Every time you gear up to perform a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day), the game is part physical and part mental. Sometimes, you get yourself ready to face down heavy weights for an impossible-sounding number of reps. Other times, you’ll see the WOD on the board and say to yourself, “Is that all?”
The CrossFit workouts that you underestimate from the outset are often the most dangerous of them all. With only three bodyweight exercises to speak of, the CrossFit Cindy workout is one such workout. It’s easy to overestimate your abilities while underestimating the challenge this 20-minute WOD will pose.
If you go in without knowing what to expect, Cindy is bound to present unexpected challenges. Read on to prepare yourself to get through this WOD as effectively as possible — no matter your experience level.
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The CrossFit WOD Cindy may look easy, but it’s not a workout to be trifled with. It made its debut on the CrossFit website in early 2005, two years after the publication of the original benchmark workouts Angie, Barbara, Chelsea, Diane, Elizabeth, and Fran.
Cindy is comprised of three bodyweight exercises: pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats. It’s an AMRAP workout, which means you’ll be performing as many rounds as possible within the time cap — in this case, 20 minutes.
Some research has been conducted about this workout’s impact on the body, and it has found that doing Cindy requires a high level of cardiovascular fitness. (1) Study participants experienced in CrossFit have said that Cindy feels harder to do (a higher rate of perceived exertion) than workouts focused on double-unders and power cleans. (1)
So if you had any doubts about Cindy’s level of toughness, research suggests you should think again.
Here’s what Cindy will look like written out on the board at your local CrossFit box:
You can scale each movement as necessary to make sure you can go for all 20 minutes.
Like all WODs, you really need to pace yourself to successfully get through Cindy. The faster you go at the outset, the longer your rest periods might have to become later in the workout. Here are some benchmarks to aim for depending on your skill level.
Elite: 24+ rounds
Advanced: 19 to 23 rounds
Intermediate: 13 to 18 rounds
Beginner: <10 to 12 rounds
Of course, within every experience level, athletes have different strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you’re a generally intermediate athlete but pull-ups are your arch-nemesis. Or maybe you’re an intermediate-level lifter but an expert at bodyweight movements. Assess your performance based on your ability with this workout, and aim to improve accordingly.
For the uninitiated, CrossFit workouts might look like a whole lot of chaos. Just go, go, go with no thought behind it. And while to go, go, go part is mostly true, experienced CrossFitters know that strategy is the name of the game.
Have a Game Plan
Even seemingly simple CrossFit WODs require well-thought-out plans. Break up your sets wherever and whenever you need to. Try as much as possible to devise this strategy beforehand.
Base your plan on your current level of cardiovascular fitness and your ability to perform these particular exercises. If you can perform a maximum of two pull-ups at a time, for example, aim to split the pull-up sets into singles. You might also decide to modify the movement (performing jumping pull-ups) or use an alternative exercise entirely (inverted rows).
Whatever your game plan, know it well enough that you have an idea of what your goals are even when the fatigue sets in.
Plan Your Transitions
You might have planned to go unbroken during all your pull-up sets. But even the best-laid plans can pale in the face of an intense WOD.
Have a backup plan in mind in case things go south midway through the workout. This workout is extremely tough on your upper body, so if your push-ups start failing midway through, know what your alternative plan is. Are you going to perform the movement from your knees or on a wall?
If you plan to switch to wall push-ups mid-workout, do so right after your pull-ups. That way, you won’t be wasting precious seconds transitioning between movements. Aim to make everything as smooth as possible for yourself while also respecting your capacity.
Just because it would be faster in the moment to jump up from your push-ups to start your air squats doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sustain it. Instead, perhaps plan to step up from your push-ups to standing position from the start of the workout. Planning for how to transition will save you both time and energy — including when you’re changing your original game plan.
Breathe Between (And During) Sets
This part of the strategy is both simple and very difficult — don’t hold your breath at any point. It might feel easier in the moment to hold your breath while you’re cranking out those push-ups. But it’ll come back to bite you if you’re not breathing the whole way through.
To grab more oxygen, your body will force you to take more pauses between reps or sets. Avoid this by training yourself to breathe as steadily as possible throughout.
In between sets, try to avoid gasping for breath. Instead, take longer, slower breaths through your nose if possible. This pattern of breathing can help calm your body and your breathing much faster than chaotic gasps for air. If you are gasping for breath uncontrollably, consider slowing down or even stopping your workout.
Even if you can’t yet do a pull-up, don’t write Cindy off. You can still make it a high-intensity, cardio-centric bodyweight extravaganza.
Use Alternative Movement
Being unable to do a movement doesn’t mean you’re unable to do a WOD. Just because you can’t do the Rx (as written) version doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all. Instead, opt to modify your movements or even use alternatives. Here are some ways to switch it up.
Air Squat Alternatives
If the full-blown Rx version of Cindy looks like a lot to you, you’re not wrong — these three moves are deceptively tough. That’s especially true if you’re pushing yourself for 20 whole minutes.
Instead, consider performing a Half Cindy. Keep the same rep scheme (five pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats), but only perform the workout for 10 minutes. This will offer an immense challenge to newcomers but allow you to keep a much more manageable volume.
Intermediate athletes may have been in the CrossFit game for more than six to 12 months, or they might be coming over from being very experienced athletes in other sports. Regardless of your background, here are some potential options for modifying Cindy for intermediates.
Intermediate-level athletes might still require modifications of the movements. Your push-ups and air squats may be unimpeachable, but your pull-ups might be in extremely rough shape. Even if you’re no newbie, don’t be ashamed to lean into the various movement modifications available to you.
You started out doing Half Cindy, but you’re going to move on. Once you’ve crushed the 10-minute version, you might still not be ready to go the full 20 minutes. In that case, try a Three-Quarter Cindy. You’ll be doing the same movements and the same rep scheme, but this time, for 15 minutes.
Even if you’re at an advanced level, you might still need to modify some movements. Maybe you’re coming back from a shoulder injury, for example, and need to do rows instead of pull-ups for the time being.
But if you’ve done Cindy a few times before and a ready for an even bigger challenge, try these Cindy variations on for size.
Don’t get us wrong — Cindy on its own is hard enough. But in 2022, CrossFit posted a WOD called Hard Cindy, which aims to make the original benchmark (you guessed it) even harder.
As prescribed, the Hard Cindy workout looks like this:
5 Weighted Pull-Ups
10 Push-Ups With Feet on a Box
15 Squats Holding a Plate
Women: 25-pound vest, 24-inch box, 35-pound plate
Men: 35-pound vest, 30-inch box, 45-pound plate
Athletes of any gender can scale the exact weights and box height as needed.
Cindy Full of Grace
What do you get when you add a bodyweight-only WOD to a weightlifting WOD? The combo known as Cindy Full of Grace. You’ll combine Grace’s clean & jerks with Cindy’s bodyweight moves to provide a dastardly twist to this three-cycle, timed workout.
Here’s how the Cindy Full of Grace workout goes:
Three cycles for time:
Three rounds of Cindy*
10 clean & jerks
Women: 95-pound barbell
Men: 135-pound barbell
* Each round here is comprised of five pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats. So, one full cycle of Cindy Full of Grace will total 15 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, and 45 air squats (plus the clean & jerks). You’ll do all that three times.
For the Grace-style component, athletes of any gender can scale the weights as needed.
More on CrossFit Training
Congratulations — you now know everything there is to know about the CrossFit Cindy workout and how best to face down that clock. But if you’re searching for even more CrossFit WODs to challenge yourself with, check these out:
Maté-Muñoz JL, Lougedo JH, Barba M, Cañuelo-Márquez AM, Guodemar-Pérez J, García-Fernández P, Lozano-Estevan MDC, Alonso-Melero R, Sánchez-Calabuig MA, Ruíz-López M, de Jesús F, Garnacho-Castaño MV. Cardiometabolic and Muscular Fatigue Responses to Different CrossFit® Workouts. J Sports Sci Med. 2018 Nov 20;17(4):668-679.
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