What You Should Know About the CrossFit Girl WODs

A woman doing a CrossFit Girl WOD
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You don't have to be a hardcore CrossFitter to have heard of "The Girls." Granted, you may not know what (or who?) these girls are, but if you've spent any time around the CrossFit community, you've probably heard names like Jackie, Isabel, and Helen thrown around.

These "girls" are the names of specific workouts, although they are named after specific women. In CrossFit lingo, workouts of the day are known as WODs. They are designed to push you to your limits as you challenge your personal fitness strengths, weaknesses, and capacity.

Overview

In a single word, The CrossFit Girl workouts are benchmarks. They're designed to take a snapshot of your current fitness level as related to the areas of fitness each workout is designed to test. To be clear, each Girl WOD is designed to test your fitness in slightly different ways. For instance, one Girl workout might focus on cardiovascular capacity, while another tests power, speed, strength, or flexibility.

Karen Katzenbach, a CrossFit Level 3 Certified Trainer with Momentum Fitness | 30A CrossFit, sums up the workouts this way: "The Girl workouts are the epitome of what CrossFit is all about...short, intense, challenging, and a lot of fun. Each one has a unique twist that will reveal any weaknesses you might have. An endurance athlete will love the 20-minute long workout, Cindy, but will struggle with a short, heavy workout like Grace or Isabel. The opposite would be true for a strength athlete."

Fitness Benchmarks

As benchmarks, The Girls are used as periodic tests to gauge your improvements over time. Anthony Musemici, the co-owner of CrossFit Bridge & Tunnel, who holds more than a dozen fitness industry certifications, says, "The Girls, or any benchmark, should be done regularly to retest and track progress," although he specifies that when you choose to re-test a particular Girl WOD might depend on your personal goals.

"An athlete might choose to retest a workout that's related to their current focus. For example, if they're working on gymnastics, it might be time to retest Diane and see how their handstand pushups are coming along. Someone focused on barbell cycling in preparation for the [CrossFit] Open might test Isabel or Grace." However, you shouldn't do the same benchmark workout repeatedly. "Each of the workouts should not be repeated more than twice a year, if that," says Musemici.

The Girl WODs

In 2003, when The Girls were first introduced, these benchmark workouts were limited to six straightforward routines—Angie, Barbara, Chelsea, Diane, Elizabeth, and Fran. Over the years, more Girls have been added, now totaling 26 different benchmark workouts.

Some workouts use only your body weight, while others require equipment, such as kettlebells, barbells, rings, or rowing machines. The equipment involved and the format of the workout (how much load is used, how much rest is allowed, how many reps or sets prescribed), allow each workout to test different areas of personal fitness.

Bodyweight-Only Girl WODs

These workouts require nothing more than your body weight (and access to a pull-up bar), but that doesn't mean they're easy. That said, they're great benchmarks for newbies because the movements involved are often less complicated or advanced.

Musemici points out that "bodyweight movements are easy to scale for a beginner. Many of [the bodyweight Girls] are also longer workouts, meant to be completed in 20 to 30 minutes." Make sure you focus on form—while speed and intensity are important, beginners should be less concerned about their scores, and more concerned about doing the exercises correctly.

Barbara Perform five rounds. Time each round. Rest exactly three minutes between rounds
20 pull-ups
30 pushups
40 situps
50 air squats
Chelsea You'll perform all three exercises in a row, every minute on the minute (EMOM), continuing until you can't complete a full round of exercises in a minute's time. The workout lasts 30 minutes.
5 pull-ups
10 pushups
15 air squats
Mary Perform as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes.
5 handstand pushups
10 single-leg squats per leg
15 pull-ups
Cindy AMRAP in 20 minutes (this uses the same exercises as Chelsea, but the format is different).
5 pull-ups
10 pushups
15 air squats
Annie You'll perform rounds of both exercises back-to-back, completing 50 reps of each, 40 reps, 30 reps, 20 reps, and 10 reps, completing the workout for time.
Jump rope double-unders
Situps

Nicole AMRAP in 20 minutes; note how many pull-ups you complete for each round.
Run 400 meters
Pull-ups for max reps
Angie Complete all exercises and reps as fast as you can, for time.
100 pull-ups
100 pushups
100 situps
100 air squats
Marguerita Complete 50 total rounds, with one rep per exercise, per round, as fast as you can for time.
Burpee
Pushup
Jumping jack
Situp
Handstand
Candy Complete five total rounds for time.
20 pull-ups
40 pushups
60 squats
Maggie Complete five total rounds for time.
20 handstand pushups
40 pull-ups
60 one-legged squats, alternating legs

Small Equipment and Bodyweight Girl WODs

These benchmark workouts incorporate smaller tools, such as kettlebells, plyo boxes, and wall balls (large, weighted medicine balls). These workouts also involve a fair amount of all-out running, so you can expect your cardiovascular capacity to be challenged.

As with the bodyweight-only Girl WODs, feel free to scale the exercise prescriptions as needed. For instance, if you can't handle a 2-pood (72-pound) kettlebell swing during the Eva workout, use a lighter weight, but make note of the weight you use so you can compare your improvements the next time you do the workout.

Eva Complete five total rounds for time.
800-meter run
30 kettlebell swings (prescribed with a 2-pood kettlebell)
30 pull-ups
Helen Complete three total rounds for time.
400-meter run
21 kettlebell swings (prescribed with a 1.5-pood kettlebell)
12 pull-ups
Karen Complete all repetitions as fast as possible, for time. 150 wall ball shots (prescribed with a 20-pound ball)
Kelly Complete five total rounds, for time.
400-meter run
30 box jumps (prescribed with a 24-inch box)
30 wall ball shots (prescribed with a 20-pound ball)

Heavy Barbells and Calisthenics Girl WODs

Considered some of the toughest Girls around, these benchmarks incorporate a little bit of everything, including heavy strength training, calisthenics, running, rowing, and more. Musemici takes special note of Fran: "Over time, Fran has developed an iconic-like status above all other benchmark WODs. She is ingrained in CrossFit as the most challenging Girl, with athletes around the world judging each other based on their 'Fran-time.' With a 21-15-9 rep scheme of thrusters and pull-ups, Fran is meant to be done quickly, and ideally, unbroken (without rest)."

Amanda Complete rounds of 9 reps, 7 reps, and 5 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time.
Muscle-ups
Snatch (prescribed with a 135-pound barbell)
Jackie Complete as fast as you can, for time.
1,000-meter row
50 thrusters (prescribed with 45-pound barbell)
30 pull-ups
Diane Complete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time.
Deadlifts (prescribed with 225-pound barbell)
Handstand pushups
Fran Complete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time.
Thrusters (prescribed with 95-pound barbell)
Pull-ups
Elizabeth Complete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps of both exercises as fast as you can, for time.
Cleans (prescribed with 135-pound barbell)
Ring dips
Nancy Complete five total rounds of both exercises, as fast as you can for time.
400-meter run
15 overhead squats (prescribed with 95-pound barbell)
Lynne Complete five rounds, aiming for max reps. There's no time limit. Make note of your completed reps for each round, totaling them at the end.
Bench press (prescribed with your own body weight on the barbell)
Pull-ups
Hope This is a timed, three-round circuit. Perform one minute of each exercise, tracking the number of reps you complete at each station. After completing each full round, rest for one minute before continuing the workout. The goal is to tally your total reps for the workout.
Burpees
Power snatches (prescribed with 75-pound barbell)
Box jumps (prescribed with 24-inch box)
Thrusters (prescribed with 75-pound barbell)
Chest-to-bar pull-ups

Heavy Strength-Work Girl WODs

These four benchmarks focus on lifting heavy weight while performing full-body, advanced strength training movements. Musemici says, "These workouts incorporate the Olympic lifts (clean and jerk and snatch), requiring an athlete to have both strength and skill when it comes to moving a barbell."

It's important to focus on form and to work with your CrossFit coach to scale the prescribed weight appropriately to make sure you don't open yourself up to possible injury.

Isabel Complete the prescribed reps as fast as you can for time. 30 snatches (prescribed with 135-pound barbell)
Linda This workout is also known as "Three Bars of Death." Perform as a pyramid workout, completing all three exercises in sequence, completing rep series of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, so that you first complete 10 reps of each exercise, then 9 reps of each exercise, and so forth, all the way up the pyramid. Complete the workout as quickly as you can for time.
Deadlifts (prescribed with a barbell with 1.5 times your body weight)
Bench press (prescribed with a barbell with your body weight)
Cleans (prescribed with a barbell with 3/4 your body weight)
Grace Complete the prescribed reps as fast as you can for time. Clean and jerk (prescribed with 135-pound barbell)
Gwen Complete rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps for total load. This is a touch-and-go workout, so any rest or re-positioning between reps is considered a "foul." Use the same load for each set, and rest as needed between sets. Clean and jerk

Tips

Benchmarks are meant to be challenging, and as such, you need to prepare both mentally and physically. Here are a few tips from Katzenbach and Musemici on how to kill your next Girl WOD.

Warm Up Appropriately

Katzenbach says, "Prepping for these workouts should consist of a warm-up that's inversely proportional to the length of the workout itself. You should do a longer warm-up for a short, intense workout, such as Fran or Grace, and a shorter warm-up for longer efforts like Cindy or Angie." Musemici adds that you also want to warm up the same way you'll work out.

For example, "Angie consists of 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 100 air squats. She is largely aerobic in nature, consisting of about 20 minutes of continuous movement. In contrast, Chelsea's EMOM rep scheme has an anaerobic demand. The warmup for these two separate workouts is similar, as you need to prepare for the same movements, but the pattern would be different. For Angie, you might do three rounds of 10 reps of each exercise, but for Chelsea, you might do a short EMOM with 3-6-9 reps of each exercise to get a feel for how the heart rate spikes during this type of rep scheme."

Get Help With Scaling

Even though a benchmark workout is prescribed one way, you can scale it based on your own fitness level and strengths. In fact, coaches are there to help you scale and modify workouts so you can successfully complete them as intended, based on rounds, reps, or time.

"My very first CrossFit workout was 'Helen.' This workout should take about nine to 12 minutes. I was scaled to a 200 meter run (from a 400-meter run), banded pull-ups, and kettlebell swings with a 15-pound dumbbell (rather than a 54-pound kettlebell). I was a distance runner before this, so I thought this 11-minute workout sounded easy. About halfway through the first round, I thought my lungs would explode. I thought I was fit, but Helen changed my mind," Katzenbach says.

Set Realistic Expectations

It's understandable that you'd want to master every single Girl WOD you try the first time out. Like tests, it's natural to want to "get an A" on a benchmark workout. Unfortunately, it doesn't (and shouldn't) always work that way.

"The first time [you] encounter one of the Girls, approach the workout as a baseline. Understand this is a workout you'll see several more times over the years. The focus of CrossFit is not to specialize. While the Girls may be used as motivation to learn a new skill (for instance, Elizabeth requires mastering ring dips), they're simply a way to gauge your overall fitness. Newer athletes should set realistic expectations, scaling reps on Angie or reducing the deadlift weight on Diane," explains Musemici.

Musemici also says coaches should allow new athletes longer times to complete entire workouts, pointing out that athletes shouldn't ever feel bad about their current fitness level or strength—it's all just a jumping-off point to help you assess how much you improve over time.

Recover Appropriately

Because these benchmarks require all-out effort, you're pretty much guaranteed to be sore. To help speed recovery time, says Musemici, "Immediately following the workout, make sure you're mobilizing and foam rolling, and try drinking a recovery protein shake. It's recommended that you consume a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to proteins post-workout for optimal recovery."

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