The Helen WOD CrossFit Guide + WOD Scaled For Each Skill Level

If you are a runner who is getting into CrossFit, then you have just stumbled upon a WOD (workout of the day) that is meant for you. Think CrossFit meets track workout. 

The Helen WOD is a true test of your ability to run fast after wrecking your legs and upper body. It is absolutely a test of your ability to push through the pain. 

Many CrossFit WODs consist of only strength movements, but this WOD is meant to really spice things up and slightly wreck your soul. Lucky for you, it is only three rounds, so hang on tight and make it quick. 

This challenging workout is a test of speed, grit, and strength. A workout like this is meant to see how much of a well-rounded athlete you are. Most people can swing a kettlebell, but being able to do that, run fast, and do pull-ups is a dynamite combination. 

The Helen WOD is one CrossFit workout you will want to attempt quarterly if you have it in you. Think of it as a time-trial and strength test combination. 

In this guide, we will cover the following: 

  • What Is the Helen WOD?
  • How to Do the Helen WOD
  • How to Scale the Helen WOD for Each Fitness Level
  • How Long Does It Take to Do the Helen WOD?

Let’s dive into the details!

A pull-up.

What Is the Helen WOD?

The Helen WOD is a CrossFit workout that combines just enough running with strength movements that are only slightly challenging but plenty exhausting. The fun part about this workout is that there is a lot of room to shave off time as your fitness improves. 

As you get faster at running and more efficient at kettlebell swings and pull-ups, you will quickly start chipping away at your overall finish time. 

Okay, so what exactly is the Helen CrossFit Workout? This workout consists of a run, kettlebell swings, and pull-ups. That’s it. 

It seems easy enough, but if you have ever done kettlebell swings and then ran… you understand the discomfort in your legs that is coming your way. Talk about a great leg workout. 

Now imagine adding in pull-ups when your shoulders and traps are already tired from the kettlebell swings. Ouch. Now run… and run fast. 

Don’t worry. You only have to do the Helen WOD as fast as your fitness level allows for. You can jog if you need to and take as much rest as you need between sets when you are first starting out. 

You will need to complete three rounds of the run plus two movements for time. You start by running and follow that up with kettlebell swings. Then you finish it off with pull-ups and do it all again, twice. 

The weight of the kettlebell is moderate and does not require a great amount of strength. The reps are moderate as well. They will be taxing but doable.  

Remember, the quicker you do it, the sooner you are done. Pull-ups are likely the most time-consuming part of the workout.

Kettlebell swings.

How to Do the Helen WOD

To prepare for the Helen WOD, you need to set up in an area with access to a pull-up bar, room for swinging a kettlebell, and space to run 400 meters. 

You could do the run on a properly calibrated treadmill, but ideally, you would run a 400-meter loop out of the gym and back in or a 200-meter out and back down a sidewalk. 

If you have the ability to set up a pull-up bar near an outdoor track, that would be a great option as well. If you are fortunate enough to have an indoor track at your gym, that is a perfect set-up. 

Most CrossFit boxes have a great set-up that allows for easy access to the outside gym so that WODs like this can be completed easily. I personally have a home gym in my garage and would run a 200-meter out of my garage and back for this workout. 

The kettlebell movement itself is pretty straightforward. However, even though pull-ups are straightforward, they are easier said than they are done. 

Gaining the ability to do a strict pull-up takes practice and strength-building. If you need assistance when doing pull-ups, you will want to have your pull-up station set up with any modifications before you start the workout.

The Helen WOD consists of 3 rounds of a run, kettlebell swings, and pull-ups. You must start by running 400 meters first, then move to the 21 kettlebell swings, and finish with 12 pull-ups. Repeat this routine two more times. 

Pull ups.

If possible, you should aim to run faster each time and really lay it all out there on the last run; in the running world, we call this “kicking home.”

Here is the exact format of “The Helen:”

3 rounds for time

  • Run 400 meters
  • 21 kettlebell swings
  • 12 pull-ups

Males: 24 kg

Females: 16 kg

Your score is determined by how long it takes to complete the workout. Remember to keep the rest time between sets minimal because it adds to your score.  

People running on treadmills.

How to Scale the Helen WOD for Each Fitness Level

The movements in the Helen CrossFit Workout should be possible for athletes of all fitness and skill levels.

You may need some assistance with the pull-ups or a lower weight to start, but it does not take much to build up to using the regulation weight, and with time, the pull-up ability will come. 

The number of reps required is fairly moderate, but thanks to the running component of the Helen WOD, the last round of kettlebells will probably feel pretty intense. 

CrossFit workouts are meant to challenge you, and if you stick with trying the challenges and slowly building your way to doing the workouts as prescribed, you may surprise yourself with what you can accomplish and how quickly you can improve.  

If you struggle with pull-ups, then it is totally acceptable to utilize resistance bands or sub the pull-ups out with TRX or ring rows to start. 

A pull up machine.

Trying CrossFit workouts like this will test both your grit and your motivation. You shouldn’t give up just because you cannot do a WOD exactly as prescribed. Make modifications and watch yourself grow over time. 

For the Helen WOD, there should not be any reason that you need to do fewer reps. The best way to modify is by getting assistance with the pull-ups, taking your time on the run, and switching out the kettlebell weight if needed. 

You will be surprised at how much a WOD like the Helen can wreck even the most advanced CrossFit athletes. The workout is only as hard as you make it; the faster you do it, the harder it will be. 

The purpose of this workout is to go fast and test your endurance, both cardiovascularly and muscularly. Your lungs and your legs will be burning in sync. 

The Helen WOD for Beginners:

The Helen WOD is pretty easy to scale to different fitness levels. The best way to scale it is by decreasing the weight and allowing for pull-up modifications. 

If you are not yet comfortable running, you can walk half of it or just do half the distance. If you are not quite ready for all of the reps, we have a suggestion for a starting point. 

We suggest the following as the best option:

3 rounds for time

  • Run 200 meters
  • 15 kettlebell swings
  • 9 assisted pull-ups or TRX/ring rows 

Males: 12 kg

Females: 8 kg

Remember that you can take as long as you need between sets or exercises and run at whatever pace is comfortable for the run portion. 

A kettlebell swing.

The Helen WOD for Intermediates:

As an intermediate-level CrossFit athlete, you have no problem with kettlebell swings and can likely do a decent amount of pull-ups unassisted. There should not be a lot of need for modification; just remember to pace yourself.

For this workout, try to do the majority of pull-ups strict or kipping and without assistance. The run portion should be tolerable, and the kettlebell swing load should not be too hard. 

We recommend trying the following workout:

3 rounds for time

  • Run 400 meters (walk 100 meters if needed)
  • 21 kettlebell swings (broken into two sets)
  • 12 pull-ups (assisted as needed)

Males: 24 kg

Females: 16 kg

Rests are allowed; you can chunk the reps into smaller pieces as needed. Try walking a small portion of the run if you have to. You can do four sets of 3 with minimal rest for the pull-ups. If more rest means no assistance, then that is the ideal approach. 

A person running on a sidewalk.

The Helen WOD for the Advanced:

The Helen WOD should be completed as written, with perfect form, and at lightning speed if you are an advanced level CrossFitter. 

The workout should look like this: 

3 rounds for time

  • Run 400 meters
  • 21 kettlebell swings
  • 12 pull-ups

Males: 24 kg

Females: 16 kg

At the advanced level, you will ideally not take any rest during a set, and if you need one between sets, it should be very short.

Make your run fast enough to get a killer time but also take it as an opportunity to shake out your arms and legs so you can get back to work on the strength components. 

A person running outside.

How Long Does It Take to Do the Helen WOD?

As with all other WODs, the time it takes to complete the Helen WOD depends greatly on your fitness level. For this one, running ability plays a huge role. An athlete who has strong running ability can really knock this one out of the park. 

Likewise, an athlete who is not a great runner, even if they are advanced with strength movements, can be slowed down if their 400-meter dash turns into a slog. 

For athletes who complete all of the reps, even with modified weight or doing assisted pull-ups, here is how long you might expect the entire workout to take: 

  • Beginner athletes completing the workout will likely take close to just under 20 minutes if they are super new to fitness. Athletes with some experience may be closer to 15-17 minutes.  
  • For intermediate athletes, the workout should take around 14 minutes and could even be as fast as 11 minutes if they can run well.  
  • The advanced athlete should be able to complete this workout in under 10 minutes. 
  • Elite athletes who give the Helen WOD their full-blown effort should be able to finish in less than 8 minutes. 
A person running on a sidewalk.

Takeaways

If you are a runner who has been dying to try a CrossFit WOD, this is a great starting point.

The pull-up component may be a challenge, but you can scale that portion and really let it rip on the run. This WOD is truly the best of both worlds. However, some CrossFitters who frown upon running may not agree. 

The Helen workout is not complicated, but the workload adds up, and your legs and traps will probably feel absolutely torched the next day.

If you are looking for a reason to start working on increasing your upper body strength as a runner, then a workout like this will absolutely give you one. 

This WOD does not take much time and would be great to use as a finisher to a more slow-paced lift or after an easy run. 

It’s a great idea to challenge yourself and try new things. As a hybrid athlete, I personally really enjoy workouts like these that challenge my strength and endurance and let me show off my running abilities as well. 

If you want to try another CrossFit workout that challenges you on both a running and strength level, then prepare to be crushed by “The Murph.”

A kettlebell swing.
Photo of author
I am a UESCA-certified running coach, psychology PhD student, and competitive obstacle racer and trail runner. Once 100 pounds overweight I found fitness and fell in love with an active and competitive lifestyle. My passion for inspiring others and fitness come together seamlessly in the world of writing where I get to share the thing that changed my life. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, my dogs, as well as baking and cooking.

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