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Training for The Murph Challenge

Posted by Casey Stenehjem on Apr 22nd 2022

A male athlete doing pull-ups in the park
Are you ready to begin training for The Murph Challenge?

How to Train for The Murph Challenge: A 4-Week Training Program

Each year around the end of May, you're probably used to seeing your social media blow up with pictures and comments about a workout called "The Murph." You've probably wondered to yourself, "What is The Murph Challenge, and why is it so popular?"

In this article, I'll share more the history of The Murph workout along with a 4-week training plan to get you ready to perform The Murph Challenge, whether you're a beginner or an experienced athlete who needs a training program.

The Murph workout happens to be my favorite workout, and I’m excited to share this training program with you!

What Is The Murph Challenge?

About LT Michael P. Murphy

LT Michael P. Murphy, a U.S. Navy SEAL, was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005. You may recognize his name from the movie Lone Survivor, a dramatized biographic film that depicts his SEAL team's mission. Murphy sacrificed his life to save others in the line of duty, for which he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in October 2007.

Murphy's family started the LT Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation to honor his legacy. He was an avid reader who felt that education was vital. His favorite saying was, "Education will set you free." The Foundation currently awards 27 annual scholarships.

The History of The Murph Challenge

The Murph is a hero workout in honor of LT Murphy and is often performed each year on Memorial Day. CrossFit has a series of hero WODs (workout of the day) to honor women and men who have fallen in the line of duty. Even if you don’t participate in CrossFit, you’re still more than welcome to perform The Murph. Since it’s primarily a bodyweight workout, the only workout equipment you need is a pull-up bar, but it’s quite common to see groups doing The Murph in public parks.

LT Murphy’s favorite workout was called “Body Armor,” but it has since been renamed “The Murph” as a tribute. The full-blown workout is below.

The Murph Workout:

The workout consists of:

  • 1-mile run
  • 100 pull-ups
  • 200 push-ups
  • 300 squats
  • 1-mile run

Some advanced athletes will perform The Murph Challenge with a 20 lb vest for men and a 15 lb vest for women.

Now, before you stop reading this article because you can't do pull-ups or run further than a quarter mile without stopping: it's okay. I've laid out a plan for how you can train to do the complete Murph Challenge or partition it so that you can successfully participate in The Murph Challenge as a newbie!

Training for The Murph Challenge

There Are 2 Ways to Complete The Murph Workout

Option 1: You do it all as-is.

After running one mile, you do 100 pull-ups, then 200 push-ups, followed by 300 squats, and another 1-mile run, with or without the vest.

Adding the vest is called the RX version, AKA the most challenging version. Many cannot perform their first Murph this way, and that’s ok. But if you want to use the vest, be sure to train with it rather than waiting until the day of the challenge to add it in.

Option 2: You can partition the workout.

When you partition The Murph workout, you can do the following:

  • 1-mile run
  • 20 sets of
    • 5 pull-ups,
    • 10 push-ups,
    • 15 squats,
  • Finish with a 1-mile run, with or without a vest.

However, if you know you can’t easily do 10 push-ups in a row, you can partition it like this:

  • 1-mile run
  • 20 sets of
    • 5 pull-ups,
    • 5 push-ups,
    • 15 squats,
    • 5 push-ups,
  • 1-mile run

If you’ve never completed The Murph workout before, I highly recommend starting by partitioning it and not wearing a vest.

Training for Volume With The Murph Workout

If you're an advanced athlete and can easily do sets of 10 pull-ups or over 20 push-ups at once, you might consider a vest, but it's essential to think through how much volume you typically do. The Murph is a long workout, so it quickly adds up, which will change the feel of those movements when you do all of it at once. I would still recommend The Murph without the vest if it's your first go.

The biggest challenge with The Murph workout is understanding how much volume there is. It's a long, endurance-based workout. The Murph takes the average athlete a minimum of 50 minutes to upwards of 1.5 hours. It's a common mistake to think, "Oh, I can run, do some pull-ups, push-ups, and squats."

As you'll see below, I designed my 4-week training program to slowly increase the volume over the days and weeks. A slow progression helps you build up to and adapt to the volume.

4 Week Training Program for The Murph Challenge

The most common way to train for The Murph is to partition with 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats. That's the format this training program follows. If you're training to perform The Murph on Memorial Day 2022, start this training program before May 2nd, 2022.

The Murph is about muscular and cardiovascular endurance, so starting your training more than 4 weeks out isn't a bad idea. Here are some modifications to consider:

Week 1:

Day 1 and Day 2:

Rest as needed

Day 3:

  • Run for 8 minutes
  • 8 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)
    • 5 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
    • 5 push-ups

Rest as needed

Pro Tip:

If you can do all 10 push-ups at once, do so and skip the last round of push-ups.

Week 2:

Day 1 and Day 2:

  • Run for 5 minutes
  • 8 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)
    • 10 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
  • Run for 5 minutes

Rest as needed

Day 3:

  • Run for 8 minutes
  • 10 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)
    • 10 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
  • Run for 8 minutes

Rest as needed

Week 3:

Day 1 and Day 2:

  • Run for 5 minutes
  • 12 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)  
    • 10 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
  • Run for 8 minutes

Rest as needed

Day 3:

  • Run 1 mile
  • 12 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)
    • 10 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
  • Run for 10 minutes or 1 mile, whichever comes first

Rest as needed

Pro Tip:

Since The Murph is a timed workout, it helps to pace your sets. Time your average pace set of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats in Week 3. See if you can sustain that in your actual Murph.

Week 4:

Day 1:

  • Run 1 mile
  • 15 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)
    • 10 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
  • Run for 10 minutes or 1 mile, whichever comes first

Rest as needed

Pro Tip:

Pace yourself — it's very common to run a 9 or 12-minute mile as a first-timer. Think of the first 1-mile run as your warm-up. You'll still want to pace yourself for the second mile, but this is where you can turn up the pace.

Day 2:

  • Run 0.7 miles for speed
  • 10 sets of:
    • 5 pull-ups (modify as needed)
    • 10 push-ups (modify as needed)
    • 15 air squats
  • Run 0.7 miles

Rest as needed

Day 3: Recovery Day!

A light running is okay. However, focus on muscle recovery for your body to prepare for the entire workout. Try foam rolling, stretching, or other similar mobility movements. You could also get a massage or spend some time in the sauna.

I'd recommend these recovery practices throughout this 4-week training program. However, the few days leading up to a full workout are essential for recovery. Be sure to consume some electrolytes and get a good night's sleep the few nights before The Murph.

Additional Pro Tips for Training for The Murph Challenge

You can always increase the challenge year by year. Perhaps next year you'll work on reducing your time. Maybe the year after that, you can do the layout of a 1-mile run followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats. Then, progress to the vest and choose which path you want to train from there.

You can also train and perform The Murph whenever you'd like! Perhaps you train for it 2 or 3 times a year, which will likely improve your success and growth year by year.

Murph training is common for those with a strength training history of over 2 years. This is important from a joint, tendon, and ligament health standpoint. If you're new to strength training altogether, I'd recommend building strength training into your weekly routine, working your way up to 3 or 4 times a week.

YBell is an award-winning free weight for strength training and resistance training in your home gym. And we've got excellent online workouts and training programs via the YBell Fitness app to help develop the needed strength to prepare for the compound bodyweight movements you'll encounter with The Murph.

Completing The Murph Challenge is a huge feat! One that is most definitely possible but will need some specific, focused training to get there. Remember this as you grind your way through on Memory Day: a fallen soldier was willing to selflessly sacrifice his life for ours. In a way, this is an easy day for us to pay tribute.

Casey Stenehjem

Casey has been a health and fitness professional since 2009, after graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science. She has helped hundreds of people achieve their fitness goals. From working with beginners, youth, older adults, and almost everyone in between, Casey loves to blend her diverse knowledge and experience to help guide her clients to where they want to be. Her philosophy is simple: meet people where they are today in order to help them learn, grow, and excel through education in nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes unique to them.

Casey’s certifications include:

  • Z-health R-phase, Z-health I-phase, Z-health S-phase, Z-health T-phase, Z-Health Strength and Suppleness  
  • Functional Range Conditioning Level 1
  • NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist
  • ACE Certified Personal Trainer  
  • Precision Nutrition Level 1  
  • USA Weightlifting Certified