I have a basic approach when it comes to fitness. Do some running. Hike. Get on your bike. Lift heavy things. Lift, run, bike, hike for short.
But I like taking on different challenges, even if they’re out of my wheelhouse.
On Memorial Day, a lot of people like to do a Crossfit workout called “Murph.” I’m not a crossfitter, and I’ve got no plans to be. But they do some things right in the Crossfit world (they’re getting more people into barbell training than anything else right now), and some of these workouts are definitely worth trying.
So on Monday, I decided I join the legions doing Murph. For all you curious non-crossfitters, this one’s for you.
FIRST OF ALL…
Lt. Michael Murphy, aka “Murph.” (U.S. Navy photo)
Let’s get this straight, because it’s important: What is “Murph?”
The more accurate question is not what, but who.
“Murph” is Lt. Michael Murphy, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. If you’ve read the book “Lone Survivor” or saw the movie of the same title, then you know his story and that of his team. If you don’t know it, look it up. A small group of SEALS fought like hell against huge numerical odds, even while gravely wounded.
Murphy invented this workout, which he called “body armor.” Following his death, the workout was named in his honor.
So what’s the workout? Glad you asked.
It’s simple: Run one mile, do 100 pull-ups, do 200 push-ups, do 300 body-weight squats, then run another mile.
Well, there’s also this: In its strictest form, you also do this with a weighted 20-pound vest.
The goal is to do it in less than an hour. Really fit people can do it in 45 minutes.
Here’s what I figured: I run plenty. I lift several times a week. And I’m getting decent at pull-ups. Why not give it a shot?
I’m also a realist. I don’t own a weighted vest and didn’t have access to one. Being the first time I tried this, I decided to skip the weighted part.
Crossfitters will kip their pull-ups. I refuse. I’ll do them as strict as I can as long as I can.
I doubt there are many people who can do 100 pull-ups in a row, even if they’re kipping. Same is probably true of the other exercises. I’d be breaking these up into manageable chunks, hoping to make good time.
WHERE I DID IT
I went to a high school track/football field. The track offered me an easy way to measure out a mile and stay close to some water I brought.
The track was a good idea, but this plan had its problems. For starters, it was 91 degrees and mostly sunny, with a heat index of 95. That sort of heat will elevate your heart rate far above what it would normally be indoors or, say, any other time of year. Since I’d be doing the non-running exercises on the field, it would feel even hotter.
Also, there was a lack of decent places to do pull-ups. I settled for a soccer goal crossbar. The steel tubing didn’t offer much grip; it was fat enough that I was more “palming” the bar than gripping it. So that was working against me.
But hey, who cares? If you’re going to do Murph, don’t bitch about your problems. The workout will be hard enough as it is.
HOW IT WENT
The first mile run was a breeze, mostly because I didn’t push too hard. Maybe a 9:30 pace, trying to conserve energy for the work to come.
Once that was done, it was time for the pull-ups. I started doing sets of 6 to 8 reps, taking short breaks. But soon, the sheer volume was killing me. So I scaled it by switching from overhand grip pull-ups to underhand grip chin-ups. I know, lame. But I needed to get reps to move on.
By the time I got to 52 reps, I realized I’d be out there forever unless I found ways to knock out reps in the other exercises. So at the point, I supersetted chins with pull-ups and squats. That helped.
But dang, if this isn’t a whole other kind of fitness. I do all sorts of conditioning drills when I run, but this is just different. The steady flow of work and the heat radiating off the artificial turf surface I was on spiked my heart rate something good. By the time I was done with all that mess, it was time for that second mile-long run.
A zombie shuffle ensued. Maybe one of the slowest miles I’ve ever “run.”
When I was finished, I missed that 60-minute goal. By a lot. I definitely was not physically up to the task of making that goal. I shuffled off the field and into my car a sweaty, beat-down mess. Lesson learned. Murph is legit.
The next day, I was sore in some expected places, mostly in my shoulders and upper back. But not in my legs (you’d think 300 squats would have done something, but nope). But I was surprisingly sore in my abs. I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps I should do more core, eh? Anyway, it was a built-in excuse to not lift the following day. I ran three miles and called it good.
What I’ve learned about fitness is that when you do something different, expect to suck at it. I’ve learned this many times over.
I used to play a lot of basketball, maybe three or four times a week. And not that half-court BS, either. We ran the court, fast breaks and all. I got to where I could handle that. But run more than a couple of miles? I might as well have been trying to climb Mount Everest. Two different types of fitness.
Another example: Back when I was doing jujitsu, we had a new guy come in. He told us he’d be fine in terms of conditioning: The dude ran six miles a day. When the workout was over, he was outside puking in the parking lot. Once again, a different kind of fitness.
The same is true here. I know Murph is not indicative of everything Crossfit, but it is a good example of the type of training crossfitters do. Murph is not a strength test; It’s a conditioning test with some elements of strength involved. So while I lift frequently and hard and do my fair share of conditioning drills (400-meter intervals and negative split workouts come to mind), what I do is not going to go that far with something like Murph.
Crossfit bills itself as preparing its trainees to be fit enough to do anything at any time – they pride themselves as fitness “generalists” and through their Crossfit Games, aim to crown the winners as “the fittest people on earth.” There’s some truth to that, although Crossfit programming seems to create a lot of people who need shoulder surgeries.
But there is value in trying new things, and finding your weaknesses. On Monday, on that steaming hot high school track, Murph helped me find a few of mine. I might have to try it again.