Train for the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race with a multi-sport gym workout
2015 Colorado obstacle races
June 13 — Spartan Race (5K and 12 miler), Breckenridge
Aug. 1-2 — Rugged Maniac (5K), Denver
Aug. 15 — Warrior Dash (5K), Copper Mountain
Sept. 12-13 — Tough Mudder (12 miler), Snowmass
Simply running in a race these days is so passé.
Over the past five or six years, obstacle races — like the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race — have won over thousands of athletes in search of something a bit more exhilarating than pounding pavement for an hour.
The races have everything an adrenaline junkie with a death wish could want: mud, barbed wire, jungle gyms and more — all spread over courses between 3 and 12-plus miles. Sure, a 20-something couch potato might make it through a 5K, but former competitors like Doug Roessel says training should never be an afterthought. After all, these are still athletic competitions, even if they’re a bit rowdier than the New York City Marathon.
“These races are starting to get so popular now, and a lot of these races now are coming from boot camps with a heavy military influence,” says Roessel, who owns Elevation Fitness in Dillon and tackled one of the first obstacle races nearly a decade back in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
It may be a bit late to train for this weekend’s Spartan in Breckenridge, but never fear: The majority of Colorado obstacle races take place in August and September — you have plenty of time.
To prep, Roessel suggests a quick workout built around the basics: stamina and strength.
You live in the mountains, so take advantage of them. Races like the Warrior Dash at Copper and Tough Mudder in Snowmass force competitors over mountains, trails, rock fields and the occasional stream — the same obstacles found right in your backyard.
“When you’re training, you need to find a proper mix of everything that will get thrown at you on the course,” Roessel says. “You need to keep in mind the variability of terrain. You can’t just run on asphalt.”
At least once or twice per week, he suggests skipping the gym and instead heading out for a trail run or a long, strenuous hike. It’s a near-perfect way to bolster cardio and stick to a routine while prepping for just about anything an obstacle race can throw your way.
It doesn’t get any better than a good, old-fashioned squat. The staple of pro athletes is a stellar multi-muscle exercise, hitting glutes, quads, calves and core muscles. When worked together, those muscles boost stability and balance along with strength. Lifting itself is also one hell of a cardio workout,
Form: Keep your back straight and legs bent at 90 degrees, with feet spaced comfortably at shoulder width.
Alternates: Don’t be afraid to add weight.
Set: 2-3 sets, 8 reps
Like squats, lunges are an all-in-one exercise. The focus here is less on strength and more on balance and stability.
Form: Keep your back straight, with chin up and eyes forward. Don’t let your front knee buckle in, and don’t rest body weight on your back knee.
Alternates: Add lateral lunges (moving side to side) to hit your groin and outer thigh, or add dumbells for weight training.
Set: 3-4 sets, 10-15 reps each leg
The Spartan Race is notorious for the multi-bar obstacle, a devious sort of jungle gym for big kids suspended over a pit of muddy water. Pull-ups are the movement of choice to avoid taking a dip.
Form: Don’t swing. Keep arms at shoulder width (or slightly wider) and pull up in a controlled motion, then drop back down at the same pace.
Alternates: Switch out pull-ups for lat pull-downs on a cable machine. It’s a good place to start if you’re just now getting back into the gym scene. Begin with a manageable weight and move up from there.
Set: 2-3 sets, 6-10 reps for pull-ups, 8-12 reps for lat pull-downs
4. Bench press
Obstacle races don’t just require mental grit — they require legitimate strength. Good luck lugging logs up a mountainside without it.
“A lot of these exercises can be done with body weight, but we’re trying to build strength and endurance,” Roessel says. “You want your muscles to handle whatever is getting thrown at them.”
Form: Again, the trick is control. Start with a manageable weight and slowly press down and up, with your feet planted on the ground and back flat on the bench.
Alternates: Swap out the weights for push-ups. Start at the bottom of the push-up, with arms placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Think of it as plank with movement and keep your abs flexed throughout.
Set: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps for bench press and pull-ups
5. Shoulder press
Like pull-ups, shoulder press will fine-tune your upper body to handle bizarre and unexpected obstacles.
Form: Begin seated or standing, with palms facing forward, dumbbells at shoulder width and elbows at 90 degrees. Keep your back straight and slowly press up, bringing dumbbells together over your head.
Alternates: Slowly increase the weight to bulk up delts, traps and lats (the shoulder muscle trifect).
Set: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps
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