Even Diehards Dread These CrossFit Workouts
Royal Huddleston Burpee invented his namesake exercise in 1939. The physiologist developed the burpee to assess physical fitness by measuring the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood. It was a lot simpler back then, comprising four moves: squat and place your hands on the floor, jump feet back into a plank, jump feet forward, and return to standing.
He first used the burpee to test everyday people at his local YMCA; the military later employed it to evaluate enlistees during World War II. Since then, though, it’s morphed into a punishing six-step exercise performed in multiple reps: squat and place your hands on the floor, jump feet back into a plank, drop into a pushup, return to plank, jump feet forward, and jump into the air.
Whether you love it or hate it, the burpee has become a staple bodyweight exercise. It’s most often seen as part of CrossFit workouts of the day (WOD), exhausting participants and, it may seem, delighting CrossFit coaches as they observe the misery. But do these coaches and other hardcore CrossFitters really enjoy burpees? What about the clean and jerk or plyometric-box leap?
We took a look at CrossFit forums to find out which CrossFit workouts are well-loved and which are absolutely despised. Because coaches often come up with their own gym’s programming from day to day, we’re just looking at the WODs that have risen to national prominence.
Among the most dreaded workouts …
The Filthy 50
50 box jumps with a 24-inch box, 50 jumping pull-ups, 50 kettlebell swings, 50 walking-lunge steps, 50 knees-to-elbows, 50 push-press reps with 45 pounds, 50 back extensions, 50 wallballs with a 20-pound ball, 50 burpees, 50 double-unders
A full Filthy 50 circuit as performed for time at CrossFit 515 in Clive, IA
If you thought CrossFit workouts were insane before, this won’t change your mind. The Filthy Fifty, however, is a microcosm of CrossFit itself—a mix of taxing full-body strength workouts and cardio. Hardcore exercisers compete for the fastest time. Less experienced exercisers start with many fewer reps and work their way up while also cutting their time down.
Even in modified forms, this WOD’s nonstop intensity and diversity of strength challenges makes it one of the toughest to pull off.
3 rounds of thrusters and pull-ups (21 reps each in the first round, then 15, then 9)
A full Fran circuit performed for time
“I absolutely love thrusters!” said Alyssa Gomez, a coach at Contra Costa CrossFit in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Most people dread them when they see they're programmed for the day, but I think it's such a fun movement.”
It’s not hard to see why Gomez is alone in her sentiment. Thrusters can be a brutal workout, in which the weightlifter starts out in a standing position, holding a barbell against their shoulders. They squat, maintaining the barbell’s position, then return to standing in an explosive motion that thrusts the barbell upward. Pull-ups, meanwhile, are one of the most difficult upper-body exercises out there. And to top it all off, this entire workout is meant to be done in a speedy five minutes for experienced CrossFitters.
Despite (or because of) its difficulty, Fran is ubiquitous on WOD schedules and is often one of the first WODs beginners attempt. They are encouraged to scale back the weight and reps and aim for a higher time at first.
5 rounds of double-unders and sit-ups (50 reps each in the first round, then 40, then 30, then 20, then 10)
A full Annie circuit at Flagship CrossFit in San Francisco, CA
If you’re looking for a WOD that will hammer your core, Annie’s the ticket. Besides the ab-punishing sit-ups, the double-under is an essential CrossFit movement that’s extremely difficult to learn. It’s a type of jump roping that forces you to leap higher in order to cycle the rope under your feet two times before landing.
Since you can’t even attempt Annie without first mastering this tricky move, it’s earned a spot on the “dreaded” list.
Among the most popular workouts …
OPT Repeatability Test
3 rounds, each with rowing for 250 meters, 10 kettlebell swings, 10 burpees, 10 kettlebell swings, 10 burpees, 10 kettlebell swings, rowing for 250 meters, 12 minutes of rest
A slightly altered version of the OPT Repeatability Test
Fans say this difficult workout is extremely well-designed to test your strength and endurance while your muscles get increasingly fatigued and start producing lactic acid, which causes the burning sensation. Although you get a fairly prolonged period of rest by CrossFit standards, you’re still going all out because each round is timed. (Beginners can scale back the weight, distance, and number of reps.)
Even if you don’t love this WOD’s intensity, its diversity of movements is still enjoyable.
At least 1 back squat, 1 overhead press, 1 deadlift
This pair make three attempts at each lift at CrossFit Santa Cruz (note the spotting)
You read that right, you just have to complete one of each of these lifts. Of course, exercisers are aiming for their maximum weight, so they generally attempt at least three of each to be able to put their best effort up on the board. If you’re just starting out, CrossFit Total is an excellent way to acclimate yourself to critical weightlifting movements and perfect your form. That’s helpful for when you become a longtime CrossFitter focused on adding more weight.
5 rounds, each with 7 muscle-ups and 21 burpees
Excerpts of a full Ryan workout with muscle-ups performed using rings
The Ryan, another of the CrossFit workouts done for time, is a CrossFit rite of passage because it requires mastery of the muscle-up. During this staple movement, you have to muster a ton of strength to transition from a pull-up to a dip over the bar or gymnastics rings. Taken together, the exercises form a challenging, but immensely rewarding circuit.
“Muscle-ups are high-skill movements that become incredibly difficult under fatigue, so they take a lot of focus, but they're also a lot of fun once you know how to do them!” Gomez said. “Burpees [are] the best single movement for metabolic conditioning.”
Royal Huddleston Burpee would be proud.
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