7 Spartan Race Tips (And 7 Exercises To Focus On!)
Completing a Spartan Race provides a feeling of accomplishment unlike any personal best in the gym or weight you may see on the scales.
The Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and any other variation of mud or obstacle course race is designed to BREAK you.
Steep climbs while carrying heavy barrels, jumping over fire pits, climbing ropes, launching over A frames - in order to complete a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder with a competitive time you have to be well-rounded.
You can't just have a ton of strength and muscle mass and neglect your cardio, you'll gas out on the hill climbs and sprinting sections.
At the same time, you can't just be a slender endurance athlete as you'll struggle to conquer the ropes and frames that require a relative amount of upper body strength.
Having completed a number of these events now I've been able to optimize my training in the lead up to these races to ensure I'm performing my best come race day.
Below are my 7 Spartan Race tips to ensure you conquer the course come race day
1 - Time Your Pre-Race Meal Correctly
I love hitting the gym fasted as well as my interval sprints, but when it comes to obstacle course races you're going to need to eat beforehand otherwise you'll find yourself fading partway through the race.
A couple of hours beforehand I recommend consuming both carbs and protein.
My meal of choice?
Half an hour before my race I also prepare my home made pre-workout supplement which aids both my focus and endurance.
2 - Wear Quick Dry Everything
You're probably going to get submerged in ice water on your first or second obstacle and you'll spend the rest of the race soaking wet and covered in mud, this is the WORST time to be wearing anything cotton.
Compression tops, pants and quick dry running shorts are key - you'll stay light and dryer than those that decided to wear cotton.
3 - Learn To Run Downhill
This was my #1 takeaway from the first two obstacle course races I did, I didn't know how to run downhill correctly as I spent far too long working on my incline sprints on a treadmill.
Running downhill on unstable terrain is the polar opposite.
The only way to learn how to run downhill is to practise doing so! Focus on taking long strides and land on your toes - this will ensure you're able to maintain as much speed as possible while also using as little energy as possible.
4 - Pace Yourself
Don't sprint out of the gates and take the lead as soon as you hear that starting gun.
99% of the time the group that's trailblazing ahead at the start are often walking come the half-way mark of the Spartan Race.
They set a pace they couldn't keep.
Keep a sustainable pace from the start and assess as you get further into your race, I'd rather pour it in the last quarter of the Spartan Race then start off to fast and end up walking across the finish line.
5 - Train In The Shoes You're Going To Race In
Your shoes are going to get wrecked, but don't skimp out...
Wearing old shoes with no traction will make several obstacles extremely difficult, not to mention the muddy sprinting sections.
Ensure you're training in the shoes you intend to wear come race day... don't train in your new Nike Metcon's and do the race in an old pair of Reeboks.
My old Reebok Nano's are the shoe of choice for me, as they're built tough, offer ankle support and come up fine after a post-race wash!
6 - Carry Things Often!
Regardless of which obstacle course race you're taking part in there's going to be a number of farmers walks involved. Tree logs, car batteries, sandbags, barrels.
Anything heavy and awkward to carry is game.
You WILL strengthen your grip by performing farmers walks with dumbbells and kettlebells, but this will not replicate the awkward farmers walk you're going to be doing during the course.
Should you eliminate regular farmers walks from your routine? Not at all.
Just ensure you're mixing in as many different styles of farmers walks as possible - use sandbags, heavy boxes, tree logs, car tyres...
7 - Condition Yourself To Cold Water
Your bound to come across at least one barrel of ice cold water to climb in or a freezing cold lake to make your way through.
It's not the best swimmers that excel through these lakes as they're generally quite small.
It's those that have conditioned themselves to cold water.
After a couple of weeks of 3 - 5 minute cold showers you'll learn to stay calm and regulate your breathing instead of going into shock and taking short, sharp breaths.
There are many, many benefits to cold showers that'll improve your performance too!
7 Exercises To Include In Your Regime In The Lead Up
1 - Incline Interval Sprints
With obstacles typically being 300m - 1KM apart you're never going to be running miles at a time without a break, as such I find incline interval sprints to be the best way to replicate the start stop style running pace during your Spartan Race training.
Mix up your interval timings:
- 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
- 10 seconds on, 1- secpmnds off
- Tabata (8 rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off)
Hit some deadmills too.
2 - Box Jumps
Including box jumps in your training will place you at a huge advantage when it comes to jumping over fire pits, logs and barriers.
Hit your box jumps once or twice a week, either on the day you train legs or on a seperate cardio day.
Aim to be able to comfortably box jump a box at a similiar height to your waist (you won't have to jump anything quite this high during your race but once again, you're going to come in ready for any and all obstacles).
3 - Farmers Walks
Here's the 3 variations of farmers walk I recommend training:
One hand carry
Carry a pair of dumbbells or pinch a weight plate in each hand, carry up and down the gym for time (1 minute rounds).
Two hand carry (infront)
Carry a heavy dumbbell or atlas stone infront of you, gripping with both hands. Carry up and down the gym for time (1 minute rounds).
Carry a barrel or barbell directly overhead (this'll test and build your core strength!). Carry up and down the gym for time (1 minute rounds).
If you're struggling with the shoulder mobility to actually get the object directly overhead I recommend performing this shoulder mobility drill.
Another couple of great methods for building up this strength are rock climbing and hangboard training.
4 - Chest To Bar Weighted Pull-Ups
The majority of the obstacles you encounter such as the A frame, cargo net climb and suspended rope climb require pulling your body up and over - the weighted pull-up is without a doubt the best way to train for these obstacles.
This is where most people struggle - they speed way past other competitors then spend twice as long at the obstacle trying to muster up the strength to make it to the top.
When you're able to do a few sets of weighted pull-ups with +45lbs you're going to find these obstacles a walk in the park.
Building immense pulling strength takes time though, so start with your bodyweight until you can consistently hit 10 reps, then it's time to throw on the weight belt and add some additional resistance, when you're covered in mud and soaking wet your obstacle climbs will make it feel as if you've almost got an additional 45lbs hanging off you!
5 - Burpees
Can't make it over an obstacle during your Spartan Race?
That'll cost you... in the form of burpees!
Many obstacle course races implement a burpee penalty if you skip or fail to complete an obstacle... needless to say you're going to benefit by getting in some practise!
You can hit as many interval sprints and box jumps as you like, but burpees themselves are a different beast - the only way to get better at them is by doing them.
6 - Bear Crawls
During your obstacle course race you're going to be getting down low to crawl through pipes, ditches and under barbed wire - if you're lacking in the mobility or core strength department you're going to struggle when it comes time to tackle those obstacles.
Not only will the bear crawl (and other animal crawl variations) improve your mobility and core strength it'll also replicate the exact movement you'll be performing to conquer a number of these obstacles.
Here's how to do em'...
get down on all fours.
try to keep your hands underneath shoulders.
try to keep your knees underneath hips.
lift knees off the ground.
allow the posture of your body to be natural.
move forward 10 yards.
move back 10 yards.
Repeat for desired number of sets.
7 - Dead Hangs
"SJ, what's the point of hanging from a bar, shouldn't we just do pull-ups or chin-ups?"
Dead hangs are an exercise that literally everyone can benefit from, whether you're a mass monster, a committed CrossFitter or a weekend warrior...
And here's the best part - In terms of form they're extremely easy to perform and you can reap all the rewards of dead hangs with only 10~ minutes a week!
The only way to get better at gripping bars is to do just that... grip bars! gloves, straps and all other contraptions guys use in the gym to increase their pulling ability, be it on a barbell or a pull-up bar is merely a band-aid fix, they're never actually addressing the root issue... their lack of grip strength.
The grip strength you'll build performing dead hangs will transform across to exercises such as the pull-up, chin-up, muscle-up and lever variations.
Want to build grip strength with suicide grip? Perform your dead hangs with suicide grip.
Want to build grip strength with underhand grip? Perform your dead hangs with an underhand grip.
I recommend using a regular overhand grip with your thumb wrapped around the bar, but if you want to build a specific variation of grip strength then you're going to benefit most by using that exact grip when hitting your dead hangs.
How To Perform Dead Hangs Correctly
Begin with a pull-up bar.
Grasp the bar with a shoulder width (or slightly wider) grip with your palms facing away from your body (overhand grip).
Wrap your thumb around the bar.
Ensure your arms are at a dead hang (straight, no bend in the elbow) you should not feel any muscle engagement from your lats.
Relax your body while you hang for the desired amount of time - no swinging, no fidgeting. Focus.