Spartan Games 2.0 athlete Hunter McIntyre previously held the Murph world record before Blenis — a life-long athlete, former Spartan Pro, and performance coach — completed the unpartitioned workout on May 31, 2021, in 32 minutes and 41 seconds. The workout, done while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest, is as follows:
- 1-mile run
- 100 pull-ups
- 200 push-ups
- 300 squats
- 1-mile run
Blazing onto the Spartan scene way back in high school, Blenis was the second youngest athlete to podium back in 2011 at age 16. He then went on to the Spartan Pro circuit in 2012, 2013, and 2014, where he podiumed approximately 50 times. In 2016, Blenis took some time away to relieve burnout after simply juggling too much training, racing (both Spartan races and ultramarathons), and school work. However, since crushing the Murph in 2021, he says that he’s got the competition bug again, and plans to make a comeback.
We caught up with Blenis to chat about how he’s such a Murph machine, along with how other athletes can get their individual times down this Memorial Day.
Murph Workout Tips From the World Record Holder Himself
SPARTAN: What made you want to chase the world record for the Murph workout?
In 2020, I saw that Hunter McIntyre, a well-known OCR athlete, had set the Murph record. He'd gotten a bunch of notoriety for it, and I thought it was pretty cool to see a guy like Hunter do that and beat some of the best times from the CrossFit Games.
I've raced against Hunter a number of times, but never actually beat him at anything. I’ve come close. Prior to this, I'd say my claim to fame was almost beating Hunter McIntyre in an OCR back in 2017. So last year, when it was time for the Memorial Day Murph, I didn't really have any plans of going after a world record or anything like that. I just looked at Hunter's time, watched his video, and had a general ballpark in mind of, maybe I'll try to do something similar, pace off of his performance.
So, that's what I did. And on Memorial Day, I ended up coming within like five seconds of his time, to my own disbelief. I thought, "Shoot, I'm actually pretty darn good at this."
Then, I reached out to Matt Davis over at Obstacle Racing Media to organize an official world record attempt. Three weeks later, I did it again and shaved two minutes off of it, beating Hunter's time by two minutes or so. This year, I'm hoping to do it again and hopefully shave even more time off.
SPARTAN: So this was weighted and unpartitioned, right?
Right. I wore a 20-pound vest and completed it unpartitioned. I have not dug in enough to find an official best time overall, but I would like to, because I want to go after that one as well.
SPARTAN: How many times have you done the Murph workout?
Fewer than you'd think. Back when I was doing more Spartan stuff — like five to 10 years ago — I was doing CrossFit training along with the distance training. I did Cindy, which is a similar workout with just push-ups, pull-ups, and squats, a lot. That was a staple basement dungeon workout for me. I’d do Cindy and then go for a five-plus-mile run or something.
I've done that more times than I can count way back in the day. So for Murph, I didn't actually do a lot of specific preparation leading into it. Last year, I was just doing the training that I like to do. Luckily, Murph is a wheelhouse workout for me.
SPARTAN: Why is it a wheelhouse workout for you?
I'm short — I'm 5'6" — and I'm 165 pounds. I can go through those bodyweight movements pretty quickly. I have an extensive background in weighted vest training in general too. Again, back in the early days of OCR, Hobie Call (who's probably to this day still the greatest OCR athlete of all time, in my opinion) was big into weighted vest training. So, I'd emulate a lot of the stuff that he was doing.
One time, I ran a 7:40 mile with a 100-pound weighted vest. I've done a lot of just stupid weighted vest stuff, so throwing 20 pounds on is not a big deal for me at all. Combine that with the fact that the bodyweight movement is pretty easy for a lighter, shorter guy with a bit of a CrossFit background, and it makes the Murph a very natural workout for me. I haven't had to work at it all that much.
SPARTAN: What other advantages do you have?
If you break it down component by component, my running is good by most people's standards. But compared to a lot of the guys that have gone after this record (and compared to Hunter) I'm really not that good of a runner. So, while it's certainly not that, it is certainly a prerequisite. I mean, you've got to have a certain level of running ability to do this, but I'm definitely not the fastest guy that's tried to do it.
In fact, when Hunter set his record a couple of years back, he ran his first mile with the weighted vest in like 5:30 to 5:40 or something. If I go out that fast with a weighted vest mile, I'm going to blow up. I'm just going to run a 6-minute flat and then make up as much time as I can on everything else. I was able to do that and still shave off two minutes, so I definitely do not rely on my speed. Again, good runner, but not great by a lot of other people's standards.
SPARTAN: What about the strength movements?
I'm very good at the pull-ups, but I think where I shaved the most time was the push-ups. Historically, a lot of CrossFit athletes don't train chest all that much. It's a very shoulder- and overhead-dominant sport. They do a lot of vertical pressing. They’ve got huge traps and shoulders, but they're not out there bench pressing week after week and that kind of thing. In my training in the last couple of years, I've done some more physique-oriented stuff.
I've always liked calisthenics — I've always done push-ups and bench pressing — so I think I have a more solid background in just general chest training than a lot of CrossFitters that have gone after the record. Plus, a lot of the OCR athletes that have done it just don't have the strength background in general. So, just by having trained a lot more chest — I think — than Hunter and some of the top CrossFit athletes that have done it, the push-ups went much better for me than they have for them.
SPARTAN: Sounds like pushing strength is a huge advantage for you.
Yeah. You live in your own body, so you don't know how other people feel and perform as much as you know yourself. So, when I was watching Hunter's video and saw him start to fall apart on the push-ups, I was just surprised because I know what a phenomenal athlete he is. I competed against him a number of times, and he's always kicked my butt. So to watch a guy like that struggle through those push-ups, that's kind of funny. But I did a couple of practice workouts and worked on the pacing of them to really get it down.
SPARTAN: What would be your best advice for anyone doing the Murph workout?
First, you're not going to set a PR for yourself with the first mile. You're certainly not going to set the record there, but you could easily lose it. Even just going out 15 or 20 seconds too hot on the first mile could just shatter your entire attempt for yourself.
SPARTAN: So don’t go out of the gate hot?
I went in — compared to what I'm capable of in terms of an all-out one mile — very conservatively, and I'm super thankful that I did. My advice would be to run the first mile at a pace that you could keep for at least a 5K, and potentially even a 10K. It should not be the kind of thing where you're racing a mile and then seeing what you can do the rest of the workout.
SPARTAN: What about when it’s time to get to the movements?
Whether you're partitioning it or not, small chunks are a really good idea. So, even if you think you're someone who can knock out 20 push-ups at a time or whatever, don't do it. I could do 100 consecutive push-ups if that's all I had to do, but I did 40 sets of five for Murph. It's a very quick five, take a breath or two, quick five, basically for seven straight minutes of work. You'll be able to move much faster and more powerfully with those small sets with quick recovery. Your exact sets/rest/etc will look different than mine, but the key is finding that pace that allows you to maintain speed/quality, as opposed to just grinding through a slow set to failure and needing a ton of rest.
SPARTAN: How do you finish this thing out?
Start with the very conservative mile, small chunks of the mainstream movements, then full send on the squats and survive from there. Just go. That strategy paid off perfectly for me, and that’s basically my exact same strategy for this year. I'm just going to try to do each thing just a little bit better.
SPARTAN: Any advice for anyone wanting to train for the Murph workout in future years?
Focus on chest work and triceps. There’s an element of positional strength when it comes to triceps. Just because your triceps are strong overhead doesn't mean they're going to be super strong in different positions. Actually doing horizontal pressing in general is going to be your best bet for getting better at horizontal pressing. It’s the specificity principle.
Then, just do your general work capacity or general cardiovascular training. A lot of CrossFitters that are strong and good at short metcons get wrecked by Murph every year because they just don't have the aerobic capacity for a workout of this length. So, make sure that you're doing your pure cardio and get some runs in. Finally, don't neglect your chest all year long and expect to have a good Murph with a couple of weeks of push-up training.
SPARTAN: What's the next feat you're going for?
I'm kind of just feeling competitive again. Last year, I did my first DEKA. That was like my coming out of retirement. DEKA has a big appeal to me. I feel like my running has a long way to go compared to where it used to be back when I was a Spartan Pro. When I got out there in that DEKA arena and started running and saw the guys take off, I was thinking, "I used to be that fast!"
SPARTAN: Are you planning on building it back up?
Yeah, and I know what it takes, it's just going to take some work to get there. I see both DEKA and the Murph in my future. And my current main objective that I'm thinking about is the simultaneous 500-pound squat and sub-five-minute mile. That's kind of my main hybrid training goal right now. And I know that if I put in the work to get both of those two things accomplished, I know I'm going to be really good at a lot of other things, too.
Train Like the Murph World Record Holder for a Week
The following is what a week of training with Alec Blenis looks like. His current training split below also includes 45-60 minutes of daily bike commuting.
- Day 1: Legs + Metcon/Run (High Intensity/Short Intervals)
- Day 2: Push
- Day 3: Pull + Mid Distance Zone 2
- Day 4: Push
- Day 5: Legs + Metcon/Run (Moderate Intensity/"Tempo")
- Day 6: Pull
- Day 7: Rest