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Popular fitness community remembers the fallen through special workouts

Inside a CrossFit gym. (Courtesy of CrossFit East River)
May 08, 2017

The month of May is National Military Appreciation Month. It also marks the country’s observance of Memorial Day, and one fitness community has an especially unique way to honor fallen members of the armed forces.

While CrossFit is sometimes synonymous with intense strength training and interval workouts, the programming, founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000 – and provided for free online – also falls into stride with the military and law enforcement communities, and it resonates more and more with the average Joe or Jane who wants to get in shape.

Aptly-named “hero” workouts have become rites of passage and pillars of the CrossFit community, which is grounded through bonds of shared suffering and sweat equity.

“To the average CrossFitter, Hero workouts are symbolic gestures of respect for our fallen,” writes Russell Burger in a CrossFit Journal article. “CrossFitters from all over the world, regardless of country or allegiance, throw themselves wholeheartedly at these intentionally gut-wrenching workouts that serve as a tribute to our lost protectors.”

On any given day, a regular Workout of the Day, or “WOD,” might last anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes. Hero WODs are generally far more grueling and challenging, and they might take a person of average fitness abilities nearly an hour or longer to complete.

This is the case with the well-documented workout known as “Murph.”

The workout consists of a 1-mile run, followed immediately by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 air squats, capped off with another 1-mile run. Athletes are able to partition the pull-ups, push-ups and air squats in any order they would like. The workout is intended to be done while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest.

“Hero workouts have always been a way to unite the CrossFit community in honoring those soldiers that have paid the ultimate price to protect us,” said Keith Wittenstein, a Certified CrossFit Level 4 Coach and CrossFit Headquarters (HQ) Trainer. “The hero workouts are designed to be difficult, even more so than regular CrossFit WODs. They are designed to make you want to quit but because they are in honor of someone that gave their life to defend us. We don’t quit. We push through them.”

Murph is named after U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, from Patchogue, N.Y., who was 29 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, during Operation Red Wings. Murphy is said to have called this workout “Body Armor.”

The 2013 movie “Lone Survivor” is based on the 2007 book of the same name, authored by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. The book is Luttrell’s account of what happened during Operation Red Wings, of which he was the only survivor from the initial Navy SEAL team.

Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest and most prestigious decoration, and the Purple Heart.

Of all the Hero WODs, Murph is probably the most well-known and notorious, so much so that Men’s Fitness online published its “top tips” for surviving the workout.

While remembering those who have fallen while serving in the armed forces, and keeping in mind the tasks at hand faced by our military today, doing the workout Murph seems like a small sacrifice in hindsight.

“The Hero workout is more than a test of physical ability,” writes Berger. “It bridges the gap between body and mind, emotion and experience, and gives us the chance to do more than just remember our soldiers. It gives us the chance to sweat, bleed, suffer and grieve for our fallen heroes one rep at a time.”

“It’s about doing a challenging workout but also the intention behind the workout, where you are honoring someone with your best effort,” Wittenstein said. “The intention is everything.”