The Crossfit Cindy WOD: Benefits, calories burned, and muscles worked

A woman and man doing pull ups on a bar at the gym.

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Looking for a way to save time, build functional strength, and work up a sweat in the process? The Crossfit Cindy WOD, also known as the “Cindy Crossfit Workout” or simply “Cindy,” is a full-body workout that is perfect for individuals who are looking for a session that is quick and effective.

What is the Cindy WOD?

The Cindy WOD is a high-intensity workout consisting of a circuit of three classic bodyweight exercises. To complete the Cindy workout, set a timer for 20 minutes and complete as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of:

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 15 air squats

The number of rounds you complete during the allotted time is your score.

The Crossfit Cindy workout can be used as a standalone session, or it can be used periodically to “benchmark” your fitness progress over time. It’s also a perfect supplement for those who are planning on partaking in the annual Murph Challenge.

Cindy made its first appearance on the Crossfit main site in January of 2005, and it’s become a staple benchmark workout in the Crossfit lineup. Despite the obvious association with Crossfit,  this efficient and multi-functional session has numerous uses for the non-Crossfitter as well.

What is a good Cindy score?

Pull ups on rings.
Any implement that allows pull-ups is just fine for the Cindy WOD.

Though this workout is deviously simple on paper, the devil is in the details. Often the beginning of the workout feels easy. However, keeping the pace for 20 minutes straight with no breaks is deceptively difficult. Your fitness level will be challenged, as you’ll need both good muscular strength endurance, and cardiovascular capacity to finish strong.

  • Beginners can expect to complete 10-12 rounds of Cindy on their first attempt.
  • Intermediate athletes can expect to complete 15-18 rounds of Cindy.
  • Advanced athletes will hit 20 or more rounds in 20 minutes. Impressive!

Note that the numbers just go up from there. There are numerous examples of elite athletes completing 30 or more rounds of Cindy in one go.

Benefits of the Cindy workout

Cindy is a true full-body workout

There’s a reason that the “push, pull, legs” split is so popular. It truly covers everything! However, combining all three movement patterns into one workout creates what can truly be termed a full-body workout:

  • Pull-ups muscles worked: Lats, traps, rear delts, biceps, forearms, core
  • Push-ups muscles worked: Triceps, pectorals, front delts, core
  • Squats: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors

Are there better exercises to target each muscle specifically? Sure there are! However, it’s hard to get as complete a full body workout as this in such few exercises.

Cindy can be completed anywhere that you can do pull-ups

One of the main benefits of the Cindy WOD is the minimal equipment and space requirement. Anywhere you’ve got a pull-up bar, a set of rings, or even a sturdy tree branch is an appropriate place to do Cindy.

You don’t even need a lot of space – a simple garage or apartment bedroom floor will suffice.

Cindy burns a lot of calories

The term resistance cardio (or cardio resistance) can be applied to several training modalities, and full-body calisthenic circuit training is certainly one of them. Resistance cardio simply means that we’re doing resistance training in such a way that it doubles as a cardiovascular training session as well.

In fact, a 2014 study found that athletes who completed the Cindy workout burned a mean of 260.6 kcals during the session and produced a heart rate of around 170 beats per minute. To put that in perspective, studies show that running a mile burns around 100 calories. This means that Cindy burns approximately the same amount of calories as 2.5 miles of running!

Therefore, Cindy fits neatly into a fat-loss program, we’re continuing to engage in resistance training helps us to hold onto valuable muscle mass while simultaneously experiencing the calorie-burning benefits of HIIT-style training or traditional cardio.

It’s a great way to train for the annual Murph Challenge

If you’re not familiar with the Murph Challenge, it’s a beast of a workout. One of the most common ways to complete Murph is to do 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats. If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, then you likely haven’t been paying much attention to this article!

It’s not uncommon to hear Crossfitters even use the term Cindy to describe a round in the Murph Challenge or the Half Murph WOD.

Whether 5/10/15 is your chosen Murph strategy or not, the Cindy workout is still a great way to accumulate a lot of high-specificity volume when preparing for the Murph Challenge.

Cindy is efficient and simple

The Cindy workout checks a lot of boxes. It combines full-body resistance training and cardiovascular training into one 20-minute session that can be done almost anywhere. It also requires very little thought – just complete a little warmup, set the timer, and get going.

For all these reasons, I view Cindy as a near-perfect “no excuses” workout for when I only have about 20-30 minutes to train. It’s also a ferocious workout; if you haven’t tried it, you should!

Modifications and variations of the Cindy workout

Two men and one woman doing air squats in a Crossfit gym.
Multiple rounds of 15 air squats can be deceptively difficult.

Like all popular workouts, Cindy has spawned numerous variations to fit one’s individual needs and fitness levels:

Half Cindy WOD

If you’re truly pressed for time, completing a Half Cindy is always an option. It also removes the incentive to pace yourself, making the workout more of a sprint.

The Half Cindy is exactly what it sounds like:

To complete the Half Cindy WOD, perform your warmup of choice, then set a timer for 10 minutes, and complete as many rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats.

“Hard” Cindy WOD

If you’re a bit of a masochist, try the Hard Cindy WOD.

To complete “Hard Cindy”, you’ll need a bit of equipment:

  • 5 weighted pull-ups (25lbs for women, 35lbs for men)
  • 10 push-ups with feet on a box (24” for women, 30” for men)
  • 15 weighted squats (35lb plate for women, 45lb plate for men)

AMRAP in 20 minutes.

Scale the movements down (make it easier)

There are numerous ways to make Cindy easier if you find it to be extremely hard:

  • Substitute pull-ups for inverted rows, ring rows, or another row variation
  • Use a reverse resistance band for pull-ups (strung over the bar)
  • Lower the rep scheme (for instance, complete a 20-minute AMRAP of 3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, and 9 squats)

Scale the movements up (make it harder)

Aside from the Hard Cindy variation mentioned above, here are a few ways to make the session tougher if you find it too easy:

  • Use strict, dead-hang pull-ups with a pause at the top and bottom (my personal favorite variation)
  • Wear a weighted vest with 10-25 pounds
  • Increase the rep scheme (for instance, complete a 20-minute AMRAP of 6 pull-ups, 12 push-ups, and 18 squats)
  • Make the workout longer by continuing for 25 or even 30 minutes (or try the notoriously tough Chelsea workout).

Limited equipment variations

If you’re looking to complete this workout without a pull-up bar, there are a few ways to complete a Cindy-adjacent style workout:

  • If you’re traveling, pack a resistance band in your suitcase so you can complete a seated resistance band row in lieu of pull-ups.
  • If you’ve got access to dumbells, use a dumbbell row instead of pull-ups.
  • If you have no access to any “pulling” implements, just do the workout with only push-ups and squatsstill a very productive way to train!

Tips for improving Cindy performance

A man doing push ups at a park.

Because of its association with being a benchmark WOD, even we non-Crossfitters are at least somewhat concerned with our score when we complete Cindy. Here are a couple of tips for getting a good score on Cindy:

Find a good tempo

Think of Cindy as less of a strength workout and more like a 20-minute strength endurance test. If you take off like a rocket in the beginning, you’ll be in big trouble by minute 12.

Break up the reps if you need to

There’s no rule that says every set of 10 push-ups must be done in one go. If you start hitting muscular failure, start breaking up the sets. For instance, you could do six push-ups, rest for 10 seconds, and then complete four more.

Practice the exercises

If you’re truly interested in increasing your Cindy performance, it’s probably worth it to develop efficiency on the individual exercises. Incorporate straight sets of squats, push-ups, and pull-ups into your other workouts in order to improve your maximal capacity for those exercises.

One workout that’s particularly useful for practicing straight sets of these exercises is the Angie workout.

How to incorporate Cindy into your routine

Stair running in running shoes.
If you wish, Cindy fits well into an existing exercise routine.

This efficient and versatile body weight WOD can be used to supplement an existing workout routine, or to serve as a benchmark to track your fitness progress over time. Here are a few ideas for how to utilize Cindy in the greater context of a workout program:

  • Option 1: Complete Cindy once per week as a substitute for a mid-week cardio session, sandwiched between your traditional strength workouts.
  • Option 2: Use Cindy as a low-time commitment session whenever you simply can’t get to the gym or need to miss a workout.
  • Option 3: Complete Cindy once per month (or even once per quarter), and write down your scores over time to make sure you’re improving.

If you haven’t, go try Cindy!

Whether you’ve got a limited amount of time / equipment or not, the Cindy WOD is one of the best full-body workouts. It is a highly efficient workout that targets all of the major muscle groups, improves cardiovascular fitness, and can be adapted to suit different fitness levels. Plus, it only takes 20 minutes or less to complete, making it an ideal choice for busy individuals who want to stay active and healthy.