Listening to CrossFitters talk about CrossFit can sometimes sound like a different language, with mentions of boxes, AMRAPs, and WODs. If you’ve ever heard the term “Cindy,” you may be wondering who this ubiquitous athlete is. But Cindy isn’t a who; it’s a what. Here’s what you need to know about the Cindy CrossFit workout, its benefits, and how to adjust it for your fitness level, according to fitness experts.
Meet the Expert
What is Cindy?
Cindy is a benchmark workout of the day (WOD). “As a new member to CrossFit, you will most likely be introduced into your fitness regimen with the Cindy WOD,” says Chloe Tennekoon, an ACE-certified personal trainer based in Philadelphia. “This first workout will be what is called a benchmark to gauge an athlete's progress as they train. Unlike other WOD’s you will be sure to come back to this workout to see how you’ve progressed over time.”
The workout is an AMRAP 20 (as many reps as possible in 20 minutes) that consists of:
- 5 pull-ups
- 10 push-ups
- 15 air squats
You do those three exercises in that same order for as many rounds as you can within the 20 minutes. “Even though this workout requires nothing but your body weight, it is still challenging,” says Tennekoon. It’s accessible to CrossFit newbies, as well. “These simple yet effective exercises are a perfect way to gauge a beginner’s current fitness level,” she says.
Cindy first appeared on the CrossFit website in the summer of 2005, but it’s not clear who invented Cindy, says Mike Matthews, a fitness expert and bestselling author of Bigger Leaner Stronger. However, it’s not the only CrossFit WOD with a female name. “Once you’re familiar with CrossFit, you’ll be sure to hear the term ‘The Girls,’ thrown around,” says Tennekoon. Collectively, 'The Girls' are a set of benchmark WODs to assess your fitness, and each WOD has variations to help improve your cardiovascular ability, speed, power, flexibility, and overall strength.
Benefits of the Cindy Workout
If your goal is to burn calories, Cindy is effective, says Matthews. “What’s more, other research shows that high-rep ‘circuit training,’ like Cindy, can help people who are new to weightlifting gain muscle and strength.”
One study published in 2018, which included seven men and two women trained in CrossFit for at least three months, had the participants do Cindy and then measured their metabolic and cardiovascular responses. Overall, Cindy provided a high-calorie expenditure within a relatively short amount of time. Researchers found that the participants burned about 260 calories and maintained an average heart rate of 170 beats per minute. Says Matthews, “That may sound like a lot, but it’s par for the course for any kind of vigorous cardio (such as running, cycling, and so forth).” So if you prefer to burn your calories without getting on a treadmill, Cindy could be a good option for you. But if your goal is to add muscle, you may want to try something else. “Cindy, and other kinds of high-rep circuit training force you to use relatively light weights, which aren’t as effective for gaining muscle and strength as heavier training,” he says. “For example, a workout that involves squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting for three sets of 4-6 reps is going to help you gain much more strength and muscle than doing Cindy.”
“Cindy is also a good benchmark for measuring your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance, but it’s not a good test of your full-body muscular strength,” Matthews adds.
How to Modify Your Cindy Workout
Because the workout exercises are straightforward, both beginners and advanced athletes can do Cindy, and it can be modified to be easier or harder depending on your needs.
To Scale Down
If you’re just starting, Matthews suggests using an assisted pull-up machine or rubber bands to make the pull-ups easier or doing knee push-ups or partial push-ups (going about halfway down) to work your way up to full, traditional push-ups. Tennekoon adds that scaling back the exercises can still lead to a great workout. “Modifying the pull-ups with ring rows and incline pushups on a box or beach are both great ways to still get an effective workout while keeping proper form. It is more important to execute the exercises correctly and safely than trying to beat a certain score,” she says.
Another tip for beginners is to pace yourself, as 20 minutes seems like a short amount of time until you’re several rounds in. Beginners tend to ”finish their first few rounds quickly, but end up bushed at the five-minute mark,” says Matthews. “Instead, it’s better to go a little slower than you think you should for the first half of the workout and pick up the pace if you feel you have more gas in the tank after the first 10 minutes.”
To Scale Up
There are several ways to make your Cindy WOD harder, but Tennekoon notes to keep in mind that “the point of these WODs under the ‘Girls’ umbrella is to test your body in slightly different ways, so try not to tweak it too much.” To uplevel your Cindy, you can go faster. “On your first round, see how long it takes you and try to maintain that pace throughout (if not faster),” she says.
If you don’t find the push-ups, pull-ups, or squats challenging enough, “the most effective way to make this workout harder is to use a weighted vest,” suggests Matthews. “Start with 10 pounds and use that until you achieve your previous best score (the one you got with your bodyweight alone). Then increase the weight to 15 pounds until you match the score you achieved with 10 pounds, and repeat.”
What’s a Good Cindy Score?
Cindy scores are based on how many rounds you can complete in 20 minutes, and while a “good” score will depend on your individual fitness level, Tennekoon provides some targets to aim for. Of course, regardless of how many rounds you complete, always listen to your own body and go at a pace that pushes yourself but doesn’t cause strain or injury.
- Beginner: 11-12 rounds
- Intermediate: 13-17 rounds
- Advanced: 19-22 rounds
- Elite: 24+ rounds
Maté-Muñoz JL, Lougedo JH, Barba M, et al. Cardiometabolic and Muscular Fatigue Responses to Different CrossFit® Workouts. J Sports Sci Med. 2018;17(4):668-679.