WOD Strats – Helen – A Beastly Strategy Guaranteed to Improve Your PR
updated January 1, 2019
The Helen WOD is a favorite challenge workout guaranteed to test out your physical and mental capabilities. It is often used by Crossfitters as a means of gauging their level of progress. In this article, we identify 6 key workout hacks that will enable you to establish a new PR your next time through ‘Helen.’
What is Helen?
Helen is a timed workout that is deceptively simple. It involves doing 3 rounds of the following:
- 400 meter (quarter mile) run
- 21 kettlebell swings with a 24 kg (53 pound) kettlebell
- 12 pull ups
The objective is to complete three rounds with good form in as little time as possible.
So, what sort of time should you be looking for? According to data from the thousands who participated in the 2019 CrossFit open, the average time for the ‘Helen’ workout is 9 minutes and 50 seconds. For a guy, aiming for less than 6 and a half minutes will put you in the upper echelon, with an extra minute being added on for females.
Six Helen Hacks
1: Go Unbroken
The first strategy to smashing Helen is a goal that you will have to work towards. Going unbroken means doing the whole thing without a break. That means no breathers between rounds, no putting the kettlebell down to get your breath back after your 21 swings and no stopping after the run. You have got to launch straight into the next activity.
You will not be able to go unbroken for some time. But every time you do Helen, your goal should be to go further into it unbroken as you possibly can. If you can get to the end of the second 400 meter run without a pause, make that your new set point. Make sure that you NEVER pause before that point again. Rather, next time strive to push through your next set of kettlebell swings before you pause.
2: Grabbing the Kettlebell
When you’re striving for the best time possible, you have got to consider even the smallest of things. One of them that you might take for granted is the way you pick up the kettlebell as you approach for your second exercise.
Most people do it this way . . .
They step up to the kettlebell, squat down and grab hold of the kettlebell. Then they perform a deadlift to bring it back up into the start position. They then dip down to start the swinging action.
That is basically three moves - squat - deadlift - swing. Doing all that not only takes time, it wastes time.
Here’s how you should do the kettlebell swing if you want to stop wasting time . .
Position yourself about an arm's length away from the kettlebell. Doing so will require that, when you go down to grab it, you will have to pull the kettlebell toward you which, in effect, gets you straight into the kettlebell swing. It will also create the momentum for your first swing, so you don’t have to waste time winding up.
You will also find yourself already in the hip hinge position that allows for maximum explosiveness. All of this from just a slight change in your starting distance from the kettlebell!
Take the time to practice this new and improved way to approach and initiate the start of the kettlebell swing so that, when you do it during Helen, it comes to you as second nature.
3: Chalk It Up
Chalk is your friend when you are doing the Helen. It allows you to hold on far more securely to two vital pieces of equipment - the kettlebell and the pull up bar. Of course, you don’t need chalk when you are running through the 400 meter track. But having it on your hands is certainly not going to slow you down when you’re running or in any other way hamper your performance.
That is why you need to chalk up your hands before the WOD starts. Chalk up really good so that one chalking will help you to get through the entire workout. The benefit will be huge - you won’t have to stop between those later sets of kettlebell swings and pull ups.
- 800 meter run
- 50 pull ups
- 100 pull ups
- 150 squats
- 800 meter run
5: Run Further
For most people, they will end up performing the kettlebell swings and the pull ups inside their box, and then venture outdoors for the 400 meter run. A lot of them will go all out in the street and then slow down to a walk as they come back through the door of the box. That's entirely understandable - you need to catch a few breaths before you get into the next move.
This hack involves just running a little further that you are used to . A few more paces can take vital seconds off your time.
6: Ease Up on Your Grip
What part of your body do you think will be the most fatigued after your perform Helen? If you’ve done it before, you know that the answer is going to be the forearms. You are, after all, grabbing a bar in two thirds of the exercises that you’re required to do in this workout - the kettlebell swing and the pull up.
A lot of people make that pain in the forearms a lot more severe than it has to be. by gripping the bar too tightly. This usually occurs on the kettlebell swing. The truth is that you do not have to grip the kettlebell very tightly. In fact, at the top of the swing, you can actually loosen your grip somewhat - just don’t let go entirely! Momentum and gravity will ensure that the bell stays in place.
The last thing you want is to be forced to break up your pull ups because your forearms, rather than your back muscles, have given out. Loosen your grip and make sure that that does not happen.
Pace with a Timer
When Roger Bannister was training to break the 4 minute mile a couple of generations back, he wasn't thinking about running for four minutes - that was too long to get his head around. Instead he told himself that he was running four quarter miles. All he had to do was to ensure that he ran each quarter in less than a minute. That's exactly what he did - and the rest is history!
You can use that same tactic to achieve your best time on Helen. Let’s say that you goal is to get through Helen in 6 minutes.
Divide the workout in 12 thirty second sub units as follows:
- 2 beeps for each run
- 1 beep for kettlebell swings
- 1 beep for pull ups
Set up your timer to beep every thirty seconds. Then focus like a laser to complete each mini portion within the allotted time. Your first 400 has got to come within 60 seconds, then you’ve got 30 seconds for 21 kettlebell swings and a further 30 for the pull ups. That first set of pull ups should only take ten seconds, which means that you’ll have a twenty second recovery before the next beep and you start all over again.
The Vital Pull Up Hack
You should be able to power out 12 decent pull ups on your first round. But hitting that number on your second and third go through without a break is a different story. There is, however, a quick technique you can use to help yourself to get there.
This hack invloves your body's kinetic chain. The muscles are designed to , and want to, work together. When you do a pull up and your arms are going up and down, it’s not just your arms or your lats that are working. Your scapula is also heavily involved. Because it is connected to the arms, any arm motion is going to also involve the scapula.
To perform the pull up effectively, you need to have a stable base. When it comes to the pull up, that stable base is your scapula. There is a way to make it far more stable, with the result that you will instantly increase your strength on the pull up exercise. Here’s how to do it:
Hang from your pull up bar without bending your arms. Now pull up to retract the scapula and then down to depress the same area. Imagine that you're trying to bring your shoulder blades up to your ears without bending at the elbow. Do this five times. Now go directly into your pull ups.
This technique will guarantee that you will be able to pump out more reps on your pull ups. It takes just a few quick seconds but, because it fully activates the scapular, should allow you to get very close to, if not hit, your 12 rep target on those difficult second and third rounds of Helen.
The Helen WOD is a beastly workout that will will challenge both your aerobic and your anaerobic systems. The six hacks that you’ve just uncovered will allow you to be the best and attain to your sharpest PR ever. Try them and let us know in the comments how you got on. Don’t forget to let us know your best time!
Other WOD Strats
On the minute (until you complete 100 reps of thrusters).