The exhausted but elated men who took the top three spots at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games sat at the post-Games press conference, eating hard-earned Dominos pizza as they waited for the first question.
Then it came: “What did each of you think was the hardest workout of The Games?”
The podium athletes didn’t take turns explaining their individual struggles. The answer was quick and unanimous: “Murph,” all three competitors—Ben Smith, Mat Fraser, and Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson—said with a cringe followed by a knowing laugh.
Murph only requires a 20-pound weight vest. But it’s designed to throw you into the pain cave and let you suffer there for as long as you let it.
The timed workout—where you wear a 20-pound weight vest throughout—goes like this: Run one mile, then do 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, and then run another mile. The winning time was just under 39 minutes, while 10 percent of competitors failed to meet the 55-minute time cap.
It’s a brutal event named after Navy SEAL Officer Michael Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan and received the Medal of Honor for his heroics in Operation Red Wings (his story is told in the book and movie “Lone Survivor”). The workout was Murphy’s favorite—he performed it while wearing heavy body armor while deployed, and it’s since been named in his honor.
“My strategy was to not go too hard in the first run,” said Guðmundsson who took 1st place in Murph and 3rd place overall. “From there I just tried to keep a good pace.”
Fraser, who took 2nd in Murph and 2nd place overall, said his tactic was to pace the first run and the pushups, but go all out on the squats and final run.
“I did doubles [sets of just two reps] on pushups, and then I just knew if I wanted a shot at the podium I’d have to cycle through my squats quickly,” he says. “Then in the run I just tried to pick off a couple people in front of me and keep going.”
Afterwards, each competitor was fried. “I think it put everyone at a deficit for the weekend,” said Fraser.
Dave Castro, Games Director for CrossFit, says he was surprised the toll that Murph took on the competitors. And Daniel Petro, who has competed in the Reebok CrossFit Games, says that the impact Murph had on the athletes was apparent in their subsequent event numbers.
“For example, most of them lifted around 30 to 40 pounds under their personal best in the Snatch Speed Ladder.” That’s an event where competitors take turns trying to snatch—an explosive Olympic lift—as much weight as possible.
If you want to try Murph for yourself, throw on a 20-pound weight vest and do:
1-Mile Run 100 Pullups 200 Pushups 300 Air Squats 1-Mile Run
Follow the strategy of the winning CrossFit competitors: Pace yourself on the first run, and break the bodyweight exercises up into “mini sets,” where you never reach muscular failure.
The workout requires a very high fitness level—don’t be surprised if it takes you well over an hour.
If the workout is too hard—and it will be for most people—try it without the weight vest. Another option: Many CrossFit boxes do “Mini Murph,” where they run half a mile, then do 25 pullups, 50 pushups, 75 squats, and then run a final half mile.