The Nancy CrossFit Workout

The Nancy CrossFit workout can creep up on you, especially if you go in without a good plan of attack!

Believe me, I know from experience. I crashed and burned pretty hard the first time I did Nancy!

Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes and had a much better time (emotionally and on the clock) the next time it was programmed.

In this post, I’ll give you some tips for how to approach Nancy so that you perform well and (maybe even enjoy it a little in the process!)!

But first, let’s review the Nancy CrossFit workout.

What is Nancy?

First introduced in 2010, Nancy is one in a group of workouts collectively called “The Girls.”

Whenever you see one of the Girls programmed, you know you’re in for a fun challenge (we talked about that recently related to Karen–another of the Girls!).

And Nancy definitely fits that mold!

Nancy consists of five rounds for time of the following:

400-meter run
15 overhead squats (95/65)

If you’re new to CrossFit, (95/65) refers to the prescribed weight. This is the weight in pounds that athletes with lots of experience who move well and want a challenge should use. The prescribed (RX) weight for men is 95 pounds and the RX weight for ladies is 65 pounds.

But is that the right weight for you?

Should I Do Nancy RX’d?

In my experience, Nancy is one of those workouts that’s easy to underestimate.

The prescribed weight isn’t a limiting factor for many experienced athletes, at least when overhead squats are done in isolation.

Let me explain.

My first Nancy was just a few months after I started doing CrossFit. I did some math as I warmed up and finally decided to go for it.

“My one rep is much higher than 65 pounds, so this seems very doable,” I thought.

I came in after my first run and was shocked by how difficult it felt just to get the barbell overhead. I ended up breaking up my sets much earlier than I thought I would.

And this is the worst part. I failed multiple times on THE LAST REP OF THE WORKOUT.

Ugh, I still remember feeling personally attacked by the music in the background (One More Time by Daft Punk) as I repeatedly tried to get that last rep. I looked forlornly at my coach and told him just to go home (I can be melodramatic when I’m in the suck)

I don’t tell you this to talk you out of going RX.

I just urge you to think about how that barbell will feel when your heart rate is high and your shoulders are on fire (especially those last couple of sets). Then decide on RX vs. scaled.

But as you make that decision, let’s talk about a couple of other factors to consider, starting with the most important one:

Can You Perform the Movements Up to Standard?

The run on Nancy is relatively straightforward–either you can run 400s, or you don’t quite have the speed or stamina yet.

The more common question is, how heavy should you go?

If you can’t perform the overhead squat up to standard with a PVC or an empty barbell, then you should absolutely not RX the workout.

What’s considered up to standard?

For starters, you need to be able to get the barbell safely from the ground to overhead. A lot of people prefer to snatch it. However, you can also clean and jerk, bring the barbell down behind your neck, widen your grip, and then push press it overhead.

From there, you’ll need to be able to lock out your arms and control the barbell as the crease of your hips descends below your knees.

You’ll finish the rep by standing it all the way up and opening your hips at the top.

How Long Will It Take?

A good time to aim for on Nancy would be 14-16 minutes (of course, faster is even better!).

If you think your time might exceed 20 minutes, you might want to consider scaling.

That being said, some coaches allow (and even encourage) athletes to go RX on Nancy even if their times exceed 20 minutes…as long as they’re not in danger of hurting themselves.

If you plan to have a long and illustrious CrossFit career (and I hope you do), then there might be some value in establishing a baseline score so you can measure your progress over time.

Again, this is something to consider if and only if you’re moving well and staying safe.

Can You Keep a Steady Pace?

If you want to come in under 16 minutes, you’re gonna have to move.

Try to keep the runs under two minutes per round and perform the overhead squats unbroken, if at all possible.

I’d consider scaling if you need more than two sets to complete each round of squats. You can definitely lose a lot of time by standing around and staring (cursing?) at the barbell.

Hopefully, by now, you’re getting some indication as to whether you should go RX or scaled. So let’s look at a few scaling options if you think that might be the way to go.

How to Scale the Nancy CrossFit Workout

There are lots of ways to scale Nancy if you feel like you shouldn’t or don’t want to go RX’d.

Scaling the Run

Scaling the run is a good option if your 400-meter runs take much longer than two minutes (or if running just isn’t comfortable for you).

You can scale the run down to 300 meters if you’d like to stay as close as possible to the intended stimulus (or even down to 200 meters if needed!).

Now, maybe running just isn’t in the cards for you due to creaky knees or ankles or some other issue.

In this case, you could swap the 400-meter run for 1000 meters on the assault bike, or you could do 500 meters on the rower.

Just remember: Whatever you choose shouldn’t take much longer than two minutes per round.

Scaling the Weight

You should definitely scale the weight on the overhead squat if you can’t hit depth, can’t keep the barbell locked out overhead, or can’t control the barbell throughout the entire range of motion.

There’s zero shame in doing this workout with an empty barbell or even with a PVC! It sounds counterintuitive, but keeping the weight light until you’ve mastered the movement is the best way to have beautiful overhead squats down the road.

Don’t believe me?

In his book Hard Work Pays Off, five-time CrossFit Games winner Mat Fraser talks about how he used nothing but PVC pipe for MONTHS when he started training at his first weightlifting club. And he seems to be doing just fine with his overhead squat.

My point is, go as light as you need to move well and keep those sets unbroken (or close to it).

Modifying the Squat

Overhead squats require strength and stability.

You also need to have pretty good wrist, shoulder, thoracic, hip, knee, and ankle mobility.

If you struggle with any of these, then overhead squats might not be the best movement for you!

You can swap out a dumbbell front squat or even an air squat if you have any concerns about doing overhead squats.

Keep in mind that scaling both components of the workout is totally okay! You can always work toward more difficult progressions over time if you aspire to do the Nancy CrossFit workout as prescribed.

A Few Final Tips for Nancy

Now that we’ve discussed whether to go RX or scaled, I have a few more tips for you to help you make the most of Nancy!

Take Your Time Warming Up

I recommend warming up for Nancy with a bit of cardio and some mobility work.

After jogging for a few minutes, I’d recommend doing a couple of sets of banded pass-throughs, banded overhead squats, and banded ankle distractions.

From there, you can start warming up your overhead squat on a PVC (or an empty barbell if you’re more experienced).

Start with a few light reps, and then add a bit of weight if it feels light and you’re hitting those movement standards.

Once you’re at your working weight, try 2-3 mini-rounds of 100-meter run and five overhead squats to see how the weight feels when your heart rate is elevated.

Does it feel pretty good? Awesome! Make any final preparations, and get ready for some fun!

Don’t Come Out Too Hot

Coming out too hot in round one will most likely result in a slower Nancy time overall.

Keep an eye on the clock and try to keep your round times relatively consistent (say, three minutes per round).

Also, don’t forget to breathe! Inhale at the top of the squat, and exhale as you’re coming out of the bottom.

Keep the Transitions Quick

Long transitions between the barbell and the run eat up more time than you’d think!

Dig deep and get right on the barbell once you finish each run.

I like to run a bit slower the first 100 meters of the second through fifth rounds to recover from the squats. I push the pace from 100 to 300 meters before slowing down for the final 100 meters to bring my heart rate down.

Ready for the Nancy CrossFit Workout?

So just to recap, choose a weight that allows you to go unbroken while staying safe, keep the pace steady, and focus on fast transitions.

Above all, remember this: Nancy is tough, but so are you.

Have fun, be proud of your hard work, and let us know how it goes!

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