Things I Learned from Murph This Year

By Kendra Whittle
May 31 2023

Things I Learned from Murph This Year

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer around America, and for CrossFitters, it’s much more than barbecues, swimming, and an extra Monday after work. Memorial Day brings Murph, the quintessential CrossFit workout completed by athletes nationwide.

If you aren’t familiar, Murph is a Hero WOD (a workout dedicated to a man or woman killed in the line of duty) in honor of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005 (read his heroic story here). The below workout was Murphy’s favorite.


1 mile run

100 pull-ups

200 push-ups

300 air squats

1 mile Run

*With a 20 lb vest or body armor

This was my fourth year during Murph, and like many athletes, I’ve done different versions and different partitions over the year. The thing about Murph is, it’s grueling. It’s supposed to be. Every year it finds a new way to humble me and work muscles I had frankly forgotten I had. But the other thing about Murph; it teaches me something every year.

By the time you read this article, Memorial Day 2023 will be past, and the traditional “Murph” day in your CrossFit box will be as well. But I invite you to read on, learn from my findings and bookmark this page for next year. You’ll thank me in 2024.

Photo Credit: Karryn Matthews

Lesson One: It’s Not About Me

As I walked into my CrossFit box, I felt some nervous butterflies in my stomach as I surveyed the room. The music was playing loud, and sweaty bodies were everywhere – getting at it. I won’t lie – it looked really REALLY hard, and I suddenly was doubting my life choices. What if my arms gassed out and I had to switch from banded pull-ups to ring rows? What if I was walking on my last mile? Why can’t I do a dang tricep push-up?

Whoa whoa whoa. Reality check time. While completing a brutal workout, getting a PR or adding on a weighted vest are all laudable accomplishments in the CrossFit realm, that is NOT what Murph is about.

CrossFitters do Murph because Michael Murphy can’t do his favorite workout anymore. We run two miles to and from our gym – Murphy ran straight into enemy-laden territory, blatantly exposing himself to mortal danger. We do our reps of pull-ups, push-ups and air squats surrounded and encouraged by friends and fellow athletes – Murphy and his team of four were heavily outnumbered by their enemies. Our muscles get sore, Murphy and his team were seriously wounded or killed. After finishing up,  we drink some water and go home to our loved ones – Murphy never did.

That’s why we do Murph. It’s not about us. It’s not about our fitness gains or our burned calories or our fastest time. It is about showing respect and honor to heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the freedoms we enjoy (and frankly, sometimes take advantage of).

Never forget that.

But It Is About Community

We often talk about how CrossFit is about community, and that couldn’t be clearer during the Murph workout. As someone who still feels like a CrossFit newb even after four Murphs, there is nothing more encouraging that working out alongside CrossFitters of all ages and experience levels. There were athletes with heavy weight vests breaking parallel on their squats, athletes strapping into bands for assisted pull ups, and athletes singing “Living On a Prayer” during the final half mile run. And then, there were burgers and beer (and watermelon – God bless whoever brought the watermelon).

No one cared how I was scaling. No one cared about my rep scheme. No one cared if they were “more fit” or “less fit” than me. But they did care that I did my best. They did care that I finished. And they cared enough to go “Hell yes, Kendra!” after my first run and to shout “KEEP AT IT!” during the grueling round 10, and to surround me with high fives and fist bumps after I was done.

And that’s what makes CrossFit great.

Photo Credit: Vip from East west

Your Rep Scheme Might Change Year to Year

We are generally encouraged to partition out the 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 air squats due to the sheer volume. Granted, some don’t! This year, one of my coaches decided to do the workout as prescribed – doing all 100 pull-ups before moving on to the push-ups, and so forth. When all was said and done, he didn’t say he necessarily recommended that strategy for everyone, but it’s an option.

Murph is follows a similar pattern to another workout we CrossFitters know and love (lookin’ at you, Cindy). This is one of the more popular rep schemes, and the one I used this year:

1 mile run
20 rounds of:
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 air squats
1 mile run

This is a different rep scheme than the one I did last year. Last year I was concerned that 20 rounds of ANYTHING would drive me crazy, so I halved the number of rounds but doubled the amount of work. It looked like this:

1 mile run
10 rounds of:
10 pull-ups
20 push-ups
30 air squats
1 mile run

My reason for changing it up was wanting to progress my pull-up strength, which would require fewer unbroken reps. But you do you! You can even partition out your reps out depending on your strengths. For instance, if push-ups are the challenge, maybe try:

20 rounds of:

5 push-ups

5 pull-ups

5 push-ups

15 squats

Or if you want smaller squat sets:

20 rounds of:

5 pullups

5 squats

5 pushups

10 squats

5 pushups

The point is, there’s no right or wrong way to break up Murph! Just get the reps done!

Plan for Modifications

If you’re just getting started to CrossFit, or pull-ups, push-ups, or running are just not your strengths, the rep scheme might look daunting (that’s on purpose, remember!). And there is absolutely no shame in making the workout work for you.

If running hangs you up, you could plan a run-walk scheme, like running for one minute and then walking for one minute. You could also shorten the distance – running a half mile each way, or a mile at the beginning and a half mile at the end (or vice versa). You can also walk the miles.

If pull-ups are the problem, use a small band. You can even have a medium sized band on standby. Personally, I started with strict pull ups using a medium band and switched to the occasional kipping banded pull-ups for the extra momentum. You can also go to ring rows or to other pull-up variations (like a jumping pull-up). For push-ups, you can drop to your knees.

The point is, what works in round 1 might not work in round 10, and what worked in round 10 might not work by round 18. Make a plan for modifications, and a back-up plan. Maybe you’ll need it, maybe you won’t. But you’ll have it!

What is the importance of Murph? and why we do it.

Don’t Underestimate the Run!

That final Murph mile was the longest 9 minutes of my life. Luckily, my box had incorporated running training into Murph prep, and I encourage you to as well! It’s easy to see the running as the warm-up and cool-down, but don’t shortchange it, especially at the end!

I recommend utilizing 200m runs, interspersed with 3-5 rounds of Cindy, three times. You could also use 100m sprints or even half mile runs before and after. But whatever you do, RESIST THE URGE to go out hard during the first mile of Murph. Fight the surge of adrenaline pushing you to want to go hard and fast in the beginning. You’ll need those energy reserves later.

While running, especially under fatigue, concentrate on a steady cadence. Focus on slow inhales and exhales to keep your heart rate under control. Keep in mind your legs will be tired and might give out if you transition from squats back to running too quickly, so take a deep breath and maybe a drink of water before that last run.

See you in 2024!

Check out our awesome Father’s Day gift ideas

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