Meaningful rituals are few and far between in the strength and fitness world. But there's one that has been catching on in the last few years during the last three-day weekend of spring, and we couldn't think of anything better.
This Memorial Day, thousands of athletes across the country—many of them CrossFit devotees, but an increasing number who aren't—will partake in "Murph," a grueling crucible that calls for you to perform a mile run followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats, all while optionally wearing a 20-pound weighted vest. When you're done, you get to run a mile. Again.
It's the sort of workout that defies easy categorizations of "strength" or "endurance." No matter how you break up the reps or scale it to your abilities, it's an immense pile of work—which is exactly the point. Kind of like active duty, it will show you where you're still weak, no matter how tough you think you are.
Plenty of lifters will have been preparing for weeks for this day. For others, the fact that they haven't been training for it is the point. It's an opportunity to tackle a task so immense and difficult, you end up with a change of perspective at the end.
Yes, it's easy to shrug routines like this off as the latest ice-bucket challenge, but to those who undertake it annually—including many active-duty service members—Murph has become more than that. The workout's namesake and creator, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, was a fitness-loving SEAL who was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, at age 29.
Today, the way he fought and trained are forever intertwined, offering the rest of us a way to catch a glimpse of the special combination of fitness and ferocity required of those who protect our lives abroad—at the risk of losing their own.
But why train to honor fallen heroes? This is a question you'll ask yourself repeatedly over the course of Murph. So let's try to answer it.
Soldiers, The Original Athletes
Surface-level news coverage might lead you to believe that today's battles are won by drone operators from air-conditioned trailers in Virginia, or by guided missiles fired from some distant gulf. But the fighters on the ground know better.
The reality on the ground is one marked by building-to-building skirmishes, close-quarters combat, mad dashes to cover, scaling walls, kicking doors, and wrestling enemy combatants. Unimaginably difficult choices have to be made on a moment's notice, and often while at a level of fatigue that the rest of us will never experience.
The last thing you want to be worried about is whether or not you have the stamina to win a fight for your weapon or the strength to pull a brother or sister to safety. You must learn to simply continue pushing, pulling, running, hoisting, when your body is screaming for rest. The weight can't matter. What matters is to keep going.
Stateside, we civilians have the luxury of training and eating to look better for our latest Instagram post. We do what we can to chase a pump or etch a little extra detail into this muscle or that one. And if our routine gets a little stale, we can simply hop online to requisition another. This is our familiar and protected reality, and it stands in stark contrast to those in uniform.
Men and women of the armed forces train hard, too, of course. From the dusty, makeshift confines of gyms on the front lines to the upscale trappings of domestic bases, cutting-edge training protocols are now etched into the DNA of America's military.
But in the chaos of battle, sometimes it's not enough.
Training our warfighters like athletes unquestionably increases survivability, but it does not instill invincibility. Heroes like Lieutenant Michael Murphy knew that. Still, he trained with passion and purpose anyway. If he was to die in battle, it wouldn't be because he wasn't fit enough.
And we, far from the dusty mountaintops of the Kunar Province, can draw inspiration from that. This Monday, train with the resolve of so many fallen heroes, for whatever personal battles await. You'll feel incredible at the end, like you gave it your all. But there are many who gave more.