The Gwen WOD: Goal Reps, Tips, and Safety

A young woman holds a barbell overhead in a CrossFit Gym.

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The CrossFit “Girl” WODs are a group of benchmark workouts that CrossFit athletes use to measure their progress over time. Each of these workouts presents unique challenges and they’re known for being some of the most difficult CrossFit workouts ever developed. 

The Gwen WOD is one of the first "Girl" workouts ever released, and it goes like this:

  • 15 clean and jerks
  • 12 clean and jerks
  • 9 clean and jerks

The Gwen WOD is a classic “15-12-9” WOD, but it has two quirks. Instead of going as fast as possible, you’re encouraged to rest in between sets, and you get to choose your own weight. 

Each set must be unbroken (i.e., do all 15 without dropping the barbell), but you can rest as long as you need to in between sets.

The Gwen CrossFit WOD

Score: The Gwen WOD is scored for time and load, so your scores are: A) how quickly you complete the workout and B) how much weight you use.

Equipment Needed: Barbell, bumper plates

Level: Intermediate. Most athletes from beginner to advanced should be able to do this workout or a variation of it.

Benefits

Like all CrossFit workouts, there are numerous benefits to completing the Gwen WOD.

Power and Explosiveness 

Olympic lifters are known for their speed, power, and explosiveness—you know, the way they can make a 300-pound barbell seem to fly through the air in a split second. Those are the kind of skills you develop by doing workouts like the Gwen WOD. This CrossFit WOD will strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors to increase your power in all lifts. 

Full-Body Strength

The clean-and-jerk utilizes muscles throughout your entire body. Your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, back, arms, shoulders, chest—you name it, you use it during the clean-and-jerk. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

There’s only one movement you need to know how to do for the Gwen WOD: the clean-and-jerk. This classic Olympic weightlifting move requires strength, explosiveness, and mobility from every part of your body. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand a few inches behind your barbell: The bar should hover over your shoelaces. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, and hinge at the hips with a slight bend in your knees. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands about shoulder-width apart (just outside of your knees). Keep your chest high, eyes forward, and core tight.
  2. The first pull is much like a deadlift, but with more power in the hips. Pull the barbell off of the floor by powerfully extending your hips and straightening your legs. Think about squeezing your glutes as hard as you can. 
  3. As the bar passes your knees, rise up onto your toes to reach “triple extension,” which means an extension of your ankles, knees, and hips. 
  4. As the bar passes your hips, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears and pull your elbows up high. The bar should be somewhere between your sternum and your chin. 
  5. After you shrug and pull your elbows up, bend your knees and flip your arms so that your elbows point forward. Catch the barbell in the front rack position, with your feet flat and knees slightly bent.
  6. From the receiving position (knees still bent), squeeze your glutes to fully extend your hips. This should send the bar upward with pure momentum.
  7. As the bar begins to travel upward from the drive, press your arms up to send the barbell into the overhead position. 
  8. Lock your elbows out overhead and catch the bar in a “power stance,” where your feet are flat and knees are slightly bent. 

Common Mistakes

Even though the Gwen WOD consists of only one move, there are still a few mistakes to be made if you're not cautious.

Picking Too Heavy a Weight

This is easily the most common mistake made during the Gwen WOD. Because the reps for each set must be unbroken—meaning you cannot drop the barbell in the middle of a set, or you’ll have to start over—choosing your weight can be intimidating. You don’t want to go too heavy for fear of being penalized, but you don’t want to go too light and miss out on the workout stimulus. 

Here’s a rule of thumb to keep in mind: For the Gwen WOD, choose a weight with which you can perform 15 clean-and-jerks unbroken while you’re kind of tired. Don’t choose a weight you can use for 15 reps when you’re fresh, because the sets of 12 and nine will be rough. 

Cycling the Barbell Too Quickly

This might sound counterintuitive, but don’t cycle the barbell too quickly. Doing so may make your muscles burn out before you get near the end of a set, and you may end up dropping the bar and getting penalized. Instead, focus on your technique and make each rep smooth. This benefits you twofold; you hone your form and prevent the muscle burn (AKA, lactic acid build-up) from becoming too intense. 

Modifications and Variations

Gwen is a unique CrossFit workout because only one factor is prescribed: the movement. It’s up to you to choose the weight and rest intervals. So, in terms of modifications, there’s not much you can do except modify the actual movement. Here are a couple of ways to scale the Gwen WOD for injuries, pregnancy, and range of motion.

Dumbbell Clean and Jerks

Certain injuries and pregnancy may make barbell clean-and-jerks uncomfortable or painful. Using dumbbells in place of a barbell allows for a greater range of motion and, for some people, better body control. Beginners who have a hard time with barbell clean-and-jerk technique can also substitute with dumbbell clean-and-jerks to practice good form. 

Power Cleans

If you can’t do overhead movements because of an injury or limited range of motion, you can opt for just power cleans instead—simply remove the overhead portion of the clean-and-jerk. If you want to add a more challenging element, do squat cleans, where you drop into a full front squat when you catch the bar. The stimulus will be similar to that of clean-and-jerks, minus the load on the shoulders. 

Safety and Precautions

Before starting any workout, take some basic precautions to ensure your own safety and the safety of those around you. Before the Gwen WOD, make sure you:

  • Check your surroundings for stray objects. 
  • Set up your barbell at a safe distance from others. 
  • Put clips on your barbell to ensure weights don’t fly off. 
  • Eat and hydrate to avoid symptoms like dizziness and lightheadedness. 
  • Warm-up with dynamic movements to prime your body for exercise. 

During the Gwen WOD, keep these safety standards in mind, especially if you’re working out in the presence of other people: 

  • Don’t throw or drop your barbell from the overhead position. Lower it to the ground with control. 
  • Don’t allow your barbell to roll away from your space during rest intervals. Use your foot as a stopper and keep an eye on the barbell if you’re on a sloped floor. 
  • Stay aware of others near your workout area. Kindly ask them to give you more space if you feel they’re too close. 

Lastly, after your workout, follow some simple steps to keep your body happy and keep your gym safe and clean. 

  • Put any equipment you used back where it belongs. 
  • Wipe down your equipment with an antimicrobial wipe or spray. 
  • Clean sweat from the floor if necessary. 
  • Rehydrate and refuel shortly after you finish the workout. 
  • Stretch, foam roll, or engage in another sort of cool down to help your body recover and get ready for your next workout! 
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Article Sources
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  • CrossFit Level One Training Guide, Second Edition. CrossFit; 2019.