = 20 sets x 15 reps
  • 1 mile run to end workout

As stated previously, all components of the workout should be completed in 75 minutes or less, and ideally with a 20 lb weighted vest for men, 14 lb vest for woman.

As an example:  

  • Do 1 set of pull-ups, 5 reps. Then…
  • Immediately do 1 set of push-ups, 10 reps.  Then…
  • Immediately do 1 set of body squats, 15 reps

Do this for a total of 20 sets and you’ll accomplish the totals needed.

“Immediately” will slow as you progress through the sets, but hopefully this paints the picture.

When I started training, I didn’t use a weighted vest, and didn’t do the running. I did 10 sets. I slowly built up from this baseline.  The majority of weeks I trained for the Murph Challenge twice a week, and did other workouts three days (weights, core, stretching, and sauna).

I’ve included my complete workout routine here. It also includes my target times for going to bed, getting up, leaving for gym, etc. I needed this to help establish a routine of an early rise and gym session.

Modify the workout to fit your needs. I always had a printed copy with me that I took to the gym and kept track of each Murph training session so I could see and track my progress.

Looking Back

As mentioned above, depending on your fitness level and growth, consider scaling up the vest weight quicker than I did if you’re training for the Murph Challenge. It will allow your body to become better adapted to the additional load. Though you may not be able to do as many reps, you will build the strength and stamina needed to complete the challenge. The vest weight can always be reduced as needed to ensure your workouts progress per your schedule.

As I was entering my time for the Memorial Day Challenge (65:17), I was floored by all the amazing times under 60 minutes (and even 30 minutes!).  Here you can see all the official Murph Challenge times:

It’s truly amazing what these elite athletes can do. When I first read through the leader-board times, I was disappointed in my time. However, we must keep perspective. These are the best of the best athletes (at least when it comes to CrossFit and the Murph Challenge), so instead of being discouraged by the times, I now use them as motivation to keep the Murph as a weekly workout, and set my next goal for under 60 minutes. 

UPDATE (10/3/20): I maintained the weekly “Murph” workouts (2x), and did an individual challenge on 9/29/20. I achieved my goal of completing the full Murph in under 60 minutes (54:49)!

Next Stop – “Quarter” Motivation!

I plan to hold my own quarterly “Murph Challenges” to maintain motivation to keep with the Murph workouts.

These “micro” challenges will be based off the official Murph Challenge date (Memorial Day), thus my next personal challenge will be the fourth week of August, then the fourth week of November, and so on.

Thu Murph workout is a truly amazing full body blast (and mental challenge) that should be a staple in everyone’s training regimen, whether you ultimately do the Murph Challenge or not (however highly encouraged – it’s a great cause!).

If you have any specific questions on the workout template or how I structured the Murph Challenge training (and what I’d do different next time), please drop me a line – or @thefitlyf – I’d be more than happy to discuss!