What Hero WODs Can Teach Us About Channeling Our Inner Warrior

In a few short days, CrossFit boxes around the world will partake in the first Hero WOD ever created, Memorial Day “Murph”.  Murph gives the CrossFit community a chance to honor Lt Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who lost his life in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005.

All of CrossFit’s Hero WODs are dedicated to honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  You might also note that quite a few Hero WODs are dedicated to military special operations members.  I’d like to take this chance to share my experience working with the Air Force’s rescue community, which is a group that falls under Air Force Special Operations Command.

I had the distinct honor to work with the 31st Rescue Squadron from 2015-2016 while I was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.  The 31st is part of the Guardian Angel Weapon System, which includes pararescuemen (often referred to as “PJs”), Combat Rescue Officers (CRO), and Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape specialists (SERE).  Their primary line of work is to conduct Personnel Recovery across a broad spectrum of military operations….in essence, they are the Air Force’s front line to rescuing downed personnel behind enemy lines.

Their mission sets include:

1) Preparing personnel who may become isolated or missing while participating in U.S. government sanctioned military activities (or missions in uncertain or hostile environments)

2) Conducting recovery operations during peacetime and war

3) Leading reintegration operations after a recovery

The Guardian Angel Weapon System is unique in that the members are the heart and soul of a non-aircraft, equipment-based, human weapon system.  They are incredibly talented at what they do and truly one-of-a-kind.  Their motto, “These things we do…that others may live” is a true testament to their character.

So by now you’re probably wondering why I’m educating you on these warriors.  During my time working with them, I was privileged to be their primary intelligence support.  I assisted them with developing training plans, and ensuring they had the correct intelligence at the right time in order to execute their missions.  In my time working with them, I discovered they shared many character traits that explained why they are so good at such a dangerous and tough, but honorable job.  I think many of their best qualities can be applied to how you tackle your workouts in the gym.


It takes an incredible amount of mental fortitude and maturity for these individuals, at the ages of 18-20 upon entrance into the military, to make the decision of becoming a PJ, CRO or SERE specialist.  Understanding that their line of work will bring them within striking distance of the enemy to save another human’s life is a large undertaking.  Additionally, they have the mentality to be prepared for anything.  At a moment’s notice in a deployed environment, they can be called upon to have a plan of action in place to execute a rescue/recovery mission within minutes of notification.

In the gym, you could apply the same mentality.  Come in with a positive attitude to tackle your WODs.  Be flexible when it comes to workouts that intimidate or scare you.  Be coachable when it comes to new movements, exercises or WODs.  Understand that every day you come in the gym, you are learning and growing from each workout you do.

Discipline & Sacrifice

To be a PJ, CRO, or SERE specialist, it takes dedication and discipline.  They must pass a physical fitness test with standards significantly higher than the rest of the military career fields (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/past-test-requirements-3331760).  They also undergo over 1.5 years of training, earning certifications in parachuting, combat diving, combat medic, and recovery specialist, among others.  Finally, after all of that, they are required to maintain all of these capabilities throughout their career.

I think it is pretty obvious that these individuals are willing to sacrifice.  Most specifically, they are willing to sacrifice everything to help others in need.

Coming to the gym every day requires discipline.  Learning new skills requires discipline.  You want to get a muscle up?  You’ve got to dedicate the time and practice to it.  You want to improve your Olympic lifting skills?  You’ve got to be willing to learn how to improve.  You want to lose weight?  You’ve got to come up with a plan to eat well.  It all requires discipline.  If you’re not willing to be disciplined and put in the hard work, do not expect to reach your goals.

Coming to the gym every day requires sacrifice too.  The time you spend in the gym may mean you’re sacrificing time you could be spending with your family, studying, watching tv, etc.  But if the gym is something you value, and you become a better person because of what you gain at the gym, it becomes less of a sacrifice and more of a priority to fit into your daily schedule.

Fast, Efficient, & Smart

Rescue and recovery missions require fast, efficient, and smart plans of action.  Some of the considerations rescue personnel keep in mind when they get the emergency call that someone is in need are:

  • What is the threat environment like?
  • Are there enemies in the area? Are they near the downed personnel?
  • What was the cause of the downed personnel?
  • Do we know what condition the downed personnel is/are in?
  • What is the fastest route of approach?
  • How are we going to infil to get to the survivor?
  • Where is the nearest friendly hospital if we cannot get them back to base?

These help rescue teams come up with the fastest, most efficient and smart way to recover personnel.  After all, many of their missions are time-dominant depending on the condition of the survivor(s)…their lives are in rescue team hands.

In the gym, you can apply these techniques to your workouts.  While many workouts are measured by time, and it’s nice to complete them as fast as possible, do not neglect efficiency and knowledge as well.  Think “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”  In order to apply these techniques, you may ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the most efficient bar path for a snatch? Is it fast?  Is it safe?
  • Where should I set up my equipment to be most efficient?
  • Is stepping up to a box or jumping up to a box faster? More efficient?
  • Can I maintain the fastest, most efficient techniques over time? Are they within my work capacity?


So, as you take a look at your workouts and your “relationship” with the gym, keep some of these techniques in mind.  Through a strong mentality, discipline & sacrifice, and fast/efficient/smart techniques, you can be successful in the gym.