What is the Murph Challenge?

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What is the Murph Challenge?

On Memorial Day 2021 thousands of people around the globe – including Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and more will be taking on the Murph Challenge.

Pullups Murph Challenge
Coalition Forces perform the “Murph” workout for Memorial Day on May 25, 2020, during a deployment to At-Tanf Garrison, Syria. The workout was a favorite of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. William Howard)

What is it?

The Murph Challenge is a workout (in CrossFit terms a “Hero WOD”) honoring LT. Michael P. Murphy who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan in 2005.

The workout includes a one-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and another one-mile run.

Murph perfomed this workout regularly, which he nicknamed “body armor” – because he did the grueling workout wearing his plate carrier fully loaded with ISAPI plates. It was his way to ensure he was ready for the grueling physical demands of combat in a realistic way.

If you didn’t think this workout was going to be hard – imagine doing it with the extra 20 lbs of body armor!

The Murph Challenge has since transformed into a Memorial Day commemoration event – and is undertaken by thousands world-wide, especially in the military and CrossFit communities.

The Murph Challenge is more than just a workout. It is a tradition that helps push us, humble us, and gives us the opportunity to devote a bit of pain and sweat to honor Lt. Michael P. Murphy (SEAL), a man who surrendered everything he had for our freedom.

Who was Murph?

Lt. Michael P. Murphy was a United States Navy SEAL officer who was bestowed the U.S. military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, for his efforts during the War in Afghanistan. He was the first member of the United States Navy to earn the award since the Vietnam War. His other post-mortem awards include the Silver Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

Pushups - Murph Challenge Memorial Day 2021
A U.S. Soldier, assigned to the 2d Cavalry Regiment, performs the push-up portion of the regiment’s Murph Challenge in Vilseck, Germany, May 21, 2020. The challenge, done in 20lb body armor, begins with a 1.6km run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and another 1.6km run to conclude the event. It is a Memorial Day tradition that honors Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a man who received the military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during the War in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. LaShic Patterson)

He was the officer-in-charge of a four-man SEAL element supporting Operation Red Wings, tasked with uncovering a key anti-coalition militia commander near Asadabad, Afghanistan. Soon after entering the objective area, they were seen by three goat herders who were believed to report the SEALs’ presence to Taliban fighters.

A violent gun battle happened on the abrupt face of the mountain between the SEALs and a bigger enemy force. LT. Murphy exposed and risked his own life to save the lives of his teammates. To obtain a better position to send a call to get help for his men, he knowingly revealed himself to increased enemy gunfire, moving away from the protective mountain rocks. That action made him the target for the enemy, and he was able to contact the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and asked for help.

He was shot in the back and dropped the transmitter, but he picked it back up, completed the call, and resumed firing at the enemy who was closing in. Critically injured, LT. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle. LT. Murphy fought on, enabling one member of his team (Marcus Luttrell) to flee before being killed.

Why has this become a Memorial Day activity?

For his selfless deeds, LT. Michael Murphy was posthumously bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor on October 27, 2007. To honor his memory and remember his bravery, dignity, and sacrifice, The Murph Challenge was born and has become a Memorial Day activity. This challenge/workout isn’t about your time, strategy, or “RX” ability, but it is a challenge to remember LT. Michael P. Murphy.

Murph Challenge aboard USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112)
The commanding officer aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112), participates in the “MURPH Challenge,” a physical fitness event named for the ship’s namesake, Lt. Michael Murphy, consisting of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and a final one-mile run. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin R. Pacheco)

Hero WOD’s are usually programmed and set up in gyms, and it is a great opportunity to commemorate these heroes to instill and retell the stories of heroism and sacrifice. Murph was first registered on CrossFit’s Main Site on August 18th, 2005. No one can tell when exactly it became a tradition for gyms to program Murph on Memorial Day. But in 2007, Josh Appel, an Air Force pararescue jumper who headed the team that jumped to save LT. Murphy’s team, took the concept to his gym, Albany CrossFit, and the rest of the CrossFit community did the same. Ten years later, it’s an honorable tradition for gyms to close on Memorial Day, working only Murph as their workout, often accompanied by a barbecue or other community bonding event.

Lt. Murphy’s sacrifice will remain forever not only in the CrossFit community but also in the community outside of CrossFit. In 2007, LT. Michael’s family founded the LT Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation. The Foundation is financed through donations to them and proceeds earned from The Murph Challenge fundraiser held annually.

The Murph Challenge is the official yearly fundraiser of the LT. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation. It is also one of the primary mediums of financing the Foundation on an annual basis.

From the funds raised through The Murph Challenge campaign since 2014, the Foundation was able to finish the construction of the LT Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum/Sea Cadet Training Facility in Long Island, NY. The Foundation was also able to give 32 scholarships in 2020 with the addition of two new scholarships; one at St. Joseph’s College to a Veteran for undergraduate or graduate study and one to Rocky Point High School on Long Island in remembrance of Marine Sgt. Robert A. Pole, who was killed in action in Iraq.

Murph WOD for Memorial Day - Pushups
A U.S. Marine, a weapons and tactics instructor with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), performs push-ups during a “Murph” workout of the day aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) on Memorial Day. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert)

How do you do the Murph Challenge?

The Murph Challenge is more purposeful than your regular workout because it is a Hero WOD, and it is one of the most challenging and most notorious workouts there is. The Murph Challenge is consists of these exercises:

1-mile run
100 pull-ups
200 push-ups
300 squats
1-mile run
while wearing a 20 lb vest or body armor.

This workout was LT. Michael’s favorite workout to do as part of the workout prescription. It can be exciting to workout for a cause, but the Murph workout is ideal for frequent and veteran WODers as this challenge is remarkably hard. The absolute volume and length of the workout is what makes this workout extremely challenging – both physically and mentally. Preparation and warm-up are crucial as you will do a high volume of reps, especially with your upper body.

There are different strategies that you can do to make the challenge achievable, especially for average exercisers. You can break up the reps, or you can cut the workout in half. Remember: this challenge about commemorating what LT. Michael’s selfless act and not how great you are. You can do it however you want it, especially if you haven’t done this workout before.

Murph Challenge Pullups with Plate Carrier or Vest 20lb.
A member of the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron intel flight, attempts to complete a pullup Nov. 8, 2019, during the “Murph” workout at Hangar 844 at Travis Air Force Base, California. Fernandez and other members of the 821st Contingency Response Group participated in the workout to honor Navy Lt. Michael Murphy who died June 2005 in Afghanistan. The workout includes a one-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and another one-mile run. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)

If you choose to break up your reps, the pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats will take up most of your time. And if you break them up with minimal rest, you have more possibilities to succeed. You can do the “Cindy” style with 20 rounds of five pull-ups, ten push-ups, and 15 air squats. Or if you think you are better than that, you can do ten rounds of ten pull-ups, twenty push-ups, and thirty air squats. Just remember to mind your transition. These three movements require a lot of transition, so it is best to choose sets and reps that are easy enough to allow you to keep going instead of having to take extended periods to recuperate during transitions.

Doing half Murph is fine. No one will judge you. You can do an 800-meter run, 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 air squats, and another 800-meter run. But even if you do the half Murph, breaking up the reps is still a clever idea. Doing ten rounds of five pull-ups, ten push-ups, and 15 air squats would be a safe option. Another way to perform the challenge is without a weight vest. The formula suggests using one if you have one, but if you don’t have any, it is still fine.

Memorial Day Murph Challenge - Pullups
The Murph workout involves a lot of pullups and blistered and bleeding hands are a very real possibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)





Murph Challenge Hero WOD - Run 1 mile
A Master Chief Fire Controlman participates in The Murph Challenge, a fitness competition held as a fundraiser for the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation, aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72). Murphy, a Navy SEAL killed in action in 2005, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Edward Guttierrez III/Released)

Photo Credits

The photos used in this article are provided by the men and women of various branches of the U.S. military, and are in the public domain.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.