The Helen CrossFit WOD: Time to Hit The Pavement!

Reviewed by: Tom Eskey

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“Hey buddy, today is Helen’s turn. That means you’ve got to run, and run fast, as fast as you can to take the lead from the get-go.”

…says, like, every other CF-L1 trainer on the planet…

Now is this really the most appropriate strategy? Well…we’ll find out later.

 What is the Helen CrossFit WOD?

Helen is a classic “CrossFit girl” who has been with us since 2003. Like all CrossFit benchmarks, she will put you to the test, prompting you to showcase your level and progress. 

Helen

It may seem “simple”…and it is…but…”easy”?

For many, there’s that moment of realization that might stir a few nerves: “oh man, it’s time to hit the pavement!”

Sure, in the dynamic world of CrossFit, where enthusiasts are known for pouring everything into their workouts, the truth is, tackling 400 meters demands a touch of strategy.

 It’s more than just a segue into the strength phase, it’s a strategic dance.

Rush out of the gate too fast, and you’ll find yourself trotting, anxiously eyeing the clock, muttering “Oh man, two more times…”

In the video above, Coach Silas takes center stage at CrossFit Fortius, unraveling the secrets of the Helen WOD to an everyday class. 

From strategic maneuvers to tailored scaled options, he navigates through it all. Because here’s the truth: Helen isn’t reserved for the elite alone. Us mere mortals? We’ve got our shot too!

…even if you happen to be a slightly older athlete…

Just when you think the elite domain is reserved for the young guns, along comes Susan Clark, effortlessly dismantling that notion!

Helen’s challenge isn’t bound by age, it’s an open invitation to redefine our limits, no matter where we are in our fitness journey.

Scaling the Helen CrossFit WOD

For beginners, here’s the most common scaling option to ensure a challenging yet achievable workout:

Scaled Helen

helen crossfit wod

Look familiar? Yeah, you still gotta run (just as far as in the Rx version…sorry!) and you’re still going to be messing with kettlebells and pull-ups. However, the lighter swings and jumping versions of the pull-ups should definitely make the workout’s intensity requirements more manageable.

Advanced Helen

As you might expect, there are a few different advanced versions of Helen. Just in case…ya know…the already difficult workout isn’t quite tough enough for you!

Pyramid Double Helen

Tests like these are what have made CrossFit so monumental.

 As if Helen wasn’t challenging enough for the elite of that era, they decided to triple its volume in the first round and double it in the second. 

And just when you thought that was enough, they (2010 CrossFit Games athletes) finished it off with a max overhead press (scored separately).

Handling heavy loads is the last thing you’d want to do with such fatigue setting in. Yet, that’s the essence of CrossFit.

It’s intriguing to witness a competition from over a decade ago. Everything, from the competitors’ attire to the exercise techniques, has evolved significantly since then.

Helena

In 2023, the CrossFit Games organizers came up with a surprise challenge—a turbocharged version of Helen: Helena. 

Despite what it might seem like, athletes managed to bring an intensity to Helena comparable to Helen. 

Quite remarkable, considering there are few individuals on Earth capable of doing 12 unbroken muscle-ups after a 400-meter run.

In the video, we witness the 2023 Games champion, Jeff Adler, finishing in less than 8 minutes. Note how comfortable he is in the running. 

Decoding the Helen CrossFit WOD Blueprint

In its essence, Helen unfolds as three rounds of distinct yet interlinked challenges. 

The 400-meter run kickstarts each round, activating your cardiovascular system and setting the tone for what follows. 

Transitioning seamlessly into 21 kettlebell swings, your posterior chain takes center stage—engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. 

Finally, the 12 pull-ups demand upper body prowess, testing your back and arm strength.

Mastering the Helen WOD: A Tactical Blueprint for CrossFit Success

1. Energizing Kickoff

Start the 400-meter run with a controlled pace, don’t sprint out of the gate unless you’re gunning for a personal record.

Use the run as an active transition, preparing your cardiovascular system for what lies ahead.

2. Kettlebell Swings

As you transition from the run, the anaerobic phase kicks in. Begin the kettlebell swings with a powerful yet controlled motion.

Focus on engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back to efficiently swing the kettlebell.

Maintain a steady tempo to conserve energy.

3. Tactical Pull-Ups

Move swiftly to the pull-up bar after the kettlebell swings. Your arms are engaged, and your back is ready for the challenge.

Preferably, opt for kipping or butterfly pull-ups. I don’t think it’s a good idea to do strict pull-ups when you have to do more than 3 (unless you want to make the workout that much more challenging).

So, choose the dynamic styles for a smoother and more efficient performance during the Helen CrossFit WOD. 

4. Transition Mastery

Between rounds, use the transition strategically. Allow for a brief recovery without losing momentum.

Focus on controlled breathing during the transition to manage your heart rate and oxygen intake.

5. Pacing Wisdom

Rounds two and three mirror the first, so learn from the initial experience. Adjust your pacing based on your energy levels.

Push the pace slightly if you feel strong, but always leave room to finish strong. 

Helen is a trio, not a sprint!

6. Adapting to Limitations

Recognize potential limiting factors. If cardiovascular endurance is your strength, leverage it during the runs. 

If upper body strength is your forte, dominate those pull-ups.

Adapt your strategy based on your strengths and weaknesses.

7. Scaled vs. Advanced

Tailor Helen to your fitness level. For beginners, consider scaling down the volume and intensity. 

If you’re seasoned, maybe throw in an extra challenge, like unbroken pull-ups or a faster pace.

Remember, the goal is mastery, not just completion.

Time to Run!

“Hey man, I do CrossFit, I’m not running a marathon!” 

True, but don’t lose sight of the benefits that running can bring to enhance your CrossFit performance. 

It improves your work capacity, delays fatigue, and accelerates recovery. 

In this video, Ben Parkes shares a series of practical and easy-to-implement tips for your running training. 

From finding your pace to leveraging technology seamlessly in your programming, he’s got you covered. 

Remember, incorporating regular running into your routine can significantly boost your overall CrossFit game. 

Check out Ben’s insights and make your workouts more well-rounded and effective. 

After all, being a CrossFit beast doesn’t mean neglecting the track – it’s about mastering every aspect of your fitness journey.

Go do the Helen CrossFit WOD now!

It lacks Olympic movements, heavy deadlifts, or muscle-ups, but there’s something in Helen that will elevate your performance across the board:

Self-control

Starting with a 400-meter run, it helps you connect your fatigue sensations with your actual work capacity at every moment. 

It’s pure CrossFit. 

In this iconic benchmark, improving your time in Helen speaks volumes about your work capacity, muscular endurance, and, most importantly, your pull-up technique. 

Helen isn’t just a workout, it’s a self-discovery journey. 

Mastering this WOD not only reveals your true capabilities but also provides valuable insights and experiences transferable to the broader domain of CrossFit. 

So, lace up those shoes, hit the pavement, and let Helen be your guide to unlocking a deeper understanding of yourself and maximizing your potential in every CrossFit challenge.

Want to give one of Helen’s 29 girlfriends a try? Check out our list of the top 30 CrossFit Girl WODs and start swiping (right, of course!)

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AUTHOR

Luis, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, DEKA Trainer, Certified Fitness Coach (TSAF) is a licensed pharmacist and a dedicated fitness professional. With a solid academic foundation, including a Bachelor's in Pharmacy and a Master's in Sports Physiology from renowned universities, Luis is committed to merging science and practicality to drive remarkable results in both athletic performance and health enhancement.