Helen WOD: How To Destroy A CrossFit Classic

A classic CrossFit workout, the Helen WOD combines running, kettlebell swings, and good old kipping pull-ups into a short(ish), but grueling, metabolic conditioning workout.

Only 7 CrossFit girl workouts had been released before the Helen WOD came along in 2003, making the workout almost as old as the sport itself.

With light weights and not particularly high reps, the Helen WOD is a bit of a devil in disguise.

Here’s how you can get a great score on Helen and not let her beat you.

What Is The Helen WOD?

3 Rounds For Time:

  • 400 meter Run
  • 21 Kettlebell Swings (1.5/1 pood)
  • 12 Pull-Ups

Here is CrossFit HQ’s video of Helen. Both athletes come in under 8 minutes, which is very fast. Don’t be upset if you can’t match those times.

The Helen WOD Strategy

A good score on Helen is about 3 things– breathing, transitions, and grip.

Honestly, your goal should be to go unbroken on everything. Maybe not today, but eventually.

The way Helen is written, it’s almost “daring” you to go too hard.

Lighter weights, instant transitions between movements, no huge rep requirements. On paper, it a workout that makes you think, “that’s not so bad.”.

Then all of a sudden you’re on round 3, your grip is shot, and you can’t catch your breath.

Round 3 takes you almost as long as round 1 and 2 combined.

When that happens, Helen wins.

If you go all out on Helen– which you should– there is no “real” time to catch your breath. Still, if there is a time to get your breathing under control, it’s during the run.

Try and get your heart rate down here. 3-5 seconds slower on your 400m runs could make the difference between you losing your grip on the final set of pull-ups, which will cost you more time in the long run.

If you can’t go unbroken on the swings and pull-ups, cut the reps in half. Go 11-10 and 6-6, then take big breaths while you wait to go again.

Specifically, exhale hard after each kettlebell thrust and breathe in deeply as the bell comes back down. Steadying your breath is difficult on the pull-up (dobutterfly kipping pull-ups, by the way) but the more you focus on it, the more you’ll have in the tank to go all out on round 3.

Sample Warm-Up

The most important thing you need to do in your warm up is get your heart rate above 80% for at least 20-30 seconds.

Helen is not the kind of workout where your muscles need a lot of movement prep. Instead, you want your lungs ready to go.

Some movement prep may be good, though. Do 2-3 sets of lightweight kettlebell swings or use a band to activate your glutes. To prepare for pull-ups, do 2-3 sets of scap pull-ups, dead hangs on the bar, or ring rows.

Helen WOD Scoring

The goal of the Helen WOD is to finish as fast as possible. While 7 minutes is probably unattainable, a score of 9-12 minutes is reasonable on your first attempt.

How To Perform Helen?

In today’s world of split times, periodized training, and other hoopla, Helen is a “throwback” to a simpler time. It’s your class “3-2-1 GO!” CrossFit workout where you’re breathing hard from start to finish.

Set up your gear (kettlebell and perhaps hand grips to do pull-ups), measure a 200m out and back (this is faster than running a track or doing loops) and start the clock. Go hard.

The Helen WOD Scaled

Helen is one of a few CrossFit workouts that shouldn’t be scaled much, if at all. If you can do a few pull-ups and pick up a 1.5 pood kettlebell, don’t scale the workout.

If you’re new to CrossFit, there are a few options. Use ring rows instead of pull-ups and a slightly lighter kettlebell if necessary. Keep all reps and distances the same.


Helen may be a devil in disguise, but smart pacing and controlled breathing is the key to beating her. Basically, play for round 3.

You may not finish the workout in 7 minutes on your first go, but these tips will help you get the best time you can.

Here are some other training articles and CrossFit strategy guides to check out. Good luck on Helen!