Sure, you can lift weights. And you can run. But can you climb ropes, leap over fire and crawl through claustrophobia-inducing tunnels?
Last year more than 2 million people set out to do exactly that in events like the Tough Mudder, a 12-mile slog through Fear Factor-style challenges, and the Spartan Race, an obstacle race up to 15 miles in length that requires athletes to run a gauntlet of mallet-wielding warriors to reach the finish line.
Competitors need both muscle strength to meet the challenges and endurance to cover the distance between them. So training for an obstacle race may be the best way to improve your overall athletic ability.
After all, it is possible to be fast and strong and keep your energy up for hours. But to do that you need to stop thinking of your training sessions as separate strength and cardio days, and start thinking in terms of integrated workouts.
You can simulate many obstacles in your local park. Jump over fences and picnic tables and use a park bench to do Push-Ups and Dips. During a mudder, you’ll be called upon to navigate monkey bars, balance on beams, climb walls, and traverse ropes, and chances are you can find most or all of those things at your local playground.
An active warm-up is important before an obstacle race or training session since you’re using your entire body, often in ways you don’t expect. Front and Side Planks, Glute Bridges, Walking Lunges, and Lateral Lunges not only prime you for movement, they boost performance and help prevent injury.
Interval training is especially important when preparing for an obstacle race, which combines intervals of running and obstacles. After a warm-up, alternate between intervals of work and rest, like three minutes of running at 80 percent followed by a minute of walking or jogging.
You can also simulate the rhythms of a race during a training run by stopping every half-mile to do a dozen Push-Ups, Pull-Ups or Burpees. Try 30 Mountain Climbers or bodyweight squats. Or do a combination of two or three exercises. The key is to make your effort continuous, mimicking a non-stop obstacle race.
Obstacle races take place off-road. So why train on concrete or asphalt, which is harder on the body anyway? Challenge yourself to run as much as possible off-road, using the grass along sidewalks or seeking out gravel or sand.
You should also find some hills—obstacle races usually feature short, steep off-road climbs—and sprint up them. Walk back down to give yourself some rest, then sprint up again. Keep your stride compact to prevent hamstring pulls.
The world is your obstacle course. Safety should always be your primary concern, but there’s no reason you can’t run up and down that mountain of mulch at your local park. Those concrete culverts along your running trail? Why not bear-crawl through them as you will on race day? Instead of avoiding muddy trails after rain, embrace them. After all, once race day comes, you’ll be seeing plenty of mud. You may as well get used to it.