The King Kong WOD: Goal Times, Tips, and Safety

A CrossFit athlete performs a muscle-up.

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To people who have never done CrossFit, every CrossFit WOD might look brutal. To people who do CrossFit, a special subset of brutal workouts brings athletes to what’s (semi-fondly) called “the pain cave.” 

The King Kong CrossFit WOD is one of those workouts. 

Unlike other popular CrossFit workouts, the King Kong WOD isn’t technically a benchmark workout (like the Girl WODs and many of the Hero WODs). However, that hasn’t stopped CrossFit athletes from treating it like such. The King Kong WOD has garnered an awe factor within the CrossFit community. If you can perform this workout as written, you’re a CrossFit superstar.

The King Kong CrossFit WOD is as follows: 

3 Rounds For Time

  • 1 deadlift (455 pounds for men, 320 pounds for women)
  • 2 muscle-ups
  • 3 squat cleans (250 pounds for men, 175 pounds for women)
  • 4 handstand push-ups

The King Kong CrossFit WOD

Score: The King Kong WOD is scored for time, which means you complete all of the rounds and reps as fast as possible. 

Equipment Needed: Barbell, bumper plates, gymnastics rings, wall space, skull mat

Level: King Kong is an equipment-heavy and elite-level workout that shouldn’t be attempted by beginners without proper modifications. 

Goal Times: 

  • Beginner: 8-10 minutes 
  • Intermediate: 6-8 minutes
  • Advanced: 4-6 minutes
  • Elite: less than four minutes

Before getting into the workout, we should clarify what those goal times mean. The King Kong WOD is short—if you can perform all the movements as is, the workout only consists of 30 total reps between the three rounds. 

For elite athletes, this WOD takes no more than four or five minutes. The goal times above reflect the abilities of athletes who can perform all of the movements as is, but with varying levels of efficiency. So, the goal time for beginners refers to people who can perform all of the exercises but need more rest in between reps. 

Benefits

There are some benefits in store for those who can handle the King Kong WOD.

Strength 

The main outcome of the King Kong WOD is, as should be expected, pure strength. With weights like 455 pounds and 320 pounds, the intent is to challenge your muscles—every round of the workout requires all-out efforts. Deadlifting and squat cleaning high-triple digit numbers is a feat even for very strong people, so suffice it to say that the King Kong WOD encourages strength gains. 

Gymnastics Skills 

Half of the King Kong WOD is strength-based; the other half is gymnastics-based. Handstand push-ups and muscle-ups are two notoriously challenging CrossFit movements that require phenomenal muscle control and body awareness. Practicing these movements, or some variations of them, will teach you to move your body in the seamless, fluid manner characteristic of gymnasts. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

The King Kong WOD is a “for time” workout, which means you complete all of the reps as quickly as you can. You can rest as needed between reps and sets, but there’s one big thing you should know: you’ll either have to change the weights on your bar every round, or have someone else do it for you. 

This can be sort of a bother during workouts, so it’s best to set up your workout station in a way that makes it easy to take the weight off and put it back on. That is unless you want to do the deadlifts and the squat cleans with the same weight, which you’re certainly free to do. If you have the space and the equipment, you can also set up two barbells, one for the deadlift and one for the clean. 

Chalking up for a workout
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How to Do a Deadlift

  1. Stand behind your barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes under the bar. Use an overhand or mixed grip. Point your toes forward or angle them out just slightly. 
  2. Bend down to grip the barbell, sending your hips backward first (the hip hinge). The bar should graze your shins, and your spine should be in a tight, neutral position. Keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine (don’t hyperextend). 
  3. Stabilize your abdominal muscles by engaging your core.
  4. Drive through your heels and hamstrings to lift the bar off of the ground. Keep the barbell close to your body and stand up all the way, fully extending your hips. Pull your shoulder blades back to avoid rounding, but don’t bend backward. 
  5. Lower the bar to the floor by hinging at the hips, then bending your knees, and controlling the full descent. 

How to Do Muscle-Ups 

Please note that most people can’t just walk into a gym and perform a muscle-up; there is a lot of training that goes into successful muscle-ups. If you haven’t performed muscle-ups before, talk to a coach about modifications and progressions. 

  1. Jump to grab onto a pair of gymnastics rings with a false grip (thumbs go on top of the rings, not around them). You should have enough room and height to swing without scraping your feet on the ground. 
  2. Perform a few kips (alternate between the “arch” and “hollow” positions). Gain enough momentum to where you feel yourself gaining more height with each kip. 
  3. Explosively thrust your hips upward (much like you would in a barbell hip thrust) and think about pulling your belly button to the rings. The goal here is to get as horizontal as possible and bring your body as close as possible to the rings. 
  4. Once you pull your body up and achieve a horizontal position, quickly flip your elbows behind you to rotate into a vertical position with your chest over the rings. 
  5. Finally, perform a triceps dip on top of the rings and fully extend your arms. 
  6. In reverse order, return back to the dead hang position. Push away from the rings at the top to keep your momentum, and as you fall back into the hang, try to start another kip right away.

How to Do Squat Cleans

  1. Stand in front of the barbell with your feet hip-distance apart. Lower your body into a deadlift position and grip the bar fully, with your hands just outside of your shins. Keep your spine in a neutral position; your back should remain tight and strong.
  2. Stand up with the bar, keeping it close to your body. With your core engaged, pull the bar until it hovers at thigh-height. Your hips should be fully extended, in line with your ankles and knees.
  3. Thrust your hips forward powerfully, squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, to gain momentum and propel the bar upward. You may roll onto the balls of your feet during this explosive portion of the lift.
  4. Shrug your shoulders and lift your elbows up high, pulling the bar about to the height of your collarbone. 
  5. Flip your elbows forward and drop into a front squat. Catch the barbell in the front-rack position. 
  6. Stand tall with the weight resting on the front of your shoulders. Keep your elbows pointed forward, with your triceps parallel to the ground.

How to Do Handstand Push-Ups

Please note that there is a great deal of preliminary training that goes into handstand push-ups. This how-to covers kipping handstand push-ups, but talk to a coach about modifications if you’re unsure about whether you can safely perform them. 

  1. Kick up against a wall (your back should face the wall) with your hands about six to 10 inches away from the wall. Press into the floor and lock out your elbows. 
  2. With control, slowly lower yourself down until the top of your head touches the ground (use a mat or folded towel for comfort). 
  3. Tuck your knees into your chest. 
  4. Powerfully extend your legs by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, simultaneously pressing up with your shoulders and extending your arms. 
  5. At the top, your arms and legs should be fully extended, with your spine in a neutral position. This completes one rep. 
  6. Carefully lower yourself back down to the ground to start another rep. 
Handstand push-ups.
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Common Mistakes

Below are common mistakes you might encounter during each exercise.

Deadlift Mistakes 

The deadlift is one of the most basic weightlifting movements, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for error. Watch out for these common technique mistakes to avoid hurting yourself. 

Rounded Back

If your back rounds during a deadlift, it likely means the weight is too heavy. Your spine should remain in a neutral position throughout the duration of the lift to avoid injury.

Bar Strays From Body

During a deadlift, you want to keep the barbell close to your body—so close, in fact, that many coaches cue athletes to brush their shins with the bar. If the bar strays too far from your body, you risk straining a muscle due to poor form. 

Partial Hip Extension

When you do a deadlift, your hips should fully extend at the top. A common cue for this is to “squeeze your glutes.” While a partial hip extension won’t necessarily hurt you, you won’t get the full benefit of the movement. 

Muscle-Up Mistakes

Oh, muscle-ups. Entering muscle-up territory means entering a world of potential mistakes, simply because of the complexity and difficulty of this exercise. That said, here are the most common muscle-up mistakes. 

“Chicken Wing”

Intermediate athletes who can somewhat perform muscle-ups often do the “chicken wing.” This happens when one arm flips before the other, giving the dominant arm the appearance of a chicken flapping its wing. This mistake can lead to faulty movement patterns and, at worst, injury.

Weak Hip Drive

The hip drive is the force that sends your body soaring up and over the bar or rings in a muscle-up. If you have a weak hip drive, you won’t gain nearly enough momentum to propel yourself upward. 

A woman performs a bar muscle-up in a CrossFit gym
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Squat Clean Mistakes

Here are some of the most common squat clean errors:

Knees Cave In

When you catch the barbell in the squat position, actively push your knees out so they track with your toes and don’t collapse inward.  

Torso Falls Forward

In the bottom of the squat, it’s common for the torso to fall forward and the elbows to collapse. This often results in failure to stand up with the bar or, in a worst-case scenario (usually with very heavy weights), straining the lower back. 

Partial Hip Extension

When you stand up after successfully receiving the barbell, make sure to stand up all the way. Without fully extending your hips, you technically didn’t complete the rep. 

Handstand Push-Up Mistakes

Like muscle-ups, handstand push-ups come with a staggering number of potential mistakes. This is an inherently dangerous movement, so take extra care to avoid these top two most common handstand push-up mistakes. 

Crashing Down

Once you get tired, your handstand push-ups might become sloppy. You might lose strength in your arms and, instead of gently lowering your head back to the ground, come crashing down and ram your head into the floor beneath you. Although you should have a mat, it’s probably quite clear that this isn’t good for your neck or spine.

Back Hyperextension

Many athletes over-extend their spines when performing handstand push-ups. This exercise requires a very strong, stable core, and without that, you’ll end up with an excessive lumbar curve, which could put too much pressure on your spine and lead to pain or injury.

Modifications and Variations

If the King Kong WOD as-written doesn't suit your current fitness level, it's best to modify.

Deadlift Modifications

The primary way to modify any barbell movement is to reduce the weight. The deadlift weight for the King Kong WOD is extremely heavy. The majority of CrossFitters can’t lift the prescribed weight one time, let alone three times. If you can’t deadlift the weight with good form, you should scale it down to an appropriate weight. 

A second modification option for deadlifts is dumbbell deadlifts, rather than barbell deadlifts. Dumbbell deadlifts are a great modification for anyone who experiences limited mobility within the deadlift. Using dumbbells can make the movement a little more fluid and help athletes with a low range of motion perform the movement without faults. 

Muscle-Up Modifications

Muscle-ups, as mentioned, are one of the toughest CrossFit movements; usually, only the most advanced, competition-level CrossFit athletes can perform them efficiently. If you can’t do muscle-ups, don’t worry! There are plenty of modifications you can choose from to get the same exercise stimulus. 

Jumping Muscle-Ups

This modification can help you get familiar with the muscle-up movement pattern. To perform jumping muscle-ups, place a box beneath the pull-up rig. Hang from the bar with your feet on the box, and jump to pull yourself up and over the bar.

Floor Muscle-Ups

With low gymnastics rings, practice the muscle-up movement pattern while staying grounded. This modification helps develop strength and stability before progressing to the high rings. 

Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups

Many CrossFit coaches prescribe chest-to-bar pull-ups as a progression to muscle-ups. The aim is to pull your sternum to the pull-up bar, rather than the usual standard of pulling your chin above the bar. Chest-to-bar pull-ups definitely present an additional challenge and can help you progress to muscle-ups.

Strict Pull-Ups

Finally, if none of the above are accessible to you yet, you can simply perform regular pull-ups. Strict (standard) pull-ups will help you develop the back, arm, shoulder, and core strength needed for muscle-ups. If you can’t do strict pull-ups, use a resistance band to support your body weight. 

Pull-ups.
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Squat Clean Modifications

Because squat cleans are a weighted movement, the first step you should take is reducing the weight. If for any reason you can’t perform full squat cleans, you have a few scaling options. 

Power Cleans

For some, the squat portion presents the issue. If you can’t squat due to an injury or other condition, perform regular power cleans instead.

Front Squats

For others, the clean portion presents the issue. If you have a shoulder, wrist, or elbow injury, you may not be able to complete a squat clean, in which case you would rack the barbell and perform front squats from the rack.

Dumbbell Squat Cleans

If you’re uncomfortable with a barbell for any reason, try using dumbbells instead.

Handstand Push-Up Modifications

Handstand push-ups are a close second to muscle-ups for the “hardest CrossFit movement” category. Beginners and some intermediate athletes should modify this exercise to avoid injury. Below are a few modification ideas, but your best bet is to work with a coach to find out which scaling option is best for you.

Pike Handstand Push-Ups

This modification involves placing your feet on a box or bench and hands on the ground. You’ll be in a pike position, using the box as support. Once you’re in position, bend your arms to lower your head to the ground and press back up. This is a good option for athletes who are close to getting their first handstand push-up, as it trains the same movement pattern and develops strict strength. 

Regular Push-Ups

Standard push-ups train a similar, but not the same, movement pattern as handstand push-ups. You’ll still develop the upper body and core strength necessary for handstand push-ups.

Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell shoulder press can help you build strength in your core, shoulders, and upper back, all of which are prerequisites for handstand push-ups.

Dumbbell Overhead Press

Finally, dumbbell overhead presses offer an overhead pressing movement for people with limited mobility who struggle with the barbell overhead press.

Safety and Precautions

Before all workouts, take some precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of others around you, if you’re working out in a gym. 

The first thing you should do, whether you’re working out alone or with others, is make sure you have enough room to perform all of the movements. You’ll need room for your barbell, wall space for the handstand push-ups, and gymnastics rings with enough room to swing about. 

You should also make sure to take some personal precautions to keep yourself strong and safe, such as eating and drinking water before the WOD, warming up, wearing proper shoes and clothes, and modifying the movements as needed based on your abilities. 

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