How to Complete the Murph Challenge, According to Former Navy SEAL Mike Sauers
The notorious workout honors a courageous man. Here's your guide to getting it done.
In June of 2005, in Afghanistan’s Kunal Province, Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy’s team found itself completely surrounded by Taliban soldiers. The Navy SEALs were there to provide reconnaissance for an impending U.S. military strike against the guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah, but were being hunted by anti-coalition militiamen. Lt. Murphy courageously exposed himself to enemy fire in order to call in support for his men. Despite being shot more than 14 times, Lt. Murphy completed his request for reinforcements. As he signed off from the transmission, he said “thank you.”
Lt. Murphy’s incredible bravery during Operation Red Wings has been memorialized many times over. There’s a park, a post office, a high school, numerous U.S. Navy facilities, a naval destroyer, a soon-to-open museum and Mark Wahlberg’s 2013 movie The Lone Survivor, which was based on the book by Marcus Luttrell — the only surviving member of Murphy’s team. Luttrell paid tribute to his fallen commander in its pages, calling him a “wonderful person” and a “very, very great SEAL officer.”
That tribute will continue this Memorial Day, when thousands will join together physically and virtually around the country to attempt Lt. Murphy’s favorite workout. Spearheaded both by Murphy’s family and former military, the fitness movement has become an annual event to bring visibility to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, while raising funds for their families. Now known as the “Murph,” the workout includes a mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and a final mile run, all with a weighted vest. The pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats can be sequenced out in whatever fashion works for the participant, but the goal is to go hard.
Done at a steady clip, the “Murph” is a punishing routine for even the fittest men and women in the world. But that shouldn’t stop you from giving it your best shot. InsideHook spoke to Mike Sauers, a former Navy SEAL, BUD/s instructor, and co-founder of The Murph Challenge for insight and advice.
Did you cross paths with Lt. Michael P. Murphy while you were in the SEALs?
Murph and I served in the SEAL Teams at the same time. I wasn’t on the same team as him, but we did cross paths a few times during various training situations. When Operation Red Wings occurred, I was assigned to Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, CA as a Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Instructor. The SEAL Teams are a tight-knit brotherhood, so everyone in the community was affected by the events of Operation Red Wings. I vividly remember being called back to the command and getting briefed on the tragic situation. It was devastating news; everyone felt like they were on pins and needles for several days as information about our fallen brothers slowly filtered in. The way that SEAL Teams are built, everyone comes together to support each other and their families after something like that happens. That was a rough time for everyone in the community. We were praying that Marcus Luttrell was still alive and that our Special Operations brothers would find him, and luckily, they did.
About a year later, I joined the same platoon as Marcus and his twin brother, Morgan Luttrell. We deployed to Ramadi, Iraq as part of the same task unit. I didn’t really hear the entire story about Murph and the rest of his team until I’d spent a lot of time with Marcus. It wasn’t something he was trying to talk about with a lot of strangers or even other teammates. Marcus and I were both in leadership positions, so we spent a lot of time together in the mission planning room. Eventually he opened up to me more and we talked about Danny, Axe, and of course, Murph. Morgan was very close with Murph as well; they were roommates at one point. When we had downtime in between missions, we would sit around the fire and guys would take turns sharing stories about our fallen brothers. This is when I really got to learn about Murph and the man he was.
When did you start to become more involved with telling his story?
In 2012, the LT Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation reached out to our company, Forged, and asked us if we would help with the production and logistics for their Memorial Day fundraiser. Their foundation was made up completely of volunteers and the fundraiser was out-growing their capabilities. We immediately said yes and were happy to take the lead. We jumped on board and started setting everything up; we organized and facilitated the Memorial Day fundraiser. That included launching a new website, rebranding and renaming the fundraiser and procuring the proper trademarks and intellectual property. I enlisted the help of my fellows SEAL brothers, including Marcus and Morgan, to help spread the word and gain some mainstream media attention for The Murph Challenge. It’s very rewarding to see people all over the world participating in The Murph Challenge every Memorial Day in honor of our fallen brothers.
How would you describe putting together an annual event like The Murph Challenge?
The Murph Challenge is our biggest campaign of the year at Forged. It’s really like running another company. We start preparing for The Murph Challenge right after the holiday season and the campaign runs into the summer months. Once we launch the campaign, it’s like getting shot out of a cannon. It’s non-stop printing, packing, shipping, marketing, and of course, squeezing in time to workout and train so we can successfully complete The Murph Challenge when Memorial Day approaches.
Getting into how hard the “Murph” is — do you remember when you first tried it out personally?
The first time I heard of the body armor workout is when CrossFit launched it on their website as the “Workout Of the Day,” and it was called The Hero WOD “Murph.” Every SEAL command runs their physical training a little different. It usually depends on your leadership and what they like to do for Physical Training (PT). I understand that Murph really liked the Body Armor workout and that’s what he would challenge his fellow SEALs to do for PT. I was still in the SEAL teams the first time I did the Murph workout. I was in really good shape but it was still challenging. It’s a grueling workout, even more so, if you do it as prescribed and unbroken. Then you add the competition element with a group of SEALs all doing it together. It can end up in a dustup half of the time, that’s no joke. I will say, doing it for the first time in that environment made it that much more impactful.
Does it get any easier the more times you do it?
Not really. It’s one of those workouts that is never easy when you are doing it properly. In the SEAL Teams we like to call these kinds of workouts a “gut check”. For example, when you are doing so many pull-ups that the skin on your hands breaks and you realize you are only halfway done. Your hands are bleeding, and every rep is going to be extra painful, but you need to persevere through that reality. It gives your average person a little taste of what it takes to be a member of the military’s Special Operations units.
Do you have any advice for people who are attempting it for the first time?
The first thing I would tell people is that they don’t need to get caught up in doing The Murph Challenge with a weighted vest. It’s more important to maintain proper form and technique throughout the workout than worrying about if you wear a weight vest or not. The vest adds a lot of difficulty, and can act as a heat trap, especially if you are working out in a warmer climate. Most participants take on The Murph Challenge over the Memorial Day holiday, so many of them are dealing with warm conditions. If you have to scale the movements to complete the workout, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Take as many breaks as you need; just don’t quit. The first time is always the hardest. Once you’ve tackled your first Murph Challenge, you’ll have the mental fortitude to complete it every year. The most important thing for you to remember is that it’s more than just a workout. It is a tradition that helps push us, humble us, and allows us the opportunity to dedicate a bit of pain and sweat to honor LT Michael P. Murphy, a man who sacrificed everything he had for our freedom.
Do you prefer to do it alone or with a group?
Like taking on any hard challenge, doing it with a buddy or a group is the best way. On our website we have a list of official gym partners and hosts all over the country. These hosts do a great job of laying out the protocol and making sure you have everything you need to take on the challenge. When our schedules permit, we enjoy taking on The Murph Challenge at one of our official host locations. If you are hesitant about taking on The Murph Challenge this year, I would suggest visiting our website, locating one of our official hosts in your area, and start training with them today. Our official host are also dedicated to keeping LT Michael P. Murphy’s legacy alive through The Murph Challenge campaign.
I know you like to hit it in the morning. What are your eating routines before taking on the Murph?
Everyone has their own eating habits of course, but a big fat steak the night before is probably not the best option. Personally, I like to carb up with something like a pasta dish. I don’t like to eat a big meal before doing The Murph Challenge. I’ll usually chow down on a power bar of some sort to get those carbohydrates. Hydration is key; start pounding water the night before and continue hydrating throughout the workout. This is very important, especially if you are taking on the challenge in a high-temperature environment. If you are not properly hydrated, it can catch up with you very fast.
There are a few records out there when it comes to how fast people have done the Murph. Do you think people should be trying to hit a certain goal when it comes to how long it takes them?
It’s always helpful to have a goal to work towards, so setting a realistic time for yourself can be helpful. With that said, if you are not a seasoned athlete, or an individual who is looking to prove yourself before joining the military, or a career in athletics, I wouldn’t pay too much attention when it comes to the time. For the average person, I don’t think it should matter that much, especially when you are taking on The Murph Challenge for the first time. Sure, there are professional athletes who have completed it in around a half hour, but it doesn’t matter if it takes you an hour, or even two hours.
How often do you get to catch up with Marcus Luttrell?
We have remained very close to this day. He just texted me this morning about attending the grand opening of the LT Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum/Sea Cadet Training Facility in Long Island, NY. I’m very proud to say Forged has raised over $1,800,000+ for the LT Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation through The Murph Challenge campaign. Furthermore, in 2021, The Murph Challenge Fundraiser raised more than $300,000 to finalize construction on the museum.
The writer of this article will be participating in The Murph Challenge this year at The Barn Saladino, in Murph’s native Long Island. You can find the closest location to you by checking their official hosts list here.
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