If you are in the world of fitness or are familiar with CrossFit, you have probably heard of the Murph Challenge.
Every year on Memorial Day, people across the globe honor fallen service members by completing the Murph challenge.
This article will cover what the Murph Challenge is, how to sign up for it and how to finish this grueling test of fitness.
The Murph workout is one of the CrossFit “hero” WODs, or workout of the day. These workouts are performed to honor the memories of those who served in the armed forces and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“Murph” honors the life of Lieutenant Michael Murphy from Patchogue, NY, who died serving in Afghanistan in 2005.
The Murph workout is done for time and consists of:
- A one-mile run
- 100 pull-ups
- 200 push-ups
- 300 squats
- Another one-mile run
The Murph workout is performed while wearing a 20lbs (~9kg) weighted vest or body armor (1). These are standard for this WOD in competition, but most CrossFit boxes allow people to work up to the weighted vest in training.
The Murph workout is a CrossFit workout where you run one mile, do 100 pull-ups, 200, push-ups, 300 bodyweight squats, and then run another mile while wearing a 20lb vest.
Lieutenant Michael Murphy was a SEAL team member who lost his life serving his country in Afghanistan in 2005 during Operation Red Wings (2).
On the morning of June 28th, Lt. Michael Murphy and Petty Officers Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson, and Marcus Luttrell were dropped into the mountains of Afghanistan, only to be ambushed by more than fifty militiamen after a local accidentally wandered onto their position and gave it up.
The four soldiers were heavily outnumbered, but put up a strong fight. During the ambush, Lt. Murphy risked his own life by coming out from cover, finding a signal, and calling for help.
Murphy, Dietz, and Axelson died that day along with 8 additional SEALS and 8 Army Night Stalker service members when their helicopter was shot down in its pursuit of saving the the 4 men.
Luttrell escaped, barely alive. Locals discovered his body and took it to a village where he was cared for over three days before being rescued by the SEALs.
LT Michael Murphy was a Navy SEAL who was killed during Operation Red Wings—his story is told in the film and book Lone Survivor.
Dr. Joshua Appel, the chief of emergency medicine for the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System served as an Air Force pararescueman in 2005.
He was the team leader that helped rescue Marcus Luttrell and recover Michael Murphy and Danny Dietz. He kept the body armor he wore when he recovered Murphy’s body.
Two years later he decided to gather everyone at his CrossFit gym to do the “Murph” on Memorial Day to recognize Michael Murphy and those who have lost their lives in active service.
They continued to do the workout every year until 2010, when Dr. Appel contacted Michael’s father, Dan Murphy and asked if he could start a national fundraiser.
He then built a website and asked members to join in doing the Murph Challenge for a small fee. All the proceeds from the donations would go to the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation.
Each year, the challenge has grown. In 2011, 7,800 people signed up and donated. The next year — with the help of Mike Sauers who founded the apparel brand Forged — the number was over 10,000 people.
The Murph Challenge began when a former pararescueman decided to honor LT Michael Murphy and all our fallen soldiers by completing the “Murph” workout every year with his local gym, until it grew to include participants across the whole world.
The Murph Challenge happens every year on Memorial Day, May 30th. Registration for the event begins online April 1st, where you can get a T-shirt to join the online community of athletes taking part.
The Murph Challenge is a tough, long workout.
For most people this workout will take more than an hour. Currently, the world record time for completing the Murph Challenge is held by Alex Blenis, who completed the workout in just over 22 minutes (3).
You will need endurance as well as strength to complete the Murph Challenge. In fact, research has shown that one-rep-max strength has little to no correlation with a workout such as the Murph (
Researchers found that the lift time was a more strongly correlated with good performance than the run time in the workout. So, although you need to be able to complete the runs at the beginning and end, the real meat-and-potatoes of the challenge is going to be the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats (
The same study also found that because of the bodyweight movements in the workout, having a low body-fat percentage aids in the completion of this workout (
Because of the high-rep nature of these different movements, you need to have a really strong foundation in each movement to finish the workout and avoid injury.
In 2018, a meta-study was conducted on CrossFit workouts and it showed that participants were most at risk of shoulder injuries during gymnastic movements such as pullups (
Yet in this workout you will complete 100 pullups — so not only are you going to have to break up the reps into smaller sets, but you are also going to have to make sure you are quite skilled at that exercise, especially if you are then going to add a 20 pound weighted vest to the equation.
Below are some tips to scale the workout and training for all levels.
This is actually two miles because you repeat the run at the end of the workout, when you’re extremely fatigued from all the other exercises. Practice this run separately on your training sessions so you can focus on improving your mile-time.
Modifications: If running hurts your joints or you want a different challenge, you can use the stationary bike or a rower.
You are going to have to break these up into smaller sets. Make sure you can do at least 15-20 strict pull-ups before you add the weighted vest.
Also, Crossfitters do pull-ups a little differently than the average strength athlete, and often use a kipping motion to help the movement.
Get a good idea in training of how many reps you can do at once, so you know how to break up the reps. A 2021 study on pacing for different CrossFit modalities recommends knowing the degree of effort it takes for one repetition of an exercise to complete more reps without gassing out (6).
You don’t want to burn out on these in the first few sets because once your grip goes, it’s going to be hard to recover.
Modifications: If you can’t do pull-ups, consider attaching a resistance band to the pull-up bar to aid in the movement. Also, if your shoulders do not do well with overhead movements, attach a TRX strap or gymnastic rings to the bar and do bodyweight rows.
In training, test yourself to see how many pushups you can complete in a set. Then you can figure out how many reps to do during the challenge per set.
If you are proficient at pushups these will not seem too challenging, but remember you are doing them after a one-mile run and 100 pull-ups, so your core is going to be the most taxed doing these.
Modifications: You can always perform incline pushups to give you some assistance on the leverage front.
Grab a bench, chair, or jump box and place your hands on that to make the pushups a little easier.
When you get better at this over time, lower the height of the implement that’s aiding you until you get to the floor.
If you can already do 30 bodyweight squats with ease this part of the workout is going to be less about strength and more about your endurance. You have already completed a mile-run and 300 reps of other exercises.
Practice some high rep sets of squats in training and focus on your breath control.
Modifications: Bring back that chair or bench you used to help with the pushups and squat onto that to help with your balance and strength in the movement. Just like the pushups, over time, lower the height of that object until you don’t need it anymore.
Train for the Murph by practicing the pull-ups, the push-ups, the bodyweight squats, and the run separately. Master each movement before adding higher and reps and modify as needed.
All you need for this workout is a pullup bar, the space in which to safely complete the pushups and squats, a one-mile distance to run, and a 20lb weighted vest if you want to do the full version of the challenge.
You also may want a stopwatch to time it.
The Murph Challenge has become an international event, and a way for Americans to remember fallen soldiers.
It’s a test of fitness on Memorial Day that anyone can sign up for, no matter your level of fitness.
It requires little equipment, but it is a very serious challenge so make sure you’re proficient in the movements before taking it on, unless you decide to modify the exercises to best suit your physical needs. Next Memorial Day, honor the sacrifice of our soldiers with a workout that gets your heart pumping and makes you feel alive.