"Murph" for the pregnant and postpartum athlete...
Memorial day is nearly upon us and for many Crossfitters that means "Murph". Normally a fantastic opportunity for the community to get together for a hell of a workout and maybe also chance to hang out after...This year it looks a little different - maybe you're doing it with a partner or loved one, maybe your joining in with a zoom class or maybe you're going to be doing it alone. One thing that hasnt changed is the demand and intensity of the workout, no question, this is an endurance event (average times tend to be between 47 and 57 minutes) requiring pacing and a strategy.
I've personally done Murph as a brand new crossfitter, whilst pregnant and then postpartum and every time it has looked a little different, but what has remained the same has been the idea of having a plan, of not going into it blind or without some structure, and also having a handful of options.
Whether you're postpartum, pregnant, managing pelvic floor issues or not, your training over the past few months might not have been as intense or as structured before so this is something to think about when planning how you are going to do Murph. If you haven't done some of the movements while we have been in lockdown, then Monday probably isn't the best time to start doing them in high reps for an extended period of time. Similarly if you haven't built up some miles in a weight vest or you struggle to perform the movements as prescribed without a weight vest then it might not be a great idea for its first outing to be Murph...
Remember why we do this workout;
"If you're doing this workout, its to honour a hero, its not to honour your ego." Brianna Battles.
So Murph as prescribed is:
1 Mile Run
100 Pull Ups
200 Push Ups
1 Mile Run
Complete in a 20lb vest or body armour
Why should I think about modifying Murph?
There are many reasons to consider modifying the workout, maybe you have an injury, are a little deconditioned due to lockdown, are pregnant, postpartum or have pelvic floor issues or symptoms - remember, leaking with exercise is very (very very) common but its also not something to just push through and put up with.
Although Murph is meant to be a tough workout, toughness is relative to the individual. We can still take part, get a bit sweaty and enjoy the workout without having to grind through it, push through symptoms, pain or injury - its simply not worth it in the longer term.
So where do we start thinking about how to modify Murph? Here are some points to consider:
1. Adusting the structure or “partitioning” the workout
This could include breaking up the reps and sets, but it is also worth considering reducing the reps/sets. This could either be done by reducing the overall number or you could give yourself a time cap.
Here are some ideas:
REDUCE THE REPS/DURATION:
- Add a time cap, 20/30/40 minutes would still give you a good workout but allow you to manage your intensity a little better.
- Quarter Murph
o 400m Run
o 25 Pull Ups
o 50 Push Ups
o 75 Squats
o 400m Run
- Half Murph
o 800m Run
o 50 Pull Ups
o 100 Push Ups
o 150 Squats
o 800m Run
PARTITIONING THE WORKOUT:
There are various ways to do this, and it can be done to specifically address movements that may be more challenging than others. e.g If the run (or equivalent) is going to be the hardest part of the workout then break the run up into chunks so you don’t have to run the full mile in one go.
Here are some ideas, this is probably the most common...
o 1 Mile Run
o 5 Pull Ups
o 10 Push Ups Repeat x20
o 15 Squats
o 1 Mile Run
If Push ups are your weaker movement then breaking them down into manageable sets might be your best option:
o 1 Mile Run
o 3 Pull Ups
o 6 Push Ups Repeat x33 plus a final round of 1,2,3
o 9 Squats
o 1 Mile Run
You could then play about with splitting up the run into smaller parts – maybe 400 meter chunks interspersed into the rounds.
2. Symptom awareness and readiness for Murph:
There are lots of things going on with Murph that could mean a wide variety of symptoms may present.
Impact from the run, high demand and high pressure movements with the pull ups and push ups as well as the onset of fatigue from the length of the workout may mean symptom are more pronounced.
Pelvic health symptoms to watch out for and be aware of:
Feelings of heaviness/drooping/dragging in pelvic floor/vagina
Feeling of “something falling out”
Leaking – can be as small as a few drops
Excess Pressure on pelvic floor
Watching out for abdominal/pressure symptoms such as:
Coning, doming, bulging of the abdominal wall – particularly in pull up and push up variations.
Feeling of unsupported abdominal wall/ too much pressure on the abdominal wall.
Experiencing any of these symptoms is a sign that your deep core muscles are out of balance, pushing through any symptom or injury can lead to further problems down the line. Try to work within your symptom threshold, see a Womens Health Physiotherapist, who can help you figure out whats going on and provide a personalised plan. I strongly recommend Specialised Physiotherapy based in Peterborough.
3. Adjust the movements:
This is a lot of pull ups so choose your modifications with that in mind!
You may not have access to a pull up bar so I have included a few extra row variations…
Pregnancy, if you are in your first trimester and able to manage the pressure on your abdominal wall then pull ups may still be ok (can you still perform without doming/bulging down the linea alba?) – you may want to switch to a banded pull up to take off some of the strain and break them up into small sets.
If this movement no longer feels good/past first trimester/ can no longer manage pressure on abdominal wall then consider modifying.
Postpartum, pull ups are something we need to build back to gradually. I would not recommend trying to pick up where you left off with regard to pull ups – e.g if you were doing banded pull ups before and you want to go back to banded pull ups, you need to be able to hang with no abdominal bulging/coning/pressure on p.f and you may need to think about increasing the band strength or switching to something with less demand. Murph isn’t the time to decide to give them a try. Its too long a workout for that.
Consider the following options:
Ring Rows or Inverted Rows. You can make these a little easier by walking the feet further away and increasing the angle between you and the floor
Banded Pull Downs – Like a Lat Pull down – attach band to pull up bar
Banded Vertical Row
Banded Bent Over Row
DB Bent Over Row/KB Bent Over Row
No equipment at all? Bent Over Reverse Flyes or Bent Over Ts
Break a push up down and essentially you have a dynamic plank. Planks are high demand movements and require a lot of core control and stability.
For pregnancy, a push up early on, may still be ok... if you can control and manage the pressure on your abdominal wall. Once you start to feel like there is too much pressure as well as also having the extra weight of the baby on your abdominal wall its time to switch it up. Same goes for as your bump starts to grow and the last thing we want to do is be squishing your bump into the floor!
Postpartum is a similar situation, in terms of putting lots of pressure on an abdominal wall that is trying to heal, so while in training we may want to start thinking about loading the tissues progressively to start strengthening them – Murph isn’t the time to do that.
Consider the following options:
Incline push up – the lower the incline, the more challenging
Banded Press – band hooked up to rig, pushing out on band/ band double and wrapped around the back, push forwards
Wall Push up
Land Mine Press
No doubt about squats being an essential movement for all mums and mums to be to practice but there are lots of ways to modify this movement to suit, after all this is A LOT of squats. Pay attention to form and how the movement feels. Do you feel pressure/leaking at the bottom/as you start to rise?
Consider the following options:
Air Squat with reduced ROM
Air Squat to box/table/chair
Sit to Stand
4. The Run
Whatever distance you are planning – have your route planned out. If you can, try it out and see how it feels.
Pregnancy – if you are already a runner, running may feel like a comfortable movement for you to continue with into your second trimester.
Even if it still feels comfortable into the third, due to the repeated impact on the p.f combined with the already increased demand on your p.f from the weight of your baby I would suggest modifying this movement for a low impact alternative.
Postpartum – running requires a gradual build up. Current studies suggest that not starting to consider returning to running until the 3 month mark and even then, progression should be gradual and based on whether symptoms are experienced or not and how well your overall strength is progressing. We also know that running gait may still not have returned to “NORMAL” at the 6 month mark. Postpartum running guidelines recommend being approved to run by a Women's Health Physio that has assessed your pelvic floor strength and function.
Options for the run – if you are lucky enough to have equipment then consider subbing for:
Rowing (not leaning too far back to avoid too much pressure on abdominal wall)
Bike – if comfortable to sit on
Short Loaded Carry
If you experience leaks when running:
If you know roughly how far you can run before leaking then use this as a marker and plan your run to stay under this threshold.
You may want to consider partitioning the run so that your p.f has some time to recover from the repeated impact before going again.
Mums tend to run in similar ways...
Pelvis tips from side to side a little more than usual
Tendency to be a little too bouncy
Due to postural changes we tend to see a very upright run with the bum tucked underneath almost and a thrusty rib cage
Tendency to grip the abs, glutes and hold the breath
Either consciously or unconsciously there is a tendency to grip the pelvic floor when there are concerns about leaking or pelvic floor strength.
Some adjustments to running posture that can help with pelvic floor function:
Breathe. No breath holding
Let the abdominals relax- no sucking in your belly
Let the glutes relax
Let the pelvic floor relax – trying to hold a contraction through your run will not help keep you dry and may make the problem worse
Imagine running into a strong wind and adopt a slight forwards lean, letting the rib cage sit down over the pelvis and not thrusting upwards. let the glutes sit behind you.
Instead of thinking about striding forwards, think about extending backwards, pushing the ground away. We want your glutes to be powering the movement and for that we need them active and behind you.
Include some glute activation in your warm up – glute bridges, lateral walks, kick backs etc
Let your arms relax a little and think about a gentle cross body motion.
Ways to include the run:
Planned intervals – running for 1 min, walking for 2 min e.g Running 100m, walking for 50m etc... this will depend on personal progress.
Partition the run. e.g into 400m segments between rounds
Reduce the run distance
Swap out for a low impact option (see above)
Power Walk with reduced distance
Light Loaded Carry (short distance)
Try the postural adjustments suggested above
Get your glutes firing in your warm up
Planning movements for pregnancy and postpartum is so much more than modifications. After all its not necessarily the movement thats the problem, its how we do It that matters. In pregnancy and postpartum it is really important not only to restrengthen but to also get our deep core (which includes the pelvic floor) working in a coordinated and balanced manner and we can do this with our breath.
Start by lying on your back with knees bent, neutral spine and good alignment with ribs over hips.
Place a hand on the belly and a hand on the chest.
On the inhale breath you should feel the ribcage and belly gently expand. Your pelvic floor should gently descend and relax. Try to avoid pushing down and be aware of holding any tension, this part is about allowing the pelvic floor to relax.
On the exhale breath you should feel a gentle engagement of the Transverse Abdominis and pelvic floor whilst the chest and belly should fall – cues to help are to imagine gently drawing up or lifting the pelvic floor. You can try the following visualisations:
Try visualising using your pelvic floor to draw up a tampon into the vagina, or to use your vagina and anus to pick up a bean or berry and draw it up into the body. (Try to avoid gripping the abdominals or pulling belly button to spine, instead imagine gently drawing the belly button up towards the sternum)
Postural and stability system is the same system that manages continence… pelvic floor as a postural muscle therefore getting it involved is going to be of benefit to your performance.
To apply this to the movements...
Pull ups/ pull up modifications consider… inhale to set up, fill the space with an expansive breath, feel pelvic floor and belly relax. Start exhale with p.f lift and begin and complete the pull. Inhale back.
Pushups/push up variations
inhale to set up, fill the space with an expansive breath, feel pelvic floor and belly relax. Start exhale with p.f lift and begin and complete the push. Inhale back.
Squat/ Squat variation
Version 1. Inhale to set up, fill the space with an expansive breath, feel pelvic floor and belly relax. Start exhale with p.f lift and begin and complete the squat. Inhale and reset before going again. This version provides the most support.
Version 2. Inhale down, exhale just before you rise out of the bottom.
Below is an example that I might programme for a postpartum athlete:
However you choose to do Murph, enjoy it! Have a plan, but also have a few options that you can switch to if you need to. If Murph isn't for you right now, then thats ok too!
Try to dial back your athlete brain, maybe the lack of face to face competition is a good thing for you and your recovery right now?...