The Isabel WoD: Goal Times, Tips, and Safety

Man lifting barbell

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In CrossFit, a handful of movements are considered the epitome of functional fitness — beginners celebrate when they finally achieve these movements (and celebrate again every time they increase in weight or difficulty). One such movement is the snatch, a classic Olympic lifting move that involves lifting the barbell from the ground to overhead in one seamless motion. 

When done correctly, the snatch looks explosive and powerful, and the athlete lands with their feet flat on the floor and arms locked out overhead. The Isabel CrossFit WoD is an ode to the snatch, consisting only of this one movement.

The Isabel CrossFit WoD is as follows: 

On a running clock, perform 30 barbell snatches as fast as possible. The prescribed (RX) weights are 135 pounds for men and 95 pounds for women.

The Isabel CrossFit "Girl" WoD

Score: Isabel is scored “for time,” meaning you complete the workout as fast as possible.

Equipment Needed: Barbell, bumper plates. Optional: wrist wraps, knee support.

Goal Times: Beginner: six to seven minutes. Intermediate: four to six minutes. Advanced: three to four minutes. Elite: two minutes or less.

Level: Isabel is a straightforward WoD appropriate for all levels, including beginners if they can properly perform the snatch. 

Isabel first appeared on the CrossFit main website on November 4, 2004  after it was released by CrossFit HQ as the second group of “Girl” workouts (the original girls were released in September 2003 . The CrossFit Journal called it “Grace’s best friend” — the Grace WoD is 30 clean and jerks for time. 

Benefits

CrossFit is known for its “constantly varied” approach to fitness, but some workouts test a very specific element of fitness. Of CrossFit’s 10 components of fitness — dubbed the “10 general physical skills for general physical preparedness ” — the Isabel WoD primarily targets speed. It does encompass a few accessory elements, however: stamina, strength, and coordination play a large part in getting a good score on the Isabel WoD. 

Speed

The primary goal of the Isabel WoD is simple: Move quickly. This Girl WoD is one of the quickest CrossFit benchmark workouts of all time, with only Grace and Fran coming close. 

Elite CrossFit athletes can complete Isabel in less than two measly minutes, while beginners should aim for six to seven minutes. Intermediate to advanced athletes should finish somewhere in between. These goal times are estimated with the RX weight in mind, so if you scale, you may be able to finish the workout in even less time (although you should aim to use the prescribed weights if you know that you can finish within those goal times for your fitness level). 

The Isabel WoD will teach you how to move quickly while keeping the barbell under meticulous control, a skill known in CrossFit as “barbell cycling.” The faster you can move the bar from the ground to overhead and back — while maintaining good form — the better you’ll do.

Read more: Resistance Sprint Drills to Seriously Boost Your Speed

Stamina

In fitness, stamina is defined as your ability to continue exercise (especially intense exercise) for a prolonged period of time. This definition is usually applied to endurance exercise, but it can also apply to sprint workouts like Isabel. 

During the Isabel WoD, you need to keep up a very intense bout of movement for several minutes — thus, performing this workout can improve your stamina. If you complete Isabel at regular intervals, such as every three months, your score should improve slightly each time as your body gets used to exerting so much energy in just two to seven minutes, depending on your initial level of fitness. 

By doing other CrossFit workouts regularly, such as two to three times per week, you can further improve your stamina for workouts such as Isabel.

Strength

You might think that 135 pounds and 95 pounds are heavy weights for the snatch. For most people, that’s true, so you may be surprised to learn that the intended stimulus for Isabel isn’t to be a heavy weightlifting workout. Rather, the intended stimulus is actually for the weight to be light to moderate and for athletes to sprint through the reps at a near-all out effort.

So, in order to meet the goal times with the RX weights, you must have a solid strength base already. Practicing Isabel with lighter weights (more details under Modifications and Variations) can help you build the strength you need in order to eventually complete the workout as written.

Coordination

Olympic lifting involves a specialized skill set, one of those skills being coordination. People don’t often think of coordination as an element of fitness, but it’s a crucial skill when it comes to correctly performing the snatch and other Olympic lifts. 

The Isabel WoD can help you develop the coordination it takes to smoothly lift a barbell from the ground to overhead in one movement. You’ll learn how to complete a snatch in the next section, but some key components include keeping the barbell close to your body, generating power from your hips, quickly turning your elbows over, and carefully timing your pulls.  

Step-by-Step Instructions

Fortunately or not — depending on your outlook on snatches — the Isabel WoD consists of just one movement. This means the workout is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy: The snatch is arguably the most complex barbell movement in all of CrossFit. In this section, learn how to set up for the Isabel WoD and how to complete the snatch, step-by-step. 

Set Up for the Isabel WoD

For Isabel, you only need a barbell and bumper plates. You can also wear wrist wraps, like these wraps from Rogue Fitness, to support your wrists, as well as any other compression gear or supportive wraps you may need (such as knee sleeves).

You should also make sure to wear sturdy shoes, either lifting shoes or cross-trainers, to help with form and ankle stability. Cushioned shoes, such as running shoes, are usually not recommended for Olympic lifting because they can cause instability during the lifts and mess with your form. 

To set up, simply load your barbell with the weight you want to use for the workout. Here’s a breakdown of how to load the bar with the RX weights: 

  • 135 pounds (men): 45-pound barbell with a 45-pound plate on each side
  • 95 pounds (women): 45-pound barbell with a 25-pound plate on each side, or a 35-pound barbell with 35 pounds on each side.

The barbell differentiation above is made because many CrossFit gyms have 35-pound barbells for women — the width of the bar is smaller, making it easier for women with smaller hands to get a full, safe grip. However, don’t feel like you need to use the 35-pound bar if you prefer the 45-pound bar. 

You probably won’t stop for a water break during Isabel, but you may want to keep your water bottle close by just in case. Get suited up in your gear and shoes, and you’re ready to go!

How to Do Snatches

There’s some debate about whether the Isabel workout should consist of “full snatches” (also called “squat snatches”) or power snatches.

The difference between the two: Full snatches involve catching the barbell in an overhead squat position, while power snatches involve catching the barbell in a quarter-squat position. 

Some athletes find full snatches easier, and others find power snatches easier. According to WODWell, an archive of CrossFit workouts, any type of snatch is acceptable for the Isabel WoD. Even a split snatch is considered acceptable, which usually isn't the case. A split snatch involves landing with your feet in the split — or high lunge — position, like you would for the split push jerk.

For the purposes of this article, this step-by-step guide covers the full snatch. 

The Grip

Before even attempting a snatch, make sure you are gripping the bar correctly. You should have a wide grip on the bar; when you stand up with the barbell, it should rest against the crease of your hips. Your grip is too narrow if, while standing, the barbell rests below your hips. 

Make sure you fully grip the bar — the barbell should be enclosed by your entire palm, not just where your palm meets your first knuckle. A full grip reduces the possibility that the barbell slips out of your hand. To be even safer, you can use a "hook grip": Wrap your thumb around the barbell first, and then cover your thumb with your fingers. This grip may hurt at first, but most CrossFit and Olympic lifting coaches prefer that their athletes use this grip for the Olympic lifts.

Phase 1

Phase 1 consists of getting the barbell from the floor to your mid-thigh.

  1. Get into the starting position. Bend down and grip the barbell with your wide grip. Make sure your spine stays in a neutral position and your heels stay flat on the floor. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, but exact positioning differs for everyone. The barbell should be lightly grazing your shins.
  2. Create tension. Position your shoulders so that they hover above the barbell. Pull your shoulders down and back (think about squeezing your shoulder blades together). Brace your core, glutes, and hamstrings. 
  3. Stand the bar up. This portion of the lift, called the “first pull,” is much like a deadlift. Push through your heels and, keeping the barbell in contact with your body, raise the barbell to your mid-thighs. Your hips should still be hinged and your back should still be straight. 

Phase 2

Phase 2 consists of getting the barbell from your mid-thigh to the high pull position. This phase should be fast and very powerful, creating the momentum you need to put the barbell overhead in phase 3.

  1. Extend your hips (with power!). As you bring the barbell to your mid-thighs, powerfully contract your glutes and hamstrings to fully extend your hips. Think of doing a barbell hip thrust. The goal here is to exert as much power as possible, sending the bar upward with momentum. This momentum is necessary to reduce the load on your upper body and core.
  2. Keep the bar close to your body. It’s common to see new athletes bump the barbell away from their body as they extend their hips. Don’t do this — the barbell should remain close to your body, even lightly grazing your hips as it travels upward.
  3. Drive your elbows high. To keep the momentum going from your hip extension, you need to pull your elbows up high. Use your traps, shoulders, and back muscles to pull your elbows up as high as you can, but make sure not to pull the barbell higher than your mid-chest. Because of the momentum you generated with your hips, the bar should feel almost weightless at this point in the lift.

Phase 3

Also called the “turnover,” Phase 3 consists of finally putting the barbell into the locked-out overhead position.

  1. Widen your stance and “shrug” underneath the bar. This is a two-in-one step that should happen simultaneously. After you pull your elbows up high, execute the turnover (take this quite literally — turn your arms over so that your knuckles go from facing the floor to facing the sky). Simultaneously, widen your feet into your squat stance (they must come off of the floor to do so) and bend your knees and hips to descend into a squat 
  2. Confidently catch the barbell in a squat. All that’s left to do is catch the barbell. By the time your feet land on the floor after widening your stance, you should be in a full overhead squat. Stabilize yourself in the bottom position before standing back up. 
  3. Stand up and repeat. The rep is complete when you stand up with your hips fully extended and the barbell still in the overhead position. Lower the barbell back to the ground and repeat from the beginning.

Watch a video tutorial from CrossFit on how to correctly perform the snatch. 

Common Mistakes

In all workouts, there’s room for error. This is especially true for CrossFit workouts, where it’s often hard to resist the urge to prioritize speed, weight, or score over technique. Form should always come first — make sure your technique stays in tip-top shape throughout the Isabel WoD by avoiding these common mistakes. 

Going Too Heavy

CrossFitters have a tendency to use weights that are too heavy for them (this coming from a CrossFit coach and CrossFit athlete of four years). It’s simply the nature of the environment, where upbeat music, enthusiastic coaches, and equally as excited friends encourage you to do your best. 

However, it’s important to ignore the craze and choose weights that suit your current fitness level. If you go too heavy for a WoD like Isabel, you risk seriously injuring yourself — or, at the very least, becoming so sore that you can’t work out for a few days. For the Isabel WoD, choose a weight with which you can quickly and correctly perform at least five reps of the snatch. 

Improper Rep Scheme

Athletes of all levels have tested different rep schemes for the Isabel WoD, from doing all of the reps as one big set to taking a short break in between each and every rep.

Rep Schemes for the Isabel "Girl" WoD

  • One big set of 30 (not recommended unless the weight is very light for you)
  • Two sets of 15
  • Three sets of 10
  • One set of 20, and then one set of 10
  • Two sets of 10 and two sets of five
  • Six sets of five
  • 15 sets of two (called “doubles”)
  • 30 individual reps (called “singles”) with very quick breaks

The truth is, there is no “best” rep scheme for the Isabel WoD. It’s all about strategizing based on how heavy the weight is for you. For example, if 95 pounds is moderately heavy for you, you may want to try six sets of five or 30 singles. If 95 pounds is very light for you, you can attempt bigger sets, such as two sets of 15 or one big set of 30. 

Poor Snatch Form

There are, it seems, a million things that can go wrong with the snatch. Make sure to focus on the key points in the step-by-step guide provided earlier in this article. If you’re not very experienced with Olympic lifting, your best bet is to get more familiar with the snatch before trying the Isabel WoD. Work with your coach on correcting your snatch form so you can confidently complete this workout. 

Modifications and Variations

If you can’t complete the Isabel WoD as written at your current fitness level, take advantage of the several scaling options available to you. If you can do barbell snatches, but the weight is too heavy, simply scale the weight down. If you can’t do barbell snatches because of an injury, pregnancy, or other condition, use one of the movement modifications below.

Beginner and Intermediate Isabel

Beginner Isabel
  • For Time

    30 Snatches (115 pounds for men/75 pounds for women)

Intermediate Isabel
  • For Time

    30 Snatches (75 pounds for men/55 pounds for women)

Power Snatches

As mentioned earlier, any form of the snatch is appropriate for the Isabel WoD. If you can't get into the overhead squat position required for full snatches, try power snatches, which involve catching the barbell in a “power stance” — also known as a quarter-squat.

Hang Snatches

If for any reason you can’t achieve a proper starting position for a power snatch (barbell on the ground), try completing Isabel with hang snatches. With hang snatches, you start with the barbell at your mid-thigh, rather than the ground. 

Dumbbell or Kettlebell Snatches

Perhaps barbell snatches are just a no-go for you right now (many pregnant women don’t feel comfortable doing barbell snatches). Ask your coach about dumbbell or kettlebell snatches, which allow for greater range of motion and can accommodate some injuries and conditions.

Safety and Precautions

Before any workout, you should take time to prepare — a good warmup and some practice reps can go a long way when it comes to preventing injury and making sure you can continue to work out at the intensity you desire. 

Warm Up Your Shoulders and Hips

Perform a general warmup that includes dynamic hip and shoulder stretches. Those joints will be taxed greatly during the Isabel WoD, so you want to make sure they’re primed and ready to move efficiently throughout the workout. These 10 stretches can open up your hips and shoulders, but be sure to perform some dynamic movements as well.

Examples include:

Practice Your Snatches

After your general warmup, move into a specific warmup (a warmup that mimics the movements you’ll do in your workout). In this case, your specific warmup should consist of practice snatch reps with a PVC pipe (available at most CrossFit gyms) or an empty barbell. Remember to focus on all the points of performance in the step-by-step guide above. 

Experiment With Different Weights

Don’t just pick a weight and start the workout. Experiment with several options before attempting the Isabel WoD, especially if you’re on the cusp of the ability to lift a heavier weight. You don’t want to go so heavy that you hurt yourself or can’t finish the workout, but you don’t want to go so light that you don’t get a good workout. 

During your warmup, do a set of five reps with a few different weights — five reps will give you a good idea of whether or not you’ll be able to complete the workout with that weight. 

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Article Sources
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  1. “Isabel” WOD. WODWell; 2019.

  2. Glassman G. The New Girls. The CrossFit Journal. November 2004. http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/27_04_new_girls.pdf.

  3. Greg G. Benchmark Workouts. The CrossFit Journal. September 2003. https://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/13_03_Benchmark_Workouts.pdf.

  4. Glassman, Greg. What Is Fitness? (PDF). CrossFit Journal; 2002.

Additional Reading
  • CrossFit Level One Training Guide, Second Edition. CrossFit; 2019.