How to Scale Murph Workout With These Easy Steps!

Written By Shona  |  Murph 

CrossFit Hero workout ‘Murph’ is a brutal test which beginners may feel intimidated by - but that’s no reason not to take part in honoring Navy SEAL, Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Just like every other CrossFit workout, Murph is scalable for athletes of all abilities, and in this article I’m going to show you how to do that effectively.  

How long does a scaled Murph take?

If you’re wondering how long a scaled Murph takes, you’re asking the wrong question. The best way to scale a workout is by asking how long the Rx version is designed to take then figuring out what variation you can do so that you finish roughly around that time. This is the key to preserving the stimulus of the workout across all abilities. 

The current world record time for completing Murph with a weighted vest is 34:38, set by Rich Froning. For completing the workout without a vest, the record is 28:45, set by Josh Bridges. Keeping in mind that these are record times, I would recommend trying to choose a version of Murph that allows you to keep moving and finish around the 40 minute mark, certainly under 60 minutes. 

How to scale Murph workout

How do you modify the Murph?

There are so many ways you can modify Murph to suit your own individual ability level. If you can do all of the movements but the overall volume is too high for you, you can modify it by halving the runs and total reps, and partitioning them in a way that allows you keep moving throughout.

If the movements themselves are the barrier, I have a solution for that too! Pull-ups can be scaled to ring rows, jumping pull-ups, banded pull-ups or seated band pull-downs.

Coach Ben recently created a video on YouTube where you can see these variations (and others) in action.

When it comes to the push ups, I have a few simple scaling options that will help ensure you don’t get stuck trying to grind out scrappy reps - remember there’s 200 of them to get through altogether! 

Firstly, you could keep your hands on the floor, and complete your push ups from your knees but I’m a big fan of scaling to box push ups instead. This way, you keep the same straight body position that you have with an Rx push up, but you elevate your hands on a box (or any sturdy surface) to make it easier.

If a box is still too low for you, try racking a barbell as high as you need to and holding that while you push away from it until your arms are fully extended. See all of these options in the video below - and how to avoid common push up mistakes.

The list of possibilities are endless when it comes to scaling this workout; running can be switched for walking, box squats can be introduced to reduce the range of motion of the air squats and band pull-downs can be used instead of pull-ups. Remember, though, that if an athlete’s ability level means they need such modifications, they will also likely need to reduce the total reps and distance significantly. 

What progressions can I do for Murph?

If you’re aiming to Rx Murph in the future, there are some key progressions you can work through over the course of months or even years, depending on your starting point. The first step is figuring out which movement is your sticking point. The one that is stopping you from Rx’ng this workout. It could be all of them, and that’s ok!

If it’s the running portion, that’s fairly easy to progress. Adding in 2-3 short running sessions per week building up to a total distance of 2-3 miles unbroken should mean that you’re adequately prepared and ready to nail this part.

You can start off by running for a minute then walking for a minute for as long as you can comfortably manage, then gradually build up the running time and reducing the walking time until you no longer need to walk. If you need to start with 30 seconds of running and one minute of walking, that’s a great start too. Do what works for you.

For the pull-ups, I suggest working through these exercises in this order for a simple progression;

  1. Band pull-downs:
    Sit on the floor with a band attached to a pull up bar above you, and simply pull the band down to your chest. Hold for a second at the chest on each rep if you can and make sure your arms are fully extended at the top. You can progress the difficulty of this by using thicker bands as you build strength. 
  2. Banded pull-ups:
    This one is super effective for building pulling strength and progressing it easily. It’s the exact same movement as the pull-up, but you’re adding some assistance using a band by attaching it to your pull-up bar and putting one foot into the other end of the band before you begin. You can make this more challenging by reducing the thickness of the band as you get stronger until you no longer need a band at all!
  3. Alongside banded pull-ups you can add negatives:
    Begin holding the pull-up bar with your feet on a box then jump to pull your chin over the bar and start lowering down as slowly as you can. If this is too hard and you instantly plummet to the bottom, try the same exercise but with a band

    You can watch Coach Ben go over all of these movements in the video below.

How do you split the Murph workout?

You can partition the reps of Murph any way that stops you spending huge chunks of the workout resting! If you wanted, you could do 1 pull-up, 2 push ups and 3 squats but I think that, mentally, 100 sets of anything would be brutal.  

My favorite version is what we at WODprep call ‘Smart Sets’. It’s similar to the ‘Cindy’ style (20 sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push ups, 15 air squats), but Smart Sets involves splitting up the troublesome push ups even further so it looks like 5 pull-ups, 5 push ups, 15 air squats and back to 5 push ups. This gives your upper body a quick break and allows you to move through the small sets of push ups faster. Smart, huh?

20 reps still seem too many? If you’re confident you can move through bigger sets without resting too much, you could go for 10 sets of 10/20/30. 

Of course, you can also choose to go unpartitioned with 100 pull-ups, 200 push ups and 300 air squats straight through - but that’s not for the faint of heart! 

To Summarize:

This challenging workout has endless possibilities for scaling, so don’t be put off doing it just because you can’t Rx one or two of the movements in it. Partition the reps in a way that helps you to work through them efficiently and choose variations of movements that allow you to perform them effectively. Whatever version you go for, remember the why behind this WOD and don’t let your ego get in the way!

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