The “Nasty Girls” WOD: Goal Times, Tips, and Safety

This Workout of the Day Is a Full-Body Test of Strength

CrossFit athletes perform pull-ups on a large pull-up rig in a CrossFit warehouse gym.

 MoMo Productions/Stone/Getty Images

CrossFit is notoriously intense, but a select set of CrossFit WODs—the “Girl” WODs—are even more grueling than the typical workout written on a CrossFit whiteboard. 

These workouts, developed by CrossFit founder Greg Glassman as a way to measure fitness progress, collectively test for the 10 “general physical preparedness” skills set forth by CrossFit: cardiovascular endurance, power, speed, strength, stamina, coordination, agility, flexibility, balance, and accuracy. These skills are the foundation of all CrossFit programming, the point being to prepare anyone and everyone for anything that life can throw your way. 

The “Nasty Girls” WOD challenges several of those 10 general physical skills. In “Nasty Girls,” you’ll be challenged in the realms of cardiovascular endurance, speed, stamina, strength, and agility.

This workout started as a regular “workout of the day” on the CrossFit main website, posted first on December 4, 2005. But the video linked with the workout is credited with being the ignition to many a CrossFit journey. 

It shows three now-famous famous CrossFit athletes—Annie Sakamoto, future CrossFit Games athlete after whom the “Annie” Girl WOD was named; Nicole Carroll, future Director of Training and Certification for CrossFit HQ; and Eva Twardokens, former Olympic skier—completing the workout in the first-ever CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz

So many people completed "Nasty Girls" that it went from an unnamed WOD to having “Girl” status, and it’s now used as a benchmark workout all over the globe.

One important note about the "Nasty Girls" video: This video was taken in 2005 before CrossFit became a widely known and accepted form of physical training. The standards for form, technique, and safety were still being developed. If you are an experienced CrossFitter, you may notice the errors in technique and potential safety issues; if you’re a beginner, don’t use this video as an example of what good weightlifting form looks like. 

You can, however, use the video as a source of inspiration: These three women went on to become extremely successful CrossFit athletes with refined form and elite-level skill, proving that with consistent effort and smart programming, anyone can make improvements in strength, speed, endurance, and other components of fitness.

The "Nasty Girls" workout is as follows. 

Three rounds for time: 

  • 50 air squats
  • 7 muscle-ups
  • 9 hang power cleans (135 lb/95 lb)

The "Nasty Girls" WOD

Score: For time—complete three rounds as fast as possible.

Goal times: Beginner (with modifications): 17-20 minutes. Intermediate: 12-17 minutes. Elite: 9-12 minutes.

Equipment Needed: Pull-up bar or rig, barbell, bumper plates.

Level: This WOD is not appropriate for beginners as written. It includes two very technical exercises that require good form, mobility, and movement patterns. 

Benefits

CrossFit’s definition of fitness differs from many people’s conventional idea of fitness. It’s not about the way you look or even really how much weight you can lift or how fast you can run. CrossFit defines fitness as “performing well at any and every task imaginable”—that fitness “requires an ability to perform well at all tasks, even unfamiliar tasks, tasks combined in infinitely varying combinations.” 

This definition is the reasoning behind famous CrossFit workouts, such as Jackie, Karen, and, yes, "Nasty Girls." It’s the reason that pretty much all CrossFit WODs include multiple domains of fitness and provide multiple benefits, like the following three.

Gymnastics Skills

Though CrossFit uses the 10 general physical preparedness skills, those skills can be grouped into four broader categories that make up CrossFit workouts: gymnastics, endurance, speed, and strength. Gymnastics includes any exercises that involve moving your own body weight, such as push-ups, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, and even burpees. In the case of "Nasty Girls," the gymnastics component is muscle-ups. 

Muscle-ups remain one of the most coveted CrossFit skills, combining a pull-up and a triceps dip into one swift movement on the rings. Muscle-ups require extreme muscular control and body awareness—completing the 21 total in "Nasty Girls" is a good way to practice.

Muscular Endurance

You’ll utilize virtually all of your muscles during the "Nasty Girls" WOD, even if you don’t realize it at the time. Air squats mainly tax your legs, but also work your core and lower back. Muscle-ups work your core, upper back, biceps, triceps, and chest. Power cleans require strength from your hamstrings, glutes, core, arms, shoulders, and back. 

This workout will challenge your muscular endurance, or the ability of your muscles to sustain repeated contractions over a period of time. Muscular endurance is important for many types of exercise, including high-intensity interval training, bodybuilding, weightlifting, water sports, running, and cycling.

Barbell Cycling

Barbell cycling is an important skill in CrossFit. It’s the ability to quickly, efficiently, and safely move the barbell from one position to another. In the "Nasty Girls" WOD, you’ll cycle the bar from the ground to your hips, and then to your shoulders and back to your hips for the hang power cleans.

Learning how to cycle the barbell efficiently can greatly improve your time for CrossFit workouts, improve your form and technique, reduce safety risks, and help you become more comfortable with fast weighted movements. 

Barbell cycling doesn’t have many practical applications outside of CrossFit, but it’s worth learning and practicing for anyone, regardless of current fitness level, who does CrossFit.

Mental Toughness

This is one of those WODs you’ll want to quit, probably multiple times throughout. And while such workouts don’t feel fun while you’re in the middle of round two and your lungs and muscles are burning, they do offer an important benefit: mental toughness. 

The "Nasty Girls" WOD will challenge you to push through pain and discomfort; it’ll teach you to ignore the burning in your muscles and the breathless feeling in your lungs. 

These kinds of WODs are important for anyone who ever wants to compete in any capacity (CrossFit or otherwise), as well as people who simply want to push past fitness plateaus. By doing WODs like "Nasty Girls," you’ll eventually learn that your body can do so much more than your brain thinks it can—we’re hardwired to halt things that hurt. Recognizing and pushing past your mental limitations may be one of the most critical things you can do to improve your fitness.

Step-by-Step Instructions

"Nasty Girls" involves three movements: air squats, muscle-ups, and hang power cleans. Follow this step-by-step section to learn how to do all three, as well as how to set up for the WOD. 

Setup and Preparation

  1. Load your barbell—135 pounds for men and 95 pounds for women. 
  2. Set your gymnastics rings for the muscle-ups to the appropriate height. If you don’t have gymnastics rings, you can use a pull-up bar or rig.
  3. Ensure you have enough space for air squats and hang power cleans. 
  4. Place your water bottle nearby and ready any gear (wrist wraps, grips, chalk, etc.). 

How To Do Air Squats

Also known as bodyweight squats, air squats are the most basic form of squats. Here’s how to perform them.

  1. Start standing with your feet shoulder-width or hip-width apart (whichever feels the most comfortable for you—everyone has a different squat stance). 
  2. Slightly hinge at the hips (send your buttocks backward) and begin lowering your body by bending your knees. 
  3. On the way down, keep your knees in line with your toes and your torso upright. 
  4. Lower yourself into the bottom position, ideally with your thighs past parallel, while keeping your feet fully flat on the floor (don’t allow your heels to raise off of the ground). 
  5. Pushing through your heels, stand up and return to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat for 50 reps.

How To Do Muscle-Ups

Muscle-ups are an advanced movement that shouldn’t be attempted by beginners without a coach’s supervision. But to get familiar with the concept (and have a refresher if you’re advanced), here’s a step-by-step of this complex exercise.

  1. Hang from the rings with a “false grip.” A false grip means that your thumbs rest on top of the rings, not underneath. 
  2. Initiate a “kip” by alternating between the hollow and arch positions. 
  3. Once you gather enough momentum, pull yourself toward the rings, aiming to bring your body nearly parallel to the ground. Send your hips upward and squeeze your glutes and hamstrings.
  4. Quickly bend at the hips and throw your torso over the rings, bringing yourself to the position of a triceps dip. 
  5. From the dip position, lock out your arms to complete the rep.
  6. Lower yourself back to the hanging position and release the rings, or go back in for another rep. 
  7. Repeat for 7 reps.

Watch a video tutorial on ring muscle-ups.

How To Do Hang Power Cleans

The hang power clean, also known simply as the hang clean, is a version of the power clean in which the movement starts at the hips, not from the floor. 

  1. Stand in front of the bar in a deadlift stance. Deadlift the bar off of the ground so that it is in the “hang position,” or at your hips. 
  2. Hinge at the hips, sending your butt backward and lowering the bar to your mid-thigh. Maintain a neutral spine position, keep your feet flat on the floor, and look forward (not down or up). 
  3. Using power from your glutes and hamstrings, send the bar upward and pull up with your arms so that your elbows are high and pointing outward. 
  4. Quickly rotate your arms into the front-rack position and catch the barbell on your shoulders, careful not to slam it into your collarbone. Your knees and hips should be slightly bent in this receiving position. 
  5. Stand up from the receiving position (fully extend your hips) and carefully lower the barbell back to the starting position (hips). 
  6. Repeat for nine reps. 

Common Mistakes

Although CrossFit offers many health benefits, such as improved strength and stamina, it does, like any high-intensity exercise, present the opportunity for injury. Some CrossFitters may be more prone to injury if they focus solely on speed and ignore proper form and technique. Finding a knowledgeable coach is essential.

To prevent injuries during the "Nasty Girls" WOD, watch out for these common mistakes in the air squat, muscle-up, and hang power clean.

Air Squat Mistakes

Heels Come Off the Ground: During any variation of the squat, your entire foot should remain flat on the ground. If your heel raises from the ground, this indicates a lack of mobility in your ankles, calves, hips, or torso (mainly the ankles and calves). Try foam rolling your calves and stretching your ankles before performing squats to minimize this error.

Knees Cave In: When squatting, your knees should point forward or outward, wherever your toes are pointing. Knees caving in is an indicator of weak hip abductors and/or mobility issues in the hips. You can work on this weakness by doing hip exercises, such as abductions, with resistance bands

Torso Falls Forward: A good squat exhibits an upright torso. Many people lean too far forward when squatting, putting themselves at risk for a back injury or soreness. This mistake usually signifies a lack of mobility in the thoracic spine and ankles, both of which can be remedied with foam rolling and stretching.

Muscle-Up Mistakes

Inefficient Kip: The kip, or the portion of the muscle-up where you hollow and then arch your body before pulling up, is the most important part of this advanced movement. With an inefficient kip, you won’t gather enough momentum to propel yourself up to the rings. Practice kip swings without attempting a muscle-up (or even a pull-up) to develop a better kip.

“Chicken Wing” Arms: This mistake refers to when an athlete does not bend both arms simultaneously during the transition period of the muscle-up. It looks like a chicken trying to climb over a fence: awkward, out-of-sequence, and, in some cases, painful. You can fix chicken wing arms by developing a more efficient kip, adjusting your grip, and increasing strength in your back muscles and triceps. 

Hang Power Clean Mistakes

Not Fully Extending the Hips: When performing the hang clean, your hips should fully extend twice—once when you pull the bar upward and again after you receive the barbell. If you miss either of these extensions, you risk poor form and injury, as well as a missed rep in competitions.

Improper Grip: Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider (an inch or two outside of your thighs). Gripping the bar too narrowly or too widely will result in faulty technique.

Landing on the Toes: When you receive the bar at the end of a hang clean, you should land with your feet flat on the ground. This is so important that many CrossFit coaches teach their athletes to make a loud bang on the floor with their shoes, to get used to the feeling of landing flat-footed. Landing on your toes poses the risk for strained muscles and torn ligaments. 

Modifications and Variations

Every CrossFit WOD can be modified to fit the needs of every individual no matter their fitness level. "Nasty Girls" is no different—try out these helpful modifications to make the this WOD work for you.

Supported Squats

If you can’t yet perform squats with good form, use a pole, wall, suspension training (like a TRX), or other supportive structure to help keep your feet flat on the ground and your torso held high.

Box Squats

Another great squat modification, box squats are helpful if you have trouble reaching the proper depth for squats. Everyone squats differently and some people are better off not squatting to full depth, but box squats can help increase your mobility and body awareness until you can reach full depth on your own. Simply place a box behind you and squat to it, standing back up when you feel your buttocks touch the box.

Muscle-Up Modifications

Don’t feel bad if you can’t do muscle-ups: Most people, even people who do CrossFit every day, cannot perform this physical feat. Instead, work on another great upper-body move, such as: 

Hang Power Clean Weight

The prescribed weight for the hang power cleans in the "Nasty Girls" WOD is 135 pounds for men and 95 pounds for women. While these weights are considered light for elite CrossFit athletes, they are moderate to heavy for the majority of people. Don’t hesitate to scale down the weight if it’s too heavy for your current fitness level—“better safe than sorry” applies fully to CrossFit workouts.

Nasty Girls v2

It’s probably unlikely that you think the "Nasty Girls" WOD is too easy. But in the case that you’re an elite-level CrossFit athlete, a more difficult version does exist: Nasty Girls v2. To complete this version, perform the following for three rounds and record your best time: 

  • 50 alternating pistols (single-leg squats)
  • 7 muscle-ups
  • 9 hang power cleans (175 lb/125 lb)

The two big changes are the pistols in place of air squats (exponentially harder, as you must support your entire body weight with the strength of just one leg) and the increased weight for both men and women on the hang cleans.

Safety and Precautions

On top of modifying the "Nasty Girls" WOD to suit your current fitness level, you should take some standard precautions no matter what variation of the workout you plan to complete. 

Complete a General and Specific Warm-Up

A general warm-up gradually moves your body from a resting state to an exercising state. It increases your heart rate, dilates your blood vessels, and primes your muscles and joints for exercise. For a general warm-up, complete five to 10 minutes of monostructural (cardio) movement, such as rowing or cycling. Then, do some basic mobilizing moves and dynamic stretches. Foam rolling can also be a helpful part of a general warm-up. 

A good general warm-up for this workout might look like: 

  • Five minutes of rowing at an easy-to-moderate pace. Increase intensity slightly each minute. 
  • 10 leg swings on each leg
  • 10 lunge stretches on each leg
  • 10 downward dog-to-cobra
  • 10 plank shoulder taps on each side

A specific warm-up prepares your body for exactly what it’s about to undergo. In the case of the "Nasty Girls" workout, you’ll want to open up your hips, ankles, and shoulders, as well as get all of your major muscle groups primed for exercise. A good specific warm-up for this workout might look like:

  • 10 pause air squats (hold bottom position for three seconds) 
  • 30 seconds in pigeon pose on each leg
  • 10 scapular push-ups
  • 10 scapular pull-ups 
  • 10 barbell shrugs
  • 10 barbell cleans (empty barbell)

You should also practice the moves with the weight you’ll use for the workout, before actually beginning the workout. 

Wear the Right Shoes

For most CrossFit workouts, Nasty Girls included, you want to wear shoes that are sturdy and durable. Good CrossFit shoes have a relatively flat sole, wide toe box, and hard outer covering. Running shoes might be too cushioned for squats and hang cleans, making you feel unstable. 

Protect Your Hands 

Muscle-ups can seriously damage the skin on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. You may end up with blood blisters that develop beneath your skin or regular blisters that pop and leave new, sensitive skin exposed. This is called “ripping.” If you’re prone to ripping, consider wearing gloves or grips for the "Nasty Girls" WOD.

Cool Down and Rehydrate

Don’t just get into your car, go home, and chill out on the couch after doing the "Nasty Girls" workout. You can do that, by all means, but be sure to cool down first. Give your body a chance to naturally return to its resting state by spending a few minutes stretching, foam rolling, and perhaps cycling slowly. During this time, rehydrate with water or an electrolyte drink.

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