The Nicole CrossFit “Girl” WOD

A man does pull-ups on a pull-up bar outdoors in a gated park

Patrik Giardino/Getty Images.

If you’re at all familiar with CrossFit, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the “Girl” WODs (workout of the day). At the very least, you’ve probably heard avid CrossFitters sling around girls’ names as if they’re talking about their friends and spouses.

They’re not talking about actual girls, though—they’re talking about the Girl WODs, a set of workouts that are arguably the most grueling CrossFit workouts in existence (aside from the 100+ Hero WODs, that is). 

Nicole is one such Girl WOD, a benchmark workout that first made its way into the CrossFit community when it was posted on the CrossFit main website on Monday, December 11, 2006 (CrossFit WOD 061211, as the organization used to organize and name WODs by the date of their initial posting). 

The Nicole CrossFit Girl WOD is as follows: 

AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible) in 20 minutes

  • 400 meter run
  • Max pull-ups

As the story goes, early CrossFit athlete Nicole Carroll (who is now the executive director of training for CrossFit HQ), tried the workout and maxed out on the pull-ups for each round—so much so that she temporarily lost her capacity to do a pull-up (don’t try that yourself; more on this under Common Mistakes). 

The Nicole CrossFit WOD

Score: Nicole is scored as an AMRAP, meaning your score is your total number of pull-up reps you complete within the 20-minute time cap. The runs don’t count as reps.

Goal Reps: Beginner: 50 to 100 reps. Intermediate: 100-150 reps. Advanced: 150-200 reps. Elite: 200 or more reps.

Equipment Needed: Pull-up bar or rig, running shoes.

Level: Advanced, but can be modified for all fitness levels.

Benefits

Every CrossFit WOD comes with its own unique set of benefits. That’s integral to the “constantly varied” structure of CrossFit that intends to promote “general physical preparedness.” The Girl WODs tend to primarily test one or two of CrossFit’s 10 general physical skills, and the Nicole WOD is no different. Here are the fitness benefits you can expect from this workout. 

Endurance

The Nicole WOD will challenge both types of endurance: cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. Cardiovascular endurance refers to the work capacity of your heart and lungs, while muscular endurance refers to the work capacity of your muscle fibers. Between 400-meter runs and max reps of pull-ups—in a 20-minute AMRAP—you’ll find both your lungs and your muscles burning. 

Speed and Pacing

The 400-meter runs in the Nicole WOD aren’t meant to be sprints, but they aren’t meant to be near-walks either. During this workout, you’ll be forced to figure out exactly how fast you can run while reserving enough energy to rep out some pull-ups (and keep going for the entire 20 minutes). 

Upper Body Strength

Few exercises improve upper body strength like the pull-up. Pull-ups work just about all of your upper body muscles, including your biceps, rear deltoids (back of shoulders), latissimus dorsi (“lats”), rhomboids (upper back), trapezius (“traps”), erector spinae (strips of muscle that surround your spine), pectoralis muscles (“pecs”), and external obliques (sides of your torso). Talk about an (almost) all-in-one upper body exercise! 

In CrossFit, “kipping” pull-ups are usually an accepted form of pull-ups for benchmark workouts. The kip—a term that originates from gymnastics and refers to a swing of the hips—makes pulling your bodyweight up easier, and therefore makes pull-ups more efficient. 

Kipping pull-ups won’t develop your upper body strength as effectively as regular or “strict” pull-ups will, but they do still contribute a strong upper body. 

Pull-Up Technique

Speaking of pull-ups, the Nicole WOD has a lot of them. This workout is a good opportunity to practice your pull-up technique, whether you perform strict or kipping pull-ups. For a complete how-to for pull-ups, read on.

Step-by-Step Instructions

For a successful first run at the Nicole WOD, or to score your new personal best, follow these steps and tips for the workout. 

How to Complete the Nicole AMRAP

AMRAP stands for “as many rounds/reps as possible.” In CrossFit, these types of workouts are given a hard time cap—the goal is to move continuously throughout the given time frame and complete as many reps as you can. 

Nicole is a 20-minute AMRAP. The structure of the Nicole WOD is a bit different than most AMRAPs as generally, you’d be given a predetermined number of reps to complete for each round. In the Nicole WOD, however, the number of reps for each round is entirely up to you. 

Here’s how it works: 

  1. When the clock counts down to zero, start with a 400-meter run. 
  2. When you finish your run, hop on the pull-up bar and do as many pull-ups as you can (strict or kipping, whichever you prefer) until you almost reach the point of failure.

The key here is to avoid going all the way to failure, or your last few rounds will be almost for naught. Reach failure too early in the workout, and you’ll find yourself only able to rep out a few pull-ups in between runs as the timer goes on. 

Kipping pull-ups
Getty Images 

How to Do Pull-Ups

Because kipping pull-ups are most often performed during the Nicole WOD, that’s what we will cover here. If you’re looking for a step-by-step for standard pull-ups, head to this complete how-to on pull-ups.

To properly perform kipping pull-ups, follow these steps: 

  1. Jump up to grip the bar with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Make sure to get a full grip on the bar, wrapping your entire palm around, rather than relying on just your fingers. 
  2. To initiate the kip, put your body into a tight “hollow” position. If you’re having trouble visualizing this position, think of lying face-up on the ground, then pressing your lower back and nothing else into the ground. A “hollow” position involves engaging your core.
  3. Move from the hollow into the arch position. To do so, push your head through the window of your arms, arch your back, and send your feet behind you. Your body should look as if there’s a string attached to your hands and feet, pulling them closer together.
  4. To kip means to alternate between the arch and hollow positions. To complete one kip, begin in the hollow position, transition to an arch, and move back to the hollow position. 
  5. As you complete a kip (move to the second hollow), pull your body up using arms and back muscles. Make sure to meet the CrossFit standard for pull-ups, which is that your chin surpasses the height of the bar. 
  6. After you pull your chin over the bar, use control to lower yourself down. You should end in an arch position with your arms fully extended. From here, go into another rep and continue until you feel as if you are three to five reps away from failure.

Tips for Running

After each set of pull-ups in the Nicole WOD, you’ll go out for a 400-meter run. To make the most of the running intervals, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Pace yourself. Think of these runs as recovery runs. They’re here as a break between sets of pull-ups. You should be breathing heavily, but feel like you could keep running at that pace for longer. 
  • Maintain good running form. Don’t waste energy by clenching your fists, shrugging your shoulders up, slouching, or lifting your knees too high. Good running form looks like this: shoulders down and back, head high and eyes forward, loose fists, and long, low strides. 
  • Keep your breathing steady. For some people, if not most people, breathing in a regular cadence during running is nearly impossible. Take each run as an opportunity to pay attention to your breath and keep it under control. This will help with running efficiency in the long-term.

Common Mistakes

Hoping to get your best score ever on the Nicole WOD? Don’t make any of these mistakes or you might sacrifice your personal record. 

Doing Too Many Pull-Ups

The goal of the Nicole WOD is to get as many reps of pull-ups as possible, so it might feel counterintuitive to be told, “Don’t do too many pull-ups.” What this really means is don’t do too many pull-ups in the first few rounds. 

It’s often the nature of CrossFitters to go out the gate too fast on workouts and then burn out before the time is up. You shouldn’t reach legitimate failure on your pull-ups in the first half of the Nicole WOD. Instead, you should stop at three to five reps before you reach the point of failure in order to keep your upper body fresh enough to keep going until the 20 minutes are up.

Running Too Fast

Don’t think of the runs as sprints. Think of them as recovery runs. You shouldn’t lollygag, of course, but you do need to give your upper body time to recover in order to continually perform pull-ups. 

Modifications and Variations

Every CrossFit WOD inherently has room for modification—that’s part of CrossFit’s mission, after all, which is largely to help people in all walks of life stay fit and healthy. If the Nicole WOD is too tough for your current fitness level as written, try making some of these modifications or opting for the beginner version below. If you’re an elite CrossFitter who’s up for a challenge, try the advanced version below. 

Running Modifications

If the traditional run in the Nicole WOD is too challenging, try making one of these adjustments.

Shorten the Distance

For people whose current cardiovascular fitness level doesn’t allow for a full 400-meter run, shortening the running distance may be the best option. A 200-meter run is best for CrossFitters who can’t complete a 400-meter run in three minutes or less. 

Row or Cycle

Those with injuries to the back or lower extremities may not be able to run safely. When that’s the case, you can always substitute rowing or cycling for running, both of which are low-impact and easy on the joints. The typical substitutions for a 400-meter run are a 500-meters for rowing and two minutes for cycling. 

Pull-Up Modifications

Pull-ups are challenging, especially when first starting out. Instead, try one of these options.

Jumping Pull-Ups

Jumping pull-ups are a great modification option for CrossFitters who can’t perform unassisted pull-ups and feel uncomfortable using a resistance band to offset their weight.

To do jumping pull-ups, follow these steps: 

  1. Place a sturdy box or bench underneath a pull-up bar or rig. Position it so that you can hang from the bar with your arms fully extended, knees bent and feet on the box. 
  2. From the hanging position, jump up, using power from your legs and strength from your arms to pull your body up. Your chin should pass over the top of the pull-up bar. 
  3. Lower back down to the hanging position and continue for max reps.

Banded Pull-Ups 

Banded pull-ups are the most common pull-up modification in CrossFit. This scaling option involves wrapping a thick resistance band around a pull-up bar and placing your feet in the bottom of the band. The band offsets your body weight so you can pull yourself up more easily.

TRX Rows 

Also known as suspension pull-ups or suspension rows, TRX rows offer a more targeted way of modifying the pull-up. These still work your back muscles, biceps, and other upper body muscles, but at a different angle that is typically easier for beginners. 

Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows don’t offer quite the same stimulus as a suspension-based back exercise but are a great option for people who can’t hang from a bar or suspension setup due to injury. 

Beginner Nicole

Beginner Nicole is suitable for CrossFitters who can’t yet perform unassisted pull-ups and can’t run 400 meters in less than three minutes.

Beginner Nicole

20 Minute AMRAP: 

Advanced Nicole

Advanced Nicole is ideal for CrossFit athletes with a great deal of experience who need or want more of a challenge than pull-ups can present.

Advanced Nicole

20 Minute AMRAP

Safety and Precautions

Before attempting the Nicole WOD, keep these safety tips in mind. 

Warm Up and Prime Your Back and Shoulders

Any exercise done wrong has the potential to end in injury. Pull-ups just so happen to be one of the exercises with the most potential to injure you when performed incorrectly or without proper priming. Priming refers to the practice of getting your body ready to perform a specific exercise, in order to prevent injury and maximize good technique. 

If you plan to squat, for example, you might prime your body by doing glute bridges, hip abductions and low lunge stretches to activate your glutes, quads, and hamstrings—all muscles you need to squat with good form.

For pull-ups, you should prime your back and shoulders: your back muscles because those muscles are the primary movers, and your shoulders because they’re at risk for injury. To prime your back and shoulders before the Nicole WOD, try these moves: 

Keep Water Nearby

Twenty minutes is a long time in the world of CrossFit—many WODs are just 10 to 12 minutes long, while some are as short as three to six minutes. Keep water nearby in case you need it during the Nicole WOD. It’s likely that you will. 

Don’t Do Too Much

Don’t make the same mistake as Nicole Carroll, the namesake of this workout. She did so many pull-ups she could hardly move for days (and lost her capacity to do pull-ups at all for weeks). The Nicole WOD requires that athletes strike a delicate balance between pushing themselves and restraining themselves from overdoing it. 

This is especially true if you’re a fast runner. The faster you run, the more time you have within the 20 minutes to rep out pull-ups. Remember to be careful about your pacing on the running intervals and the pull-ups, lest you end up facing Uncle Rhabdo, the euphemism given to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that involves the breakdown of damaged muscle tissue. Rhabdo for short, this condition is often spurred by physical overexertion.

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