The Nancy WoD: Goal Times, Tips, and Safety

A Workout of the Day All About Speed and Endurance

Running and overhead squats are the name of the game in the CrossFit “Girl” WoD Nancy. One of the original Girl WoDs, first posted on the CrossFit main site on June 28, 2005, Nancy is a simultaneous test of speed and endurance. Lightweight and fast, Nancy can be done in as little as nine minutes (for elite athletes) or take up to 20-plus minutes (for beginners). Knock Nancy out of the park with Verywell Fit’s complete guide to this benchmark CrossFit workout. 

The Nancy WoD

Goal Times: Beginner: 17 to 20-plus minutes. Intermediate: 13 to 16 minutes. Advanced: 10 to 12 minutes. Elite: less than nine minutes.

Score: For time — complete all five rounds as fast as possible.

Equipment Needed: barbell, bumper plates, barbell clips, running shoes, wrist wraps.

Level: Nancy is appropriate for all fitness levels, though the overhead squats may present a challenge for athletes with limited mobility in the shoulders, spine, and hips.

Benefits

Because CrossFit workouts encompass a variety of fitness modalities, they can help you improve a range of fitness markers. The Nancy WoD offers a select four: cardiovascular endurance, speed, mobility, and leg strength.

Cardiovascular endurance

During the Nancy workout, your lungs will burn — this is a good thing! With five 400-meter runs, Nancy will challenge your heart and lungs, improving your cardiovascular fitness as a result.

And even though this workout can last as little as nine minutes (for elite athletes), most fitness experts would still drop Nancy into the endurance category because you get little to no rest between running, overhead squats, and more running. 

Speed

Nancy is a double-whammy: On top of improving your cardio endurance, this workout will teach you to run and lift fast. To get a good time on Nancy, you have to push your pace on the runs and get straight to the barbell — there’s no time for a breather. 

Mobility

Overhead squats require more mobility than many people realize. Most CrossFit athletes have to build up to overhead squats over time, practicing a great deal of mobility exercises and focusing on flexibility.

The Nancy workout will help you identify faulty movement patterns and areas of your body with limited range of motion if you don’t already have great mobility; if you do already have great mobility, the Nancy WoD will further reinforce those beneficial movement patterns. 

Leg strength

The total 2,000 meters of running combined with the total 60 overhead squats will truly test your leg strength, as well as your muscular endurance.

You’ll need a good baseline level of leg strength to complete the Nancy WoD as written, but practicing modifications (described later) can also help you build strength and endurance in your leg muscles. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Nancy is not a complex workout, consisting only of running and one weightlifting movement. However, there are still some guidelines, tips, and tricks to keep in mind, especially when it comes to overhead squats.

Set up for Nancy

For the Nancy WoD, you’ll need a barbell, bumper plates, and barbell clips to keep your weights secure. You may also want to wear wrist wraps for this workout if overhead squats tend to make your wrists uncomfortable.

To set up, load your barbell, put on any gear you wish to wear, and make sure your 400-meter run route is set. Keep your water bottle close by, but know that this workout goes by so quickly you may not have a chance to reach for it until you’re done. 

Tips for Running 400 Meters

First things first: Make sure your route is safe. Most CrossFit gyms don’t have their own tracks, so athletes often run roadside. Wear bright colors and look out for vehicles and other pedestrians. Here are some general tips for running 400 meters during Nancy: 

  • Control your breathing
  • Keep your chest high and shoulders back — poor posture is a serious energy suck during runs
  • Take nice long strides with a comfortable strike pattern
  • Don’t go too fast on the first run — pace yourself

How To Do Overhead Squats

Overhead squats truly are a full-body movement, and they can feel very awkward if you haven’t done them before. You’ll force your body into a position that might feel foreign or uncomfortable, but that will dissipate with practice. Follow this step-by-step to make sure you perform quality overhead squats: 

  1. Start standing with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. The barbell should be in front of you. 
  2. Bend down and grip the barbell. Depending on your strength, you can either perform a snatch to get the barbell overhead, or you can perform a clean-and-jerk. If you choose to clean-and-jerk, you’ll need to first rest the barbell on your shoulders and then press the barbell overhead with a wide grip.
  3. Stabilize the barbell overhead with a wide grip (like a snatch grip). 
  4. Take a deep breath and tighten your core. 
  5. Descend into the squat, keeping your torso upright, your knees pointed straight or outward, and your feet fully flat on the ground. 
  6. Once you reach full depth (or as deep as you can go with your level of mobility and flexibility), use your legs to drive back up into the standing position.

For more on this complex movement, read Verywell Fit’s complete guide to overhead squats with a detailed step-by-step.

Modifications and Variations

As with all CrossFit workouts, you can modify the Nancy WoD to suit your fitness level. Check out these variations to make it easier or harder, plus some general tips and tricks for making the most of this workout. 

Reduce Overhead Squat Load

This benchmark workout is designed to be lightweight and fast. If the weights are too heavy for you to complete Nancy in the appropriate time frame for your fitness level, reduce the load on the overhead squat so you can perform all the reps unbroken and still run fast. Below are two modified options, one for intermediate athletes and one for beginner athletes.

Intermediate Nancy

5 Rounds for Time of:

  • 400 meter Run
  • 15 Overhead Squats (65/45 lb)

Beginner Option

4 Rounds for Time of:

  • 400 Meter Run
  • 10 Overhead Squats (45/35 lb)

Scale or Modify the 400-Meter Run

200 meter run: If your 400-meter run takes longer than two and a half minutes, you may want to cut the run in half for Nancy. A good Nancy time for a beginner is 17 to 20 minutes — at two minutes per run, just the running takes up 10 minutes. Then you have to account for the overhead squats and transition times. So you really want to keep your runs around or under two minutes each.

Rowing: If you can’t run because of an injury, pregnancy, or other condition, you may substitute the running with rowing. For the Nancy workout, the meter count stays the same: Row 400 meters on an erg.  

Airdyne Biking: Another substitution option for running is cycling. At CrossFit gyms, athletes cycle on an Airdyne Bike, a type of stationary bike-powered solely by air resistance. Substitution values vary on the bike, but most CrossFit trainers agree that biking for two minutes or one mile is a good equivalent to a 400-meter run. 

“Naughty Nancy”

For elite-level CrossFit athletes, there’s a more difficult version of the Nancy WoD, called “Naughty Nancy.” This version of Nancy was programmed at the 2013 CrossFit Games, and it’s one of the only Girl WoDs to ever be programmed at the Games.

5 Rounds for Time

  • 600 meter berm Run (up and over)
  • 25 Overhead Squats (140/95 lb)
  • Time Cap: 20 minutes

A “berm run” is a run that goes uphill and downhill, usually in a stadium of sorts (also called a stadium run). If you don’t have access to a stadium, you can get the same stimulus by running up and down a hill or climbing stairs.

“Nautical Nancy”

Are you more of a swimmer than a runner? If so, you’ll love this water-based version of the Nancy benchmark workout. Nautical Nancy replaces the 400-meter run with a 100-meter freestyle swim (four lengths of a standard-sized lap pool). Of course, you have to have access to a lap pool for this version of Nancy, but for another nautical variant, you can opt for a 400-meter row on an erg.  

Other Tips and Tricks for Nancy

Nancy is meant to be fast and lightweight. Your lungs and muscles should burn throughout the WoD, but you shouldn’t need to take breaks longer than five to 10 seconds.

The goal is to transition quickly from the 400-meter run to the barbell and perform all 15 overhead squats unbroken. Try to remember these cues as you complete Nancy: 

  • Control your breathing and posture during the runs (shoulders back!) 
  • Maintain a consistent pace, especially on the runs — don’t go out of the gate too fast or you’ll burn out after round two. 
  • Keep your core tight and your back engaged on the overhead squats. Proper form is key to good reps. 
  • Aim for unbroken sets on the overhead squats, but switch to sets of eight and seven if you find yourself burning out. 

Safety and Precautions 

As always, safety comes first. In addition to making any of the above modifications if necessary, such as scaling the weight, make sure you take these precautions before attempting the Nancy WoD. 

Mobilize Before Beginning

Mobility is key when it comes to overhead squats. You must have the flexibility required to squat to full depth while keeping your heels flat on the ground, your chest up high, and your arms fully extended overhead. Don’t feel bad if you don’t yet have this mobility — it’s tough to acquire and can take a great deal of stretching, foam rolling, and mobility exercises.

That said, you can loosen yourself up enough to safely perform overhead squats, even if they aren’t 100% perfect. Try these mobilizing techniques: 

Practice Overhead Squat Technique

Now that you’ve increased range of motion in your joints and primed your muscles, practice your overhead squats with an empty barbell. Do three sets of 10 reps at a slow, controlled pace to get your body familiar with the technique.

Perhaps sit in the bottom position of an overhead squat for 10 to 20 seconds. This will help you remember proper form when you’re mid-workout and only worried about speed. 

Pace Yourself

Speaking of speed, don’t go too fast in the beginning. You want to be quick, but not so quick that you’re dusted and done by the end of round one. Predetermine your pace and adjust based on how you feel.

For example, if you run your first 400 meters in two minutes, but that felt super easy, pick it up a notch in round two — try one minute and 45 seconds. Maintain a pace that feels hard, but not depleting. 

Wear Good Shoes

Nancy is a tough WoD when it comes to choosing the right shoes. Usually, when CrossFit athletes perform Olympic weightlifting movements like overhead squats, they opt for sturdy, stable shoes with a very flat sole.

With 2,000 total meters of running, however, you want to make sure that you won’t end up with blisters or sore arches. Minimalist running shoes are good for WoDs like Nancy that include both running and lifting. Need some shoe inspo? Check out Verywell Fit’s list of best CrossFit shoes for women and men, as well as the best overall gym shoes for women and men.

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Article Sources
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