Helen WOD Strategy: Achieve Better Time With These Tips

Updated November 9, 2023

The Helen workout is one of the most well-known CrossFit benchmark WODs. It consists of 3 rounds for time of:

  • 400m run
  • 21 kettlebell swings
  • 12 pull-ups

While the Helen WOD may sound simple, it requires both cardiovascular endurance and strength to finish fast. 

If you want to crush the Helen workout, you need to go in with a solid strategy and the right mindset. This guide provides pro tips to help you shave valuable seconds, or even minutes, off your time and avoid common mistakes. Follow these Helen WOD strategies to build strength and endurance through this classic CrossFit workout. 

Tips for the 400m Runs

Helen WOD - 400m run

The run portion of the Helen WOD should not be underestimated. Here are some tips to help you crush the run: 

  • Start at a conservative pace and build up speed in later runs if you still have gas in the tank. Going out too fast can burn you out for the rest of the workout. 
  • Use a midfoot strike and take quick, light strides. This will make you faster and more efficient. 
  • Pump your arms to help drive your legs. 

The key is to pace yourself for the run so you still have energy for the following high-intensity kettlebell swings and pull-ups. Focus on efficiency during the run portions of the Helen WOD. 

Tips for Kettlebell Swings

Helen WOD - kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings require power and proper form to perform quickly. Here are some tips for the kettlebell swings in the Helen WOD: 

  • The workout calls for a 35lb kettlebell for women and a 53lb kettlebell for men. However, use a weight that you can control. It should be challenging, but you should always feel like the kettlebell is under control and you are maintaining form.
  • Keep your core engaged, and don’t round your back. 
  • Drive the kettlebell back between your legs and then explosively thrust your hips forward to swing it up. 
  • Let the kettlebell float at the top and guide it back down between your legs. Don’t actively muscle it down. 
  • Break up the reps if needed, but take minimal rest. Shoot for sets of 5 to 7 reps. 

Kettlebell swings require practice to master. Focus on form and a hard, fast hip thrust to get the most out of each swing. Minimize rest periods between reps to keep your heart rate up. With practice, you’ll be swinging for speed in no time.

Tips for Pull-Ups

Helen WOD - pull-ups

The pull-ups in the Helen WOD require a combination of strength and endurance. Here are some tips to help you dominate the pull-up portion: 

  • Use an overhand grip with thumbs around the bar (thumbs on top of the bar can lead to injury). 
  • Kipping pull-ups are allowed, so if you have that movement down, use it to complete each pull-up portion. 
  • Try to do the pull-ups unbroken while maintaining proper form. 
  • Use a band for assistance if you cannot do full pull-ups. The band will provide less help as you pull yourself up.

Pull-ups require practice and consistent training to build strength. Focus on form and do banded pull-ups if needed. Over time, you’ll build the strength to do all 12 unassisted. Minimize rest to keep your heart pumping for the next exercise. 

Common Mistakes

The Helen WOD may be simple in design, but many people make mistakes that prevent them from achieving their best time. Here are some common Helen WOD mistakes to avoid: 

  • Going out too fast on the run and burning out. Start conservatively and build up speed. 
  • Taking too long of rest periods between exercises. Minimize rest and keep a consistent pace. 
  • Using poor form on kettlebell swings or pull-ups. Maintain proper form for safety and effectiveness. 
  • Not having a strategy going into the workout. Have a plan for how you’ll break up reps and pace yourself for the best time. 
  • Not hydrating or fueling properly beforehand. Have a snack with carbs and protein within an hour of starting. 

The key to crushing the Helen WOD is having a solid strategy, maintaining proper form, minimizing rest, and adequately fueling. Avoid these common mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your best Helen time. 

Helen WOD Modifications and Variations

The Helen WOD can be scaled for any skill level. Here are some modifications and variations to make the workout easier or more challenging: 

Easier (Scale Down):

  • Walk instead of run. Walk each 400m to decrease intensity. 
  • Use a lighter kettlebell. Choose a kettlebell between 18 to 35 pounds to make the swings easier. 
  • Use a band for pull-ups. A band provides assistance, so you only have to pull a portion of your body weight. You can also do jumping pull-ups or ring rows if bands aren’t available.
  • Break up reps as needed and take more extended rest periods. There’s no need to minimize rest if you’re just starting out. 

Harder (Scale Up):

  • Run 800m instead of 400m to increase the endurance challenge. 
  • Use a heavier kettlebell, between 53 (women) and 72 (men) pounds for the swings. 
  • Do strict or chest-to-bar pull-ups instead of kipping pull-ups. Chest-to-bar pull-ups require more power and range of motion. 
  • Add in extra reps of kettlebell swings and pull-ups. Try doing 28-35 swings and 15-20 pull-ups to make it more difficult. 

The Helen WOD can be done by anyone at any skill level. Use these modifications to scale the workout up or down based on your abilities. Over time, you’ll build up endurance and strength to do the full RX’d version. The key is to push yourself while maintaining proper form on each exercise. 

Safety and Precautions

While the Helen WOD is a safe workout, it does require some precautions to avoid injury and stay safe: 

  • Wear proper shoes for running and exercising. Running shoes provide support and traction for the run. 
  • Use grips or gloves for the pull-up bar. Grips help prevent ripping and make it easier to hold onto the bar. 
  • Warm up beforehand and cool down/stretch afterward. A 5 to 10-minute warm-up and cool-down helps prevent injury and improves performance. 
  • Stay hydrated and fed for energy. Have a carb/protein snack 1 hour before starting, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. 
  • Learn proper form for kettlebell swings and pull-ups. Always put safety first, and stay within your current abilities. 
  • Start light and build up the weight and intensity over time as your skills improve. There’s no need to go heavy right away. 

What Equipment Do You Need?

The Helen WOD requires minimal equipment to complete, but you will need a few essential items: 

  • Kettlebell – You’ll need at least one kettlebell for the swing portion of the workout. A kettlebell between 35 to 53 pounds is called for in the Helen WOD. You can always scale up or down as needed, so choose a weight that is challenging but still allows you to maintain proper form. 
  • Pull-up bar – A standard pull-up bar is required for the pull-ups. You can use an assisted pull-up band if you cannot do full pull-ups. 
  • Running shoes – A good pair of running shoes will provide support and traction for the 400m runs. Cross-training shoes also work well for this workout. 
  • Timer – You’ll need a way to time yourself to try and beat your time on the next round. Use a stopwatch, gym timer, or the timer on your phone/watch. 
  • Water – Staying hydrated is essential for any workout. Have water on hand to drink throughout your training session. 

That’s all the equipment you need for the Helen WOD. The minimal equipment required makes this a very accessible workout that can be done almost anywhere. Over time, you can invest in additional kettlebells to make the workout more challenging as your skills and strength improve. But to get started, all you need is one kettlebell, a pull-up bar, running shoes, and a timer. 

Now you have all the information you need to crush the Helen WOD! Focus on the tips and strategies in this guide, scale the workout to your current abilities, and stay consistent. You’ll be achieving new personal records in no time.

WOD Planet