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In the age of crossfit and fitness boot camps, weekend warriors are looking for a bigger challenge than a genteel afternoon of hiking. Extreme obstacle course races like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race fill the bill.
But you have to know what you’re getting into before facing a barbedwire mud crawl or a monkey-bar course. If you’re not in shape, you can not only look foolish but also harm yourself, even on the shorter courses.
Which is why M&F turned to Cassidy Watton—former Steve Austin‘s Broken Skull Challenge champion, a Spartan Pro Team member, and the head coach and programming director at Epic Hybrid Training in New York, which offers all levels of specialized training for obstacle course races. She’ll help you develop the strength, stamina, and skills for the wall-scaling, rope-climbing, and mud-crawling demands of these hardcore events.
1. VARY YOUR CARDIO: High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is when you repeatedly perform short bursts of intense exercise followed by a rest period, is a great way to simultaneously increase strength and conditioning, which carries over to your long-distance stamina. But Watton acknowledges that you need to get used to being on your feet for hours. For this, she recommends sucking it up and building up to two hours of low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS). For HIIT, perform sprints or workout circuits similar to the one you see at right. For LISS, go on runs or hikes, and be sure to hold your pace for as long as possible. Start with 30 minutes and work your way up from there.
2. GET A GRIP: Ropes, walls, cargo nets, monkey bars- they all take a toll on your grip strength, and falling is no fun. “Almost all these obstacles start with a prerequisite need for grip strength,” says Watton, who suggests starting with dead hangs. “If you’re a beginner, simply hang on to something, count the seconds, and build up how long you can hang on.” She also recommends a variation known as Epic regrips: Hang from a pullup bar, then briefly let go of one hand. Then alternate, letting go of one hand and then the other. “You’re increasing your grip strength and simulating what it feels like to briefly let go and hang on with one arm,” Watton says.
3. DO HYBRID WORKOUTS: If you’re fortunate to work out at a facility like Epic Hybrid Training, you can build a workout with actual obstacle course race activities. If not, you can still create an effective combination routine with standard equipment. Just make sure you include interval training, running, and strength movements in your overall program. “You need to combine strength elements with running to simulate that elevated-heart-rate, full-body-taxed feeling that you’re going to feel during the race,” Watton says. “You’re definitely going to have to try to simulate some of the events in your own gym.”
First, follow the usual rules of sound sports nutrition (plenty of protein, generous amounts of fruits and veggies, healthy fats, no junk or processed foods). But you also need to ensure your body is prepared for the intensity of an obstacle course race. We asked Marie Spano, R.D.-a nutritionist for professional athletes in Atlanta-for her suggestions for those planning to do an obstacle course race. Here’s what she recommends.
1. CARB UP: Don’t skimp on carbohydrate intake. Carbs are your body’s primary source of energy, especially during intense exercise. For example, you’ll need a minimum of five grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day.
2. STAY SALTY: Drink a sodium-rich sports drink with some carbohydrates if you are training for more than an hour.
3. TABULATE YOUR INTAKE: Aim for 15 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. Your carbohydrate intake can come from gels, shots, beans, gummies, sports drinks, or any combination of these.