Safety first! Safety is far more important than completing the Murph. It is entirely possible to get halfway through the workout, feel a shoulder tweak, a cramp, or a slight muscle pull, and feel like you can just push through it.
Keep in mind, recoveries take longer than repeating the workout, so here are a few tips to reduce your risk of injury while completing the M-A-M Challenge.
Start Training Early
Let’s not sugar coat it. The Murph is going to be a challenge regardless of your fitness level. It is one of the simplest and most challenging exercise regiments out there. You need to start training for it.
It’s best if you have good knowledge of your running pace and your pull-up, push-up, and air squat capabilities. If you being this challenge cold turkey, it’ll feel like it, and you will increase your risk of injury.
The M-A-M Challenge is a high-intensity workout that will get you sweating and keep you sweating. So, your body needs to be hydrated in order to perform.
If you do the workout early, start hydrating the day before. If you do it in the evening, begin hydrating 4-6 hours prior to exercising. Drink 8 ounces of water 20–30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up. Take additional water breaks during Murph if needed.
Get Loose and Warmed Up
The Murph is a full-body workout that will demand a great deal from your muscles. Prior to starting this workout, you should warm up with some light aerobic work (i.e., jogging, rowing, low-repetition air squats and push-ups).
Not only can a simple warm up improve your range of motion and reduce the risk of injury, but also it can improve your time significantly.
After warming up, complete dynamic stretches for the ankles, calves, quads, hamstrings, hips, back, wrists, arms, and shoulders.
The key to preventing early burnout during the Murph is to pace yourself. Going too fast too soon can put you in a world of hurt—trying to catch your breath and to lower your heart rate—within the first few sets.
Begin at a pace that you can maintain throughout the entire workout. Again, start training early so you can discover your appropriate pace.
Recover... Not with beer
A recovery regiment should be standard after every workout. While some athletes prefer water, others prefer electrolytes, but the important thing is that you have a plan to help your body recover and grow stronger.
Eating a snack with carbs and protein is a good way to reward your body and your mind soon after the workout. Stretching and foam-rolling can help mitigate soreness and accelerate the muscle recovery process.
While the Murph can provide tremendous benefits to your brain, joints, muscles, lungs, energy, sexual function, and sleep, the benefits of Murph aren’t just physical—this workout requires mental strength and commitment.
The average completion time of the Murph for a relatively fit athlete ranges between 35-50 minutes. The Murph is a long, intense, full-body workout that will test your endurance.
Two miles and 600 total reps is enough to challenge anyone, and a good cardiovascular self-awareness is paramount to completing it safely within your self-prescribed time limit.
Challenge yourself. Set a goal. But understand that you need to prepare your heart for it.
Veterans and first responders face challenges that require superb mental strength. It takes a great deal of willpower and dedication to complete a workout like Murph.
The commitment required to complete this challenge will familiarize you with the commitment required by our men and women in uniform. There is no quit!
Ultimately, the Murph is not about bragging rights. It is not just about improving fitness. Rather, it’s a way for us to commemorate our heroes have given the ultimate sacrifice.
When you start to fatigue, just think of how lucky you are to be alive, fully capable of living up to a challenge few dare to attempt.
It’s much easier to learn from others’ mistakes, so let’s start by listing a few common pitfalls people encounter during the Murph.
Not Training Beforehand
Often, we hear stories where people say, “I used to do the Murph every year, so I thought I might start that back up or just see where I’m at.” Invariably, they underestimated the effects that age and training have on the body.
Accept the challenge. Commit to completing it. AND, start training. Start with a ¼ Murph on a weekend, then knock out a ½ Murph the next. Whatever your level of fitness, don’t underestimate the workout…and your age. Last year, you were a year younger! Five years ago…well, you get the idea.
Not Pacing Yourself
Particularly with this workout, the most common pitfall people encounter is starting off too fast (not controlling tempo) in the beginning.
Unlike a high-weight workout that exhausts the muscles more than the lungs, a high-repetition workout exhausts the muscles AND the heart and lungs. Thus, starting off at a fast pace can make it difficult to complete the workout.
If you know your average 1-mile run time or if you have tracked your exercising heart rate, you might attempt your first workout at a 65-75% level of effort. This should be a pace that makes you breathe hard, but not at a pace that has you gasping for air.
As you approach the 6th or 7th set, you will know if you paced yourself too slow in the beginning, and you can speed up the remaining sets.
Poorly Partitioned Sets
Whether you are completing the Murph by exercise (i.e., 100 pull-ups, then 200 push-ups, then 300 squats) or by level loading exercises (i.e., 10 pull-ups, then 20 push-ups, then 30 squats, repeat 10 times), it is important to know your strengths and weaknesses.
If you traditionally struggle with pull-ups, you might want to try breaking the set into 2 parts or even 3 parts. Whatever you do, give yourself liberal time between sets, particularly in the beginning.
You can always speed up and use reserves of energy as you near completion. But the chances are good that you’ll need those reserves.
Wearing a Vest
The first time you record your score, you’ll notice an option for “RX’d” or “Modified.” “RX’d” refers to the traditional way of completing the Murph with a flak jacket or equivalent 20-lb vest. “Modified” refers to a modification to this, whether it is a lighter vest or no vest at all.
A common pitfall people encounter is one of running with a vest when they have not trained with one or don’t have the cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance necessary for this level of challenge.
A good rule of thumb is to be able to run a Murph consistently in under 60 minutes before attempting it with a vest. Remember, you can always scale up, but this is meant to challenge you, so you want to avoid scaling down.
The purpose of this M-A-M Challenge is to allow people the opportunity to push themselves further than they thought possible. Commitment only manifests when faced with significant challenge. So, here’s a few more tips to ensure your success.
Scaling Your Challenge
Clearly, not everyone is at the same fitness level. Yet, the M-A-M Challenge is meant to challenge as many participants as dare to commit to completing it. For this reason, there are options to challenge various levels of fitness.
You might be hesitant to commit to a full Murph every month for 5 months. However, pushing yourself, you could probably complete a ¼ Murph and scale up to a ¾ or full Murph by month 5.
It is important to sign up for something that will challenge you, and that will be a good starting point. From there, you can improve, push your limits, and grow.
Modifying Your Challenge
Perhaps the greatest thing about the Murph is that even the exercises are scalable for everyone. Athletes of all skill, strength, and endurance levels can complete Murph.
If you struggle with pull-ups, especially completing 100 of them, try out different variations of assisted pull-ups.
- Resistance band: Consider using rubber resistance bands to counter some of your body weight and help propel you upwards.
- Kipping pull-ups: While there is technique and agility required to complete the technical kipping pull-up, most would admit to doing a quick “knees-to-chest” to squeeze out a few extra pull-ups.
Bodyweight rows: If pull-ups are totally out of the question for you, try bodyweight rows on a TRX, gymnastic rings, or other suspension equipment.
If you struggle with push-ups, there are three modified versions you might consider. From least to most difficult, these are push-ups against the wall, push-ups on your knees, and push-ups on a box or bench.
- Against the wall: Facing the wall, stand 6 inches further than an arms distance away from a wall, then lean forward placing your hands on the wall. From this standing position, bend your elbows and lower your body toward the wall.
- On the knees: Instead of holding yourself up in the plank position on your hands and toes, lower your knees to the ground. Instead of doing a regular pushup with the contact points being your toes and hands, you will use your knees and hands. Thus, lower your body to the ground and then push up to return to the starting position.
On a box or bench: This is similar to a push-up against the wall, but your hands will be on a box or bench instead. You are simply increasing resistance. Keep your weight on your toes and lower your body to the box or bench—then, push back up.
If you struggle with squats, either due to difficulty stabilizing ankles or hips, or simply due to a lack of leg strength, there are a couple of really cool modifications you can try.
First, allow me to say, form matters. It matters because a lack of proper form can instigate or exacerbate an injury that is entirely avoidable. If you find your form suffering, dial it back a little and do it correctly. Form will allow you condition your legs and joints to scale up the challenge.
- TRX squats: Gymnastic rings, TRX straps, or other suspended support can be helpful if you lack the strength to perform an air squat correctly. Adjust the TRX straps to your height and hold them in front of you with your arms extended. From there, lower down into a squat and then stand back up.
Heel raise: If you struggle to squat with good form because your ankles or hips lack stability, raising your heels could help. Before you start Murph, set up a squat station with a small weight or a 2×4 for your heels. When it’s time to squat, place your heels on the weights or the 2×4 for added elevation to help with mobility.