The Mary WoD: Goal Reps, Tips, and Safety

Three male CrossFit athletes do pull-ups in a CrossFit gym.
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In September 2003, CrossFit HQ introduced the original set of “Girl” WoDs, a series of six benchmark workouts designed to test various elements of CrossFit’s definition of fitness. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman gave them female names, mimicking the way that the National Weather Service names hurricanes and tropical storms—and noting that “anything that leaves you flat on your back and incapacitated only to lure you back for more at a later date certainly deserves naming.”

About a year later, the second set of Girl WoDs was introduced in The CrossFit Journal: Isabel, Linda, Jackie, Karen, Nancy, and Mary. According to that CrossFit Journal article, Mary was designed to show just how grueling calisthenic, bodyweight-only workouts can be. 

The Mary CrossFit WoD is as follows. In 20 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of:

  • 5 handstand push-ups
  • 10 alternating pistols
  • 15 pull-ups

The Mary CrossFit WoD

Goal Reps: Beginner: 7 to 8 rounds. Intermediate: 9 to 12 rounds, Advanced: 13 to 16 rounds. Elite: 17 or more rounds.

Score: Mary is an AMRAP (as many reps as possible). Your score is how many reps you can do in 20 minutes.

Equipment Needed: Skull mat and pull-up bar or rig.

Level: As written, Mary is an elite-level workout, but it can be modified for beginners and intermediate athletes.

Benefits

Of CrossFit’s 10 skills for general physical preparedness, Mary tests several: strength, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Those five skills combine to offer the following benefits.

Gymnastics Skills

Most people don’t think of gymnastics when they think of fitness, but CrossFit definitely considers gymnastics a cornerstone of physical ability. According to CrossFit, a gymnastics movement is any movement that includes only your body—no weights or other equipment.

Technically, in this sense, even burpees can be considered a form of gymnastics, but the Mary WoD is much more technical. If you can master Mary, you’ll encompass all the strength and skill that CrossFit considers a requirement for total fitness. 

Calisthenic Strength

Calisthenics refers broadly to the type of exercises that require little to no equipment and primarily utilize bodyweight for resistance. You’ve probably done calisthenic exercises without realizing it—push-ups, jumping jacks, air squats, and planks can all be considered calisthenic exercises.

During the Mary WoD, you’ll perform some of the most difficult calisthenic exercises known to the fitness industry: handstand push-ups, pistols (single-leg squats), and pull-ups. These movements help you increase strength and develop the body awareness necessary to control your body in unusual patterns and positions. 

Mobility and Flexibility

Pull-ups and handstand push-ups don’t necessarily require unusually good mobility, but pistol squats certainly do. Squatting on two feet is challenging enough for most people, but pistols take it up a notch. You must have enough flexibility in your hips to sink below parallel on one leg while keeping the other leg off of the floor. 

Balance and Stability

Pistols and handstand push-ups require serious body awareness: You need to know how your body is moving through space. If you don’t have the balance, you’ll notice—on a pistol squat, you might roll backward, and during a handstand push-up, you may topple to the side. Practicing these two movements will enhance your ability to stay balanced and stable in unusual positions, even while upside-down. Both movements also require core strength, a prerequisite but also an added benefit.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The Mary WoD consists of three pretty technical movements. If you don’t pay attention to your form, you may end up with an injury in the form of a pulled muscle, sprained ligament, compressed nerve, or just nagging muscle soreness. Follow these step-by-steps for each movement to perform them safely. 

Before you get started, make sure you have everything you need in place. It’s a good idea to use a skull mat or other cushion for the handstand push-ups. Even something as simple as a folded yoga mat will protect your head from repetitively hitting the ground. For pull-ups, make sure you have grips or chalk to keep from slipping. If you need assistance for the pistols, such as a suspension trainer, make sure that is set up and secure before starting.

How To Do Handstand Push-Ups

You can do kipping handstand push-ups or strict handstand push-ups for the Mary WoD. Either is considered RX, but this step-by-step covers the kipping version because it has become the WoD standard. 

  1. Face a wall in a standing position. 
  2. Bend over until your hands are flat on the ground and kick yourself up against the wall. You should now be in a handstand position facing away from the wall. Rest your only your heels against the wall. 
  3. Bend your elbows and lower yourself to the ground, until the top of your head touches the ground or the cushion you put in place. 
  4. Push your hips back so that they graze the wall. 
  5. Lower your knees to your chest. 
  6. Powerfully kick your legs so that they are fully extended, simultaneously pushing with your shoulders to extend your arms. 
  7. The rep is complete when your arms and legs are fully extended, and you’ve returned back to the original handstand position.
  8. Kick away from the wall back into an upright position, or lower back down to start another rep.

How To Do Pistols

It’s important to remember that most people cannot simply perform a pistol without extensive training. For most athletes, successfully completing pistols requires both strength training and mobility training. Once you develop the required strength and mobility, you can perform unassisted pistols like this: 

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet about shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Lift one foot off the ground and extend your leg in front of you (make an “L” shape). You may need to hold onto the foot of your extended leg to keep your balance. 
  3. Slowly lower yourself by bending first your hips, then your knee of the working leg. 
  4. Remember to keep your heel on the ground and your chest high. 
  5. Once you reach the bottom position (parallel or below), drive through your heel and push with your glutes, hamstrings, and quads to return to the standing position. 
  6. Return your other foot to the ground. 
  7. Start over on the other leg.

How To Do Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are a common and basic exercise, but they aren’t necessarily easy. Here’s how to do them and build strength in your upper body and core.

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with your arms fully extended. The bar should be high enough so that your feet don’t touch the floor. 
  2. Take a deep breath, and then exhale as you pull yourself up. Pull until your chin is above the bar (the standard in CrossFit is chin above bar). 
  3. Inhale as you lower yourself back to the starting position. 
  4. Drop from the bar or start another rep.

Common Mistakes

The biggest mistake in a workout like Mary is not scaling the WoD so that it’s appropriate for your current fitness level. The exercises in this workout can be dangerous for athletes who don’t know how to perform the proper techniques. There are also mistakes you can make within each movement.

Handstand Push-Up Mistakes

During handstand push-ups, aim for these points of performance:

  • Don’t hyperextend your back
  • Keep your core tight and braced
  • Extend your elbows fully on each rep

Pistol Mistakes

When performing pistol squats, avoid these mistakes: 

  • Heel comes off the ground
  • Torso falls forward
  • Non-working leg drags the ground

Pull-Up Mistakes

Finally, these are the mistakes you should be aware of when performing pull-ups: 

  • Failing to get your chin over the bar
  • Not fully extending your arms in the bottom position
  • Protracting (rounding) your shoulders to compensate for upper back strength

Modifications and Variations

All CrossFit workouts are designed to be modifiable and suit people of all fitness levels. If you aren’t able to complete the Mary WoD as written—or you want even more of a challenge—try one of these Mary modifications for an easier or tougher workout.  

Modifications for Handstand Push-Ups

Handstand push-ups can be replaced with a variety of pressing movements. Try one of these great substitutions: 

Modifications for Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are one of the most difficult variations of squats. You essentially have two options for modifying pistols: use a support system to make them easier, or scale to a version of regular squats. 

To make pistols easier, try these options:

  • Use a TRX suspension trainer
  • Hold a weight in front of you to help keep your torso upright
  • Hold onto a pole or other sturdy object
  • Do them on top of a box so that your non-working foot doesn’t drag the ground
  • Elevate your heel to increase range of motion

Alternating lunges and split squats are two other exercises that can help you build single-leg strength.

If you’d prefer to use both of your legs, here are some great squat options

  • Barbell front squats
  • Goblet squats
  • Jump squats
  • Dumbbell squats

Modifications for Pull-Ups

The ability to string together several pull-ups in a row is a coveted skill, one that many CrossFitters consider a huge achievement. If you can’t yet do pull-ups, don’t worry! You’ll get there by practicing these pull-up modifications: 

Beginner Mary

“Easy Mary” switches up the rep scheme and replaces pistols with air squats. It’s a great version for beginners who haven’t developed the skills needed for single-leg squats.

Easy Mary

AMRAP in 20 Minutes

  • 5 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 10 Pull-Ups
  • 25 Air Squats

The Cindy “Girl” WoD

Mary is basically a jacked-up version of Cindy, another CrossFit benchmark workout. Cindy is a 20-minute AMRAP of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats. This is a great replacement for anyone new to CrossFit. It offers a similar stimulus of calisthenic strength—Cindy is still physically challenging, but less technical than its more difficult counterpart Mary.  

The Cindy "Girl" WoD

AMRAP in 20 Minutes

  • 5 Pull-Ups
  • 10 Push-Ups
  • 15 Air Squats

Advanced Versions of Mary

Believe it or not, someone, somewhere decided that the Mary WoD should be even more challenging. Thus, “Special Mary” and “Mary XXX” were born.

Special Mary

For Time:

  • 5 Strict Handstand Push-Ups
  • 10 Pistols
  • 15 Strict Pull-Ups
  • 10 Strict Handstand Push-Ups
  • 20 Pistols
  • 30 Strict Pull-Ups
  • 15 Strict Handstand Push-Ups
  • 30 Pistols
  • 45 Strict Pull-Ups
  • 10 Strict Handstand Push-Ups
  • 20 Pistols
  • 30 Strict Pull-Ups
  • 5 Strict Handstand Push-Ups
  • 10 Pistols
  • 15 Strict Pull-Ups

No kipping is allowed on the handstand push-ups or pull-ups—all movements must be performed strict.

Mary XXX

AMRAP in 20 minutes:

  • 10 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 20 Alternating Pistols 
  • 30 Pull-Ups
  • 15 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 30 Alternating Pistols 
  • 45 Pull-Ups
  • 20 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 40 Alternating Pistols 
  • 60 Pull-Ups
  • 25 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 50 Alternating Pistols
  • 75 Pull-Ups
  • 30 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 60 Alternating Pistols 
  • 90 Pull-Ups

You may perform kipping handstand push-ups and kipping pull-ups in Mary XXX.

Other Tips and Tricks for the Mary WoD

Put more focus into your least efficient movement and make up time on the others. For example, if you struggle with handstand push-ups, focus on performing each rep slowly with good form and control, and then power through the pistols and pull-ups. If you struggle with all three movements, it’s worth modifying them all to a safe version for your fitness level. 

Note About Goal Reps: The estimated goal reps in the introduction to this guide are estimated with the prescribed movements in mind. Scale or modify movements to finish within those time frames. 

Safety and Precautions

It’s always important to play it safe during CrossFit training, but it’s even more critical during WoDs that contain advanced movements. 

Focus Your Warm Up on the Shoulders and Hips 

Your hips and shoulders will work hard during the Mary WoD, so your warm-up should include ample hip- and shoulder-opening exercises, as well as some monostructural movement to increase your heart rate, dilate your blood vessels, and prime your muscles for exercise . Try this sample warm-up before doing the Mary WoD. 

Warm Up for the Mary WoD

Jog 400 meters or row 500 meters, then perform three rounds of: 

  • 10 alternating Cossack squats
  • 10 scapular push-ups
  • 10 slow-tempo air squats
  • 10 scapular pull-ups
  • 30 seconds in pigeon pose on each leg

Go For Form, Not Speed

Many CrossFitters feel tempted to go as fast as possible during all WoDs—it’s sort of ingrained into the culture of intensity. But during very technical WoDs like Mary, it’s best to avoid that temptation and focus on your technique. Disregarding form during handstand push-ups, pull-ups, and pistols can lead to injury.

Stop if You Feel “Bad” Pain

Most fitness professionals will tell you, “There’s a difference between hurting and being hurt.” If you’re hurting, but you can tell it’s just because the workout is taxing your muscles, keep pushing. But if you’re in actual pain—if something doesn’t feel right—stop the workout and tend to whatever’s wrong. 

You may be able to modify a movement mid-workout, too. For instance, if you feel a sharp pain in your shoulder when doing handstand push-ups, switch to regular push-ups and see how you feel. If the pain persists, discontinue the workout—staying safe while training is always the most important thing.

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Article Sources
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