How to Tackle the Infamous Fran CrossFit Workout

CrossFit athlete doing thrusters in Fran workout
CrossFit athlete doing thrusters in Fran workout

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Quick: Think of something that takes your breath away. Not a CrossFitter? Chances are that list includes things like COVID-19, watching your Number One walk down the aisle in their wedding attire, holding your baby (or baby sister) in your arms for the first very time, or a Mary Oliver poem. But for CrossFitters? Well, that list likely includes one iconic workout of the day: the Fran WOD.

The fact that it's a named CrossFit workout (did you know that the vast majority of CrossFit workouts aren't??) tells you everything you need to know: It's notorious. "Say 'Fran,' and every single CrossFitter either wants to join in and do the workout with you or wants to watch you do it," says CrossFit Games competitor Brooke Ence CF-L2 and founder of Naked Training workout programs. "It's a very simple, two-movement workout that everyone knows and fears because it's quick and light and will leave you sweaty and very out of breath every single time."

Frightened, err, I mean intrigued enough try it? Here's everything you need to know about the Fran CrossFit workout—including how to do it yourself.

What Is the Fran CrossFit Workout?

Fran is a "for time" CrossFit workout, which means, "once the clock starts, you GO and keep on GOING until you've completed all the reps as fast as you can," says Ence. So while some CrossFit workouts have a time cap or operate within a set time frame—like the Cindy CrossFit workout, for example, which is an As Many Reps as Possible (AMRAP)-style WOD—Fran does not. Meaning, there's no clock to save you. You must finish all the reps.

Ready for the reveal of the workout that gets CrossFitters fired up? Here's the Fran CrossFit workout in all her glory:

For time:

  • 21 Thrusters

  • 21 Pull-ups

  • 15 Thrusters

  • 15 Pull-ups

  • 9 Thrusters

  • 9 Pull-ups

Yep. That's 45 thrusters and 45 pull-ups. But as simple as the Fran CrossFit workout may appear, it's certainly not easy. It's a B-R-U-T-A-L test of full-body strength, cardiovascular capacity, and mental fortitude. (P.S. Did you know there are three types of cardio you should be doing?)

"The thruster and pull-up work complementary muscle groups," explains Libby Landry, CF-L3 CrossFit Coach at CrossFit Invictus and member of CrossFit Headquarters Seminar Staff. The thrusters hammer your hamstrings, glutes, quads, and shoulders, while the pull-up hits your lats, biceps, and forearms. "This means that while you're doing thrusters, your pull-up bar muscles get quick rest, and vice versa," she explains. "This ultimately allows you to really, really push the pace and achieve an incredibly high intensity." And when you push the pace? Hellooo, jacked-up heart rate and lungs of fire (and all the benefits of a high-intensity workout).

How to Try the Fran CrossFit Workout

"This workout is for everyone," says Landry. "I've coached a class with 13-year-olds doing this workout right alongside 71-year-olds," she says. So, if you want to try this workout, you absolutely can.

However, not to state the obvious, but if you can't do one pull-up, you're not about to do 45! Same goes for thrusters—if you've never done one barbell thruster, the middle of a workout is not the time to try!

Luckily, that doesn't mean you need to put Fran on the back-burner until you can do both movements. "Every single CrossFit workout and movement can be scaled so that an athlete is able to get the same stimulus out of the workout, even if they can't do the workout exactly as written," explains Ence. In fact, unless you can do 21 thrusters or 21 pull-ups unbroken (without stopping to for a break), she recommends scaling the weight or movement and opting for something you can do well and move fast.

To Scale Down the Thrusters

The prescribed (Rx) weightthe weight recommended for the best CrossFit athletes in class Fran CrossFit workout is 65 pounds for women and 95 pounds for men. But if 65 pounds is too heavy and you've done a barbell thruster before, Landry recommends picking a weight you could use to do 21 reps unbroken.

"If you've never completed a barbell thruster and you have access to one, try it out without any weight added to the bar first," she says. Could you complete the first 21 reps unbroken with just the empty bar? If so, consider building in weight until you reach something that you can do the first set unbroken if you had to. (Related: Barbell Exercise Every Woman Should Master)

If you don't have a barbell handy, or don't feel comfortable using a barbell, Ence recommends doing a dumbbell thruster instead. Again, pick a weight that you could do the first 21 reps unbroken.

If you don't have dumbbells but do have kettlebells, you can use those. But you'll have to pay extra special attention to where the two are located. "The goal is for the ball of the bell to rest on your shoulders when you squat down and for the bell to be stacked in line with your shoulder when you press it up," explains Ence.

Note: If due to a pre-existing shoulder injury you can't press weight overhead, Ence recommends scaling the movement to a goblet squat. If you're not ready for weighted squats, do air or chair squats instead.

To Scale Down the Pull-Ups

For this workout, elite CrossFit athletes will do something called kipping pull-ups, which are basically uber-fast pull-ups that use a ton of momentum. That said, unless you've previously done 50 or more kipping pull-ups in a workout, you should not be doing kipping pull-ups for this workout. (Related: Why Jillian Michaels Wants You to Stop Kipping In CrossFit).

Instead, you should be doing banded pull-ups. And this stands even if you can do a strict pull-up. Strict pull-ups are a lot slower, and are not likely to allow you to move as fast as is intended during this workout, says Landry. "Use a band for assisted pull-ups that would allow you to complete 15 to 21 reps unbroken if you had to."

If you don't have access to a pull-up bar or hanging from the bar is new to you, you can substitute them with a horizontal pull (such as a ring row or inverted pull-up), says Landry.

How to Make the Fran CrossFit Workout Even Harder

While it's highly unlikely you'll want or need to do this, if for some unknown reason the Fran WOD doesn't feel hard enough, Landry suggests trying to go faster. "Cut down on transition time to limit in-workout rest or break up the reps in a different way (or, dare I say, try to do all 21, 15, and 9 reps unbroken)," she says.

Now, could you up the ante by doing chest-to-bar pull-ups, strict pull-ups, or bar muscle-ups instead of kipping pull-ups? Opt for a heavier barbell or do squat clean thrusters instead of thrusters? Sure. But all of these switches would slow you down, ultimately give you a different stimulus than what's intended for the Fran workout.

So, "unless you're a CrossFit Games athlete, do the programmed workout faster, rather making the movements themselves harder or adding additional loads or reps," says Landry.

What's a Good Fran Workout Score?

A "good score" (aka time) for the Fran CrossFit WOD depends on your training age and current fitness level. The best of the best (think: Kari Pearce, Brooke Ence, Katrin Daviosdottir, Kara Saunders) can finish this bad girl in under two minutes. (Audible gasp.) That's a rep every 1.3 seconds. Pretty impressive, right?

An advanced CrossFit athlete can finish it in 3 to 4 minutes and the average CrossFit athlete will take somewhere between 5 and 7 minutes, says Landry. But if it's your first time trying any CrossFit workout ever, "you should scale the workout enough that you can finish it in under ten minutes," says Ence. If it takes you longer, you didn't properly scale the workout. (No biggie, just go lighter/lower-skill next time).

Whatever iteration of Fran you do, record your score. Then, retry the workout three or six months later. "Repeating the Fran WOD is one of the most tangible ways to track progress," says Landry.

Oh, and while you're waiting to do Fran again go ahead and give two other named CrossFit workouts a whirl: Cindy and Mary.