'The Murph' Is Not for Beginners. Here Are 5 Tips to Progress Without Overuse Injuries

The Murph
U.S. Marine Corps Col. Rob Rice, Officer in Charge of the Marine Corps Training Mission at Al Dhafra Air Base, performs a push-up during “The Murph” challenge on Memorial Day 2022. "The Murph" is a workout consisting of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats and finishes with an additional one-mile run. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi)

Every year, I see beginners getting coaxed into doing the "Memorial Day Murph" with friends or work colleagues only to suffer extreme soreness, overuse injuries or other overexertion-related ailments, such as heat exhaustion and rhabdomyolysis.

While the intent to do a physical challenge and honor a fallen American hero is nice, it may not be the wisest move if your regular calisthenics volumes are not close to the level of 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squat repetitions.

The Murph is a great workout and a fun way to honor fallen Navy SEAL Michael Murphy and his teammates, but it is not like participating in a Turkey Trot with little to no training. Treat the Murph workout like you would prepare for a marathon, not something you get talked into doing while at the local weekend barbeque party.

Completing the Murph should be a long-term goal that requires a steady and progressive build-up of calisthenics and running volume over time. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the big event, which take months of preparation to follow.

If you did no planning or preparation and think 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats (with a 20-pound weight vest) will not hurt you, you are wrong. Instead of making a mistake that will affect the rest of your week, consider alternate activities.

These progressive exercises are still challenging and a great way to honor the fallen with physical activity this Memorial Day.

1. Try the Murph without a weight vest, for starters.

If you have never done 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats in a workout, don't try it out of the blue, and certainly do not add weight to the repetitions. The Murph without a weight vest requires an advanced level of fitness. The added 20-pound weight vest just makes it even harder.

2. Cut the reps in half.

If you have never done this level of calisthenics repetition, consider cutting the reps in half if you are unprepared on game day. Your body will hate you much less. Also, there is still no need to wear a weight vest.

3. Try all of the repetitions with an easier option.

The TRX Suspension Trainer (or rings) is a great tool that can make pull-ups, push-ups and squats much easier. Consider the squat/row and get two exercise reps done in one single movement, with up to 30-50% of your body weight not having to pull or squat.

The less-leaning angle of your body using this device will make the repetitions exponentially easier. For pushups, you can either add in some knee push-ups or TRX chest press at an angle that will make push-ups much easier.

4. Do good reps.

Whatever type of variations you add, make sure you do good repetitions. Avoid the kipping pull-up or half-repping push-ups and squats. The greater your range of motion in these activities, the better your joints will feel later.

When you cannot do a good range of motion repetitions, let that be a sign to go for lighter or easier options to continue the sets. Remember, this is not a race. Personally, I hate timed workouts, as the race to the end is usually littered with kipping and half-reps.

5. Replace Running.

Even if running is not your thing, two miles of running (one before the 100-200-300 and one after) may not be that challenging. But for some, running can put them in the hurt locker.

You can walk if you need to catch your breath. You can also replace running with biking, rowing, or elliptical machines if running hurts your feet, shins, knees or hips.

These are my personal coaching recommendations and while they are conservative, I have also never seen people get overuse injuries or other overexertion injuries following any of these rules during high-volume workouts.

It is fine to push students and clients as a coach, but teaching them when to pull the reins on themselves so they can work out again tomorrow is equally important.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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