Every Memorial Day, thousands of people across the country embark on a brutal workout to honor military men and women who died in the line of duty, and to test their own physical and mental limits.
The workout is called the “Murph” after Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed 17 years ago in Afghanistan.
Athletes strap on a 20-pound weighted vest or body armor, and then they start with a 1-mile run. And then they do 100 pullups. And then they hit the deck for 200 pushups followed by 300 squats. They finish the workout with another 1-mile run. And then they shed the vest.
“It’s a pretty gnarly workout,” said Kevin Longmeier, owner of Duratus Strength and Conditioning in Spokane.
Longmeier’s gym members perform the Murph, which is one of his favorite events, each Memorial Day. He said it’s important to honor Murphy and others like him who died serving their country.
“I think on an individual level it’s important because it’s something that’s incredibly challenging and hard,” he said of the workout. “And my belief is the more that we do challenging and hard things, the better people we are, the more resolved we become.”
Longmeier said he loves seeing people push themselves during the workout and achieve their goal, whether that be finishing the Murph or beating their time from the previous year.
“The most enjoyable thing as a coach is watching people achieve something that they don’t think that they can do,” he said.
Chandra Young, manager and coach at CrossFit Coeur d’Alene, and Angela Gerry, co-owner of CrossFit Spokane with her husband, Mike, both host Murph workouts at their gyms every Memorial Day.
Gerry said the workout is a great opportunity to remember that military members are willing to die for their country. Gerry and her husband served in the Air Force.
“They’re very, very challenging,” Gerry said of the Murph. “And it just reminds us of being in that head space of what they probably went through while they were fighting and going through those last minutes of their breaths, you know? That’s kind of why we do it. That’s why all CrossFit gyms do it.”
Longmeier, Gerry and Young said they explain the workout and its importance to their members before they begin.
Gerry said she and her gym members have a moment of silence before starting the Murph. She said it’s critical to take the time to understand that these fallen heroes laid down their lives so the rest of the country can be free.
“We don’t stop enough I don’t think as Americans, or even as people just living in this country, to really understand the importance of what that means,” Gerry said.
She said she thinks of Murphy and what he and others went through to motivate her during the workout.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind, especially when it starts to get hard at the end,” Gerry said.
Young said the mental aspect of the workout is the most challenging part.
“It’s that mental capacity of just those grueling workouts, and then knowing that once you are done and finished, you feel accomplished and you had a good sweat for a good reason,” Young said.
All three gym owners and managers said they’ve been incorporating more running, pullups, pushups and squats into their members’ training to prepare for the grueling Murph. Young said more competitive members are training with weight vests to get ready.
Longmeier said the workout can be harmful without the appropriate conditioning leading up to it.
All three also said they modify the Murph to people’s fitness levels.
Not everyone can do 100 pullups, 200 pushups and 300 squats, let alone in that order. Many don’t wear a weighted vest, either.
Young said some people row 1,600 meters if they cannot run. Others break up the pullups, pushups and squats into 20 rounds of five pullups, 10 pushups and 15 squats to get through the workout.
“It’s not necessarily about how much you can beat yourself up,” Gerry said. “It’s about just being in that moment and remembering who they are, just honoring them.”