What You Should Know About the CrossFit Girl WODs

Crossfit girl WODs
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You don't have to be a hardcore CrossFitter to have heard of "The Girls." Granted, you may not know what (or who?) these girls are, but if you've spent any time around the CrossFit community, you've probably heard names like Fran, Isabel, and Helen thrown around. These "girls" aren't actual girls at all, but specific workouts (in CrossFit lingo, workouts of the day are known as WODs) that are designed to put you through the ringer as you assess your personal strengths and weaknesses related to your overall fitness capacity.

The Purpose of the CrossFit Girl WODs

In a single word, The CrossFit Girl workouts are benchmarks. They're designed to take a snapshot of your current fitness level as related to the areas of fitness each workout is designed to test. To be clear, each Girl is designed to test your fitness in slightly different ways. For instance, one Girl workout might focus on cardiovascular capacity, while another tests power, speed, strength, or flexibility.

Karen Katzenbach, a CrossFit Level 3 Certified Trainer with Momentum Fitness | 30A CrossFit, sums the workouts up simply, "The Girl workouts are the epitome of what CrossFit is all about...short, intense, challenging, and a lot of fun. Each one has a unique twist that will reveal any weaknesses you might have. An endurance athlete will love the 20-minute long workout, Cindy, but will struggle with a short, heavy workout like Grace or Isabel. The opposite would be true for a strength athlete."

As benchmarks, The Girls are used as periodic tests to gauge your improvements over time. Anthony Musemici, the co-owner of CrossFit Bridge & Tunnel who holds more than a dozen fitness industry certifications says, "The Girls, or any benchmark, should be done regularly to retest and track progress," although he specifies that when you choose to re-test a particular Girl WOD might depend on your personal goals, "An athlete might choose to retest a workout that's related to their current focus.

For example, if they're working on gymnastics, it might be time to retest Diane and see how their handstand pushups are coming along. Someone focused on barbell cycling in preparation for the [CrossFit] Open might test Isabel or Grace." However, you shouldn't do the same benchmark workout repeatedly, Musemici adds, "Each of the workouts should not be repeated more than twice a year, if that."

The Girl WODs

Way back in the day (specifically 2003, when The Girls were first introduced), these benchmark workouts were limited to six straightforward routines—Angie, Barbara, Chelsea, Diane, Elizabeth, and Fran. Over the years, more Girls have been added, now totaling 26 different benchmark workouts. Some workouts use only your body weight, while others require equipment, such as kettlebells, barbells, rings, or rowing machines. The equipment involved and the format of the workout (how much load is used, how much rest is allowed, how many reps or sets prescribed), allow each workout to test different areas of personal fitness.

Bodyweight-Only Girl WODs

Just because these workouts require nothing more than your body weight (and access to a pull-up bar), that doesn't mean they're easy. That said, they're great benchmarks for newbies because the movements involved are often less advanced.

Musemici points out that, "Bodyweight movements are easy to scale for a beginner. Many of [the bodyweight Girls] are also longer workouts, meant to be completed in 20 to 30 minutes." Make sure you focus on form—while speed and intensity are important, newbies should be less concerned about their scores, and more concerned about doing the exercises correctly.

BarbaraPerform five rounds, time each round, rest exactly three minutes between rounds

20 pull-ups

30 pushups

40 situps

50 air squats

ChelseaYou'll perform all three exercises in a row, every minute on the minute (EMOM), continuing until you can't complete a full round of exercises in a minute's time

5 pull-ups

10 pushups

15 air squats

MaryPerform as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes

5 handstand pushups

10 single-leg squats per leg

15 pull-ups

CindyAMRAP in 20 minutes (this uses the same exercises as Chelsea, but the format is different)

5 pull-ups

10 pushups

15 air squats

AnnieYou'll perform rounds of both exercises back-to-back, completing 50 reps of each, 40 reps of each, 30 reps, 20 reps and 10 reps, completing the workout for time

Jump rope double-unders

Situps

 

NicoleAMRAP in 20 minutes; Note how many pull-ups you complete for each round

Run 400 meters

Pull-ups for max reps

AngieComplete all exercises and reps as fast as you can, for time

100 pull-ups

100 pushups

100 situps

100 air squats

MargueritaComplete 50 total rounds, with one rep per exercise, per round, as fast as you can for time

Burpee

Pushup

Jumping jack

Situp

Handstand

CandyComplete five total rounds for time

20 pull-ups

40 pushups

60 squats

MaggieComplete five total rounds for time

20 handstand pushups

40 pull-ups

60 one-legged squats, alternating legs


Small Equipment and Bodyweight Girl WODs

These benchmark workouts incorporate smaller tools, such as kettlebells, plyo boxes, and wall balls (large, weighted medicine balls). These workouts also involve a fair amount of all-out running, so you can expect your cardiovascular capacity to be challenged. As with the bodyweight-only Girl WODs, feel free to scale the exercise prescriptions as needed. For instance, if you can't handle a 2-pood (72-pound) kettlebell swing during the Eva workout, use a lighter weight, but make note of the weight you use so you can compare your improvements the next time you do the workout.

EvaComplete five total rounds for time

800-meter run

30 kettlebell swings (prescribed with a 2-pood kettlebell)

30 pull-ups

HelenComplete three total rounds for time

400-meter run

21 kettlebell swings (prescribed with a 1.5-pood kettlebell)

12 pull-ups

KarenComplete all repetitions as fast as possible, for time150 wall ball shots (prescribed with a 20-pound ball)
KellyComplete five total rounds, for time

400-meter run

30 box jumps (prescribed with a 24-inch box)

30 wall ball shots (prescribed with a 20-pound ball)

 

Heavy Barbells and Calisthenics Girl WODs

Considered some of the toughest Girls around, these benchmarks incorporate a little bit of everything, including heavy strength training, calisthenics, running, rowing, and more. Musemici takes special note of Fran, "Over time Fran has developed an iconic-like status above all other benchmark WODs. She is ingrained in CrossFit as the most challenging Girl, with athletes around the world judging each other based on their 'Fran-time.' With a 21-15-9 rep scheme of thrusters and pull-ups, Fran is meant to be done quickly, and ideally, unbroken (without rest)."

AmandaComplete rounds of 9 reps, 7 reps, and 5 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time

Muscle-ups

Snatch (prescribed with a 135-pound barbell)

JackieComplete as fast as you can, for time

1,000-meter row

50 thrusters (prescribed with 45-pound barbell)

30 pull-ups

DianeComplete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time

Deadlifts (prescribed with 225-pound barbell)

Handstand pushups

FranComplete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time

Thrusters (prescribed with 95-pound barbell)

Pull-ups

ElizabethComplete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time

Cleans (prescribed with 135-pound barbell)

Ring dips

NancyComplete five total rounds of both exercises, as fast as you can for time

400-meter run

15 overhead squats (prescribed with 95-pound barbell)

LynneComplete five rounds, aiming for max reps; there's no time limit; make note of your completed reps for each round, totaling them at the end

Bench press (prescribed with your own body weight on the barbell)

Pull-ups

HopeThis is a timed, three-round circuit; perform one minute of each exercise, tracking the number of reps you complete at each station; after completing each full round, rest for one minute before continuing the workout; the goal is to tally your total reps for the workout

Burpees

Power snatches (prescribed with 75-pound barbell)

Box jumps (prescribed with 24-inch box)

Thrusters (prescribed with 75-pound barbell)

Chest-to-bar pull-ups

 

 

Heavy Strength-Work Girl WODs

These four benchmarks focus on lifting heavy weight while performing full-body, advanced strength training movements. Musemici says, "These workouts incorporate the Olympic lifts (clean and jerk and snatch), requiring an athlete to have both strength and skill when it comes to moving a barbell." It's important to focus on form, and to work with your CrossFit coach to scale the prescribed weight appropriately to make sure you don't open yourself up to possible injury.

IsabelComplete the prescribed reps as fast as you can for time30 snatches (prescribed with 135-pound barbell)
LindaThis workout is also known as "Three Bars of Death." Perform as a pyramid workout, completing all three exercises in sequence, completing rep series of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, so that you first complete 10 reps of each exercise, then 9 reps of each exercise, and so forth, all the way down the pyramid; complete the workout as fast as you can for time

Deadlifts (prescribed with a barbell with 1.5 times your body weight)

Bench press (prescribed with a barbell with your body weight)

Cleans (prescribed with a barbell with 3/4 your body weight)

GraceComplete the prescribed reps as fast as you can for timeClean and jerk (prescribed with 135-pound barbell)
GwenComplete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps for total load; This is a touch-and-go workout, so any rest or re-positioning between reps is considered a "foul," use the same load for each set, and rest as needed between setsClean and jerk

 

Tips for Killing Your Next Girl WOD Benchmarks

Benchmarks are meant to be challenging, and as such, you need to prepare both mentally and physically. Here are a few tips from Katzenbach and Musemici on how to kill your next Girl.

Warm up appropriately. Katzenbach says, "Prepping for these workouts should consist of a warmup that's inversely proportional to the length of the workout itself. You should do a longer warmup for a short, intense workout, such as Fran or Grace, and a shorter warm-up for longer efforts like Cindy or Angie." Musemici adds that you also want to warm-up the same way you'll work out. For example, "Angie consists of 100 pull-ups, 100 pushups, 100 situps, and 100 air squats. She is largely aerobic in nature, consisting of about 20 minutes of continuous movement. In contrast, Chelsea's EMOM rep scheme has an anaerobic demand. The warmup for these two separate workouts is similar, as you need to prepare for the same movements, but the pattern would be different. For Angie, you might do three rounds of 10 reps of each exercise, but for Chelsea, you might do a short EMOM with 3-6-9 reps of each exercise to get a feel for how the heart rate spikes during this type of rep scheme."

Get help with scaling. Just because a benchmark workout is prescribed one way, doesn't mean you shouldn't scale it based on your own fitness level and strengths. In fact, coaches are there to help you scale and modify workouts so you can successfully complete them as intended, based on rounds, reps, or time. Katzenbach offers the following example, "My very first CrossFit workout was 'Helen.' This workout should take about nine to 12 minutes. I was scaled to a 200 meter run (from a 400-meter run), banded pull-ups, and kettlebell swings with a 15-pound dumbbell (rather than a 54-pound kettlebell). I was a distance runner before this, so I thought this 11-minute workout sounded easy. About halfway through the first round, I thought my lungs would explode. I thought I was fit, but Helen changed my mind."

Set realistic expectations for yourself. It's understandable that you'd want to master every single Girl WOD you try the first time out. Like tests, it's natural to want to "get an A" on a benchmark workout. Unfortunately, it doesn't (and shouldn't) always work that way. Musemici explains, "The first time [you] encounter one of the Girls, approach the workout as a baseline. Understand this is a workout you'll see several more times over the years. The focus of CrossFit is not to specialize. While the Girls may be used as motivation to learn a new skill (for instance, 'Elizabeth' requires mastering ring dips), they're simply a way to gauge your overall fitness. Newer athletes should set realistic expectations, scaling reps on Angie or reducing the deadlift weight on Diane." Musemici also says coaches should allow new athletes longer times to complete entire workouts, pointing out that athletes shouldn't ever feel bad about their current fitness level or strength—it's all just a jumping off point to help you assess how much you improve over time.

Recover appropriately. Because these benchmarks require all-out effort, you're pretty much guaranteed to be sore. To help speed recovery time, Musemici suggests, "Immediately following the workout, make sure you're mobilizing and foam rolling, and try drinking a recovery protein shake. It's recommended that you consume a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to proteins post-workout for optimal recovery."

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