The Murph workout explained: what is it, how to do it, and how to adapt it for different fitness levels

 An exercise class performing push-ups.
An exercise class performing push-ups.

The Murph workout is among the world’s most famous, and toughest, fitness tests. It was created to celebrate the legacy of US Navy SEAL Lieutenant Michael Murphy, and it's completed by thousands of people around the world each Memorial Day under the banner of the 'Murph Challenge'.

The workout is a devilish 600-rep test comprising push-ups, pull-ups, and squats, all sandwiched between a couple of one-mile runs – and if that's not challenging enough, to do it to the letter you also need to wear a weighted vest throughout.

For those planning on taking part in the annual tradition this Memorial Day, we’ve outlined everything you need to know below, including scaling options if you don’t feel quite ready to take on the workout in its entirety.

How to do the Murph workout

The full version of the challenge comprises:

  • One-mile run

  • Pull-up x 100

  • Push-up x 200

  • Squat x 300

  • One-mile run

To do the Murph workout, you need to complete a one-mile run followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and finally another one-mile run. The full version of the workout requires you to wear body armor or a weight vest (20lbs / 9kg for men, 14lbs / 6.5kg for women). But be warned, this is only for people who are familiar with workouts of this intensity.

The runs are always completed in their entirety at the start and end of the workout, but there is some debate on whether you can 'partition' the bodyweight exercises in the middle. 'Partition' simply means breaking them up into smaller, more manageable chunks and cycling through the moves as a circuit.

When the Murph has feeatured at the CrossFit Games, athletes have been required to complete 100 pull-ups, then 200 push-ups, then 300 squats. However, a popular approach for everyday gym-goers like myself is to split this work into 20 rounds of a circuit comprising five pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats. You could even do 100 rounds of one pull-up, two push-ups and three squats, if you felt that way inclined – you can adapt the size of the sets to suit your fitness level.

CrossFit’s general manager Dave Castro addressed the partitioning debate ahead of Memorial Day 2024, saying: “You can do it any way you want… Whatever perspective you go into it with, as a gym or your local community, you guys decide and set the standards.

How to do the Murph workout scaled

You can perform a scaled-down version of the workout by completing:

  • One-mile run

  • Pull-up x 50

  • Push-up x 100

  • Squat x 150

  • One-mile run

On its website, CrossFit provides three different versions of this workout: RX (as prescribed), intermediate and beginner. The workout above is the intermediate version. The flow is exactly the same as the RX original, and you can partition it as you see fit, but you only need to do half as many repetitions of each of the bodyweight exercises.

You can also try the beginner version, detailed below:

For time:

  • Run 800m

10 rounds of:

  • Ring row x 5

  • Push-up x 10 (these can be knee push-ups, or performed with your hands on a sturdy raised surface like a weight bench or box to make them easier)

  • Squat x 15

Finish with:

  • Run 800m

Here, the running portions are half as long, and two of the bodyweight exercises are swapped out for more accessible movements which target the same muscle groups. However, make no mistake about it, this is still a challenging test of your fitness.

Tips for the Murph workout

1. Don't go too fast on the first run

The first one-mile run is just a buy-in. Don’t go out too hot, or you risk tiring yourself out before reaching the meat and potatoes of the workout. Instead, pace it sensibly, and keep your heart rate under control so you’re ready to transition smoothly into the bodyweight exercises.

2. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast

This cliché gets tossed around a lot in the fitness world, but it rings true here. Rather than rushing from exercise to exercise, focus on moving well and purposefully. This is likely to save your muscles slightly, stop your heart rate from spiking too early, and help you move consistently through the workout without needing lengthy breaks nearer the end. The result? A faster finishing time overall.

3. Don't bite off more than you can chew early on

You shouldn’t take your early sets of the bodyweight exercises to failure – the point where you can’t physically do another repetition. Doing this will fatigue your muscles faster, making the rest of the workout feel like an uphill battle and forcing you to reduce the size of your sets later on.

Instead, keep a few reps in the tank at the end of each set. This will keep your muscles feeling fresh(-ish) throughout the workout, so you can keep tearing off decent chunks of the total prescribed work with each set.

4. Make sure you have the right equipment

If you’re going to do this workout with a weight vest, make sure it’s a good one that’s secured correctly to prevent rubbing and discomfort. The GoRuck training weight vest is the go-to choice for many CrossFit athletes.

You’ll also want a shoe that is supportive enough to see you through two miles of running in comfort, but still offers ample stability for 300 squats. Having tried most of the top CrossFit shoes on the market, I'd recommend the Reebok Nano X4 or Inov8 F-Fly for a good balance of these two attributes.

The history of the Murph workout

Murph is a CrossFit hero workout. These are workouts which are “meant to honor the memories of CrossFit service members who made the ultimate sacrifice”.

Murph is designed to celebrate the legacy of US Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy, who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan in June, 2005.

In 2014, the Murph Challenge was launched to raise money for the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which supports children’s education by awarding a number of scholarships each year.

Through the Murph Challenge, it has become a tradition for people across the world to complete the Murph workout on Memorial Day, remembering Lt. Murphy and all others who served while raising money for the foundation.

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