The CrossFit Nancy Workout, Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level – Fitnessnacks

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    You didn’t sign up for your local CrossFit gym just so you could go running. CrossFit is about a diverse array of training styles and techniques, not just pounding the pavement. But just because this sport isn’t about running doesn’t mean you’ll never run in CrossFit. On the contrary: a lot of the toughest CrossFit WODs require you to get a move on.

    The CrossFit Nancy workout requires only two movements: a 400-meter run and the overhead squat. On their own, either of these exercises is deceptively simple. But Nancy combines them, sandwiching sets of 15 overhead squats in between 400-meter runs. (In case you haven’t hit the track in a while, 400 meters amounts to a quarter mile.)

    A CrossFitter doing an overhead squat.Credit: Arsenii Palivoda / Shutterstock

    Here, you’ll learn everything you need to do to complete your first Nancy workout. No matter your experience level, you can find a way to make this benchmark your own. Get on the starting line and read on.

    Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

    What Is the Nancy Workout?

    Plain and simple, Nancy combines a monostructural movement (a 400-meter run) with a weightlifting movement (the overhead squat). You’ll start with a quarter-mile run and follow it with 15 overhead squats — and you’ll repeat that for a total of five rounds.

    The workout debuted on the CrossFit website in 2005, and it has been a staple of cardio-oriented CrossFit WODs ever since.

    The Workout

    Here’s what Nancy looks like on paper.

    For time:

    Five rounds:

    • 400-meter run
    • 15 overhead squats

    Women: 65-pound barbell | Men: 95-pound barbell

    Though CrossFit doesn’t have specific provisions for nonbinary athletes, the goal is the same for athletes of all genders. As intended, the barbell for this workout is not supposed to feel overly heavy. Aim to use a weight with which you can comfortably perform 15 reps unbroken (and do that for multiple rounds). Athletes of any gender can scale down as needed.

    In total, you’ll accumulate 1.25 miles of running and 75 overhead squats. Regardless of the weights you wind up selecting, that’s a hefty volume and absolutely something to be proud of.

    What Are Good Nancy Times?

    If you want to be the best version of yourself, it can sometimes help to get oriented with how the rest of the field is doing. No matter where you are in your CrossFit journey, make sure you’re scaling Nancy such that you can complete all your overhead squat reps unbroken.

    • Elite: less than nine minutes
    • Advanced: between nine and 12 minutes
    • Intermediate: between 12 and 16 minutes
    • Beginner: more than 16 minutes

    If you can perform all your reps unbroken but your time is still over 20 minutes, that’s okay. It’s time to work on your running. You can consider swapping running out with a more low-impact form of cardio, and/or spend more time outside Nancy training to increase your running endurance and speed.

    Strategies for the Nancy Workout

    In CrossFit, no WOD is “typical.” They’re all designed to keep you on your toes — sometimes more literally than others. From gymnastics moves and weightlifting to monostructural movements like running, WODs are meant to mix it up. That way, you’ll develop your functional fitness and athleticism from all angles.

    Nancy includes running, which means you’ll have to look outside your normal comfort zone if you don’t typically pound the pavement. Here’s how to set yourself up for a fast time.

    Pace Your Run

    So many CrossFit WODs are a delicate dance between holding back and holding nothing back. As you gain more experience in the sport, you’ll learn to know when to hold back for the sake of completing the workout before burnout. You’ll also learn when you can afford to really crank it up and push yourself past what you thought your limits were.

    The beginning of this workout is not the time to go full send. Start with a moderate but solid pace — think, about 75 to 80 percent of your fastest sustainable 400-meter pace. After you pass the halfway point of the workout, consider getting a little faster if you’re feeling good. 

    A person running on the treadmill.Credit: antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

    If you can, really push it in the last round or two as long as you know you can get those overhead squats. Even in the last round, you probably don’t want to be all-out sprinting if you’re not absolutely confident that you’ve got those 15 overhead squats in the bag. But still, you can push it to an all-out run moreso than in the first few rounds.

    Go Unbroken

    If you’re new to CrossFit, it might seem unfathomable to perform 15 overhead squats — let alone 15 overhead squats after running a quarter mile. But as you gain more experience, you’ll get the hang of it.

    Whether you’re doing a bodyweight or PVC pipe overhead squat or loading it as written in the original workout, aim to perform all 15 reps without pausing between reps. If you can’t perform your reps unbroken, aim to reduce the weight or pump the breaks on your run until you’re able to hit all 15 reps without rest.

    Breathe Consistently

    Gasping for breath will not make a strong case for a faster Nancy time. Instead of relying on quick gasps, try your best to match your breathing to your movement.

    With overhead squats, inhale at the top of the squat and on the descent. Exhale as you come back up to standing.

    When you’re running, it can be a little more complicated if you’re not used to syncing your breaths to your steps. Take roughly three steps for every inhale and roughly to steps for every exhale. This may vary a little depending on your cadence — that is, how quickly your feet are moving or how many strides you’re averaging per minute. But overall, a 3:2 pattern works well.

    A person in blue, running on the treadmill.Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

    It’ll take a bit of concentration at first, but the results will be well worth it. You’ll be able to take in more oxygen per breath. Being in control of your breathing will help you be in control of your run.

    If this running breath pattern is new to you, practice outside the context of Nancy — perhaps in longer, steady-state runs or in cardio warm-ups or cool-downs.

    How to Scale Nancy for Beginners

    Like most WODs, Nancy is not for the faint of heart. But that doesn’t mean beginners can’t give this benchmark WOD a go. You might need to deploy some modifications, but try your best — you might surprise yourself with just how good you really are.

    Only Do Four Rounds

    New at this? Cap your workout at four rounds. No, you don’t have to do only four rounds as opposed to five. But if you’re not yet accustomed to the demands of these lightning-round WODs, there’s no shame in setting your sights on four rounds instead of five.

    If you keep the 400-meter mark the same, you’ll still be running an entire mile. Sure, it’s a quarter mile shorter than what the WOD calls for. But a full mile — especially peppered with overhead squats — is not too shabby.

    Use a PVC Pipe

    If overhead squats constitute the stuff of nightmares for you, don’t worry. By performing overhead squats with a resistance band or PVC pipe, you can train yourself in the overhead squat movement pattern without actually loading it up.

    For many athletes who aren’t used to using a snatch grip, the overhead squat can be intimidating at best and impossible (for now) at worst. If you don’t have the requisite mobility throughout your entire body, it’s unlikely that you can succeed under a loaded barbell. At least, not safely.

    Instead of adding pressure to movements you’re still developing, use a PVC pipe to hold overhead while working out any kinks in your mobility and form. Focus on getting a deep squat with your chest upright and your arms overhead. Proper positioning matters more than weight. Consider this workout an opportunity to get some work in some high-volume practice.

    Substitute the Run

    No matter your experience or fitness level, running can be hard on your joints. Maybe you have plantar fasciitis, or maybe you have chronic knee issues that make running difficult. Whatever your situation, you can still complete Nancy even if you can’t run.

    For a more low-impact cardiovascular experience, perform a 400-meter row instead of a 400-meter run. Prefer to use an air bike or ski erg? Try going at a solid pace for about two or two and a half minutes.

    Nancy is an excellent challenge for intermediate-level CrossFitters. If you’ve been around the CrossFit box for a while, you’ll hopefully have your overhead squat technique nailed down. You likely know how to run with good form by now, too. 

    Nancy is all about putting the two together and seeing exactly how hard you can push yourself — and your legs. Here’s how to modify the workout if needed, while still giving yourself a very powerful training stimulus.

    Shorten the Run

    If you’re at an intermediate level, try to do all five rounds. But if you’re still concerned about the length of the run, reduce the volume just like you might reduce the weight on the barbell. 

    Completing all five rounds is important because it ensures that you accumulate 75 total overhead squats. It also gives you practice — both mentally and physically — at pushing through five total rounds instead of four. There’s something quite different psychologically about four and five when you’re under pressure.

    But if you’re not quite ready to stare down 400 meters five times, opt for 350, 300, 250, or even 200 meters instead. This might not be as emotionally satisfying as completing a full quarter mile with each round. If you’re aiming for that total mile, run 320 meters each round. It won’t be quite as much volume as the 400 meters, but it’ll give that sweet satisfaction of a full mile.

    Reduce the Weight

    Perhaps the most iconic scaling option available in CrossFit: reduce the weight. If you’re not able to overhead squat between 65 and 95 pounds for 75 reps (cut up into 15 rep sets), you’ll need to slip off a plate or two.

    When your experience level is somewhere on the borderline and you think you may be able to muster 75 reps on a good day, remember that this WOD makes you run, too. 

    A person in a black sports bra and pink shorts doing an overhead squat.Credit: Vladimir Sukhachev / Shutterstock

    Consider how much weight will be on the bar plus the added fatigue from running. If you’re a proficient runner, this might not be too concerning. Regardless, make sure to take into account extra fatigue from the runs when you’re making your weight selection.

    How to Scale Nancy for Advanced Athletes

    For advanced CrossFitters, sometimes the only answer is: do it better, faster. Here’s how to squeeze even more efficiency out of your Nancy score, even if it’s already pretty darn good.

    Nasty Nancy

    If you like to model your training based on what the best of the best do in the CrossFit Games, you might want to take on “Nasty Nancy.” This variation on the original Nancy WOD appeared at the 2020 CrossFit Games. Here’s what the workout called for:

    For Time:

    Five rounds:

    • 500-meter run
    • 15 overhead squats
    • 15 bar-facing burpees

    Women: 125-pound barbell | Men: 185-pound barbell

    Two-time Fittest Woman on Earth® Katrín Davíðsdóttir and five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser took home the event wins.

    Dial in on Mobility Training

    CrossFitters at every level need to take their mobility exercises seriously. This is a sport that takes a tremendous toll on the body. Emphasizing mobility — in your warm-ups, cool-downs, and daily mobility workouts — is crucial for success and increasing your resilience against injury.

    Don’t skimp on your mobility training as you get more experienced. If anything, you’ll need more and more of it. The bigger toll you’re putting on your body, the more you’ll need to keep those joints and muscles limber.

    For Nancy specifically, you’ll be putting all of your joints under compression. Your ankles, knees, and hips are all tremendously involved in both overhead squats and running. Your shoulders and thoracic spine will need to be both mobile and stable during the overhead squats. In the midst of all that, your shoulders need to be relaxed while you run.

    That’s a lot to keep track of for your body. Set yourself up for success — and a faster Nancy time — by improving mobility across all your joints. The better lubricated your joints, the faster you’ll be able to power through those overhead squats and get back to running.

    Turn Up the Pace

    Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced CrossFitter, the goal with Nancy is to go unbroken from the jump. But as an advanced athlete, you don’t only want to go unbroken. You want to go unbroken fast.

    To do this, experiment with just how fast you can run without completely exhausting yourself. Work to improve your running speed and recovery outside of Nancy so that by the time those 400-meter intervals come up, you’re ready to blaze through them faster than ever before. 

    Optimize your breathing and nail down your recovery so that your good Nancy times become great.

    More on CrossFit Training

    There you have it: everything you need to know about how to take on the CrossFit Nancy workout. You know where to give it more gas and where to take it slow so you can stay strong throughout the entire WOD. You’re ready to make your Nancy time better and better.

    Want to take on some other classic CrossFit WODs? Check out these BarBend articles on how to do your favorite WODs and set as many personal bests as you can.

    Featured Image: Arsenii Palivoda / Shutterstock

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