The best part of participating in a mud run is that it challenges every single aspect of fitness. The worst part of training for a mud run is that you have to challenge every single aspect of fitness! As I’ve prepared a number of people for their first mud run events I have seen two training plans that will leave you miserable on race day:
The Meathead Approach: This plan can be described as the “pick up heavy things and repeat until tired” training program. Individuals using this plan obsess over the necessary upper body strength required by a number of the obstacles and conveniently forget about the 13+ miles they may be required to run in sub-par conditions.
The Chariots of Fire Approach: The thinking behind this plan is that the majority of the event consists of running, therefore, “if I get my cardio up I’ll be good to go.” It sounds like a good plan until you hit that first obstacle, it takes you 15 minutes to clear it, then all your energy is sapped and you still have 11.2 miles left to run.
As with most situations, the truth is somewhere in the middle. An effective mud runs training program must strike a balance between long duration sustainable movement (the running), and a sufficient engine with some horsepower to handle short intense bouts of strength and explosiveness (the obstacles), compounded by the ability to go back and forth between the two for an excessive period of time.
None of that is revolutionary, but the secret sauce is the unstable and unpredictable environment in which this training must take place. This is where unique Hydro-Inertia® training tools such as the Surge® and Kamagon® Ball are worth their weight in gold.
The thing about a mud run is that nothing ever happens the same way twice. No two competitors experience the same race or even the same course for that matter. The environment is constantly changing and each obstacle provides so many variables it is impossible to prepare for them all. What you can do is prepare your body for the “unpredictability” of the event by using a training stimulus like water. Water allows you to load movement and build strength but also to build reactivity. This is where your body encounters a stimulus (physical challenge) and quickly and efficiently determines the best way to respond. Much of the response comes from the ability of your nervous system to take in and react to the outside environment, and this type of neuromuscular training simply does not happen to the extent you need if you only use stationary strength training tools such as dumbbells. By using dynamic, water filled equipment that moves and shifts so that no two reps are ever identical, you can improve your body’s ability to thrive in this type of situation.
In short using “living resistance” in the gym will give you the missing piece needed in your training to help you not only be prepared for your next mud run but to dominate it!
Here is a sample workout to help get you started;
- Mobility work (foam rolling, stretching) 5 minutes
- Dynamic stretches 5 minutes
- Easy conditioning (jump rope, heavy ropes, rower, running, stationary bike; choose any one or any combination) 5 - 10 minutes
Strength Set #1
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds. Each 4-exercise segment is fast-paced, non-stop movement and should take 2 minutes to complete. Take a 30 – 60-second rest when moving to the next piece of equipment.
- Lateral Lunge with shift and water dump (R)
- Overhead Lateral Step to Squat with horizontal hold (R)
- Lateral Lunge with shift and water dump (L)
- Overhead Lateral Step to Squat with horizontal hold (L)
- Plank Pull Through
- Thread the Needle (swing between legs with overhead 180 turn)
- Plank Pull Through
- Alternating Rotation Swing
- Turkish Sit Up (R)
- Biased Push Up (R)
- Turkish Sit Up (L)
- Biased Push Up (L)
Conditioning Set #1
Chose one or any combination of:
- Jump roping
- Heavy rope drills
- Stationary biking
Perform 5-15 minutes of “work” depending on race distance and fitness ability at a moderate to submaximal level of intensity (on a perceived exertion scale of 1 - 10 work should be done somewhere between a rating of 6 to 9)
- Example: 15 minutes of running
- Example: Alternating between jumping rope and heavy rope alternating waves every 60 seconds for 8 – 10 minutes
- Example: 5 minutes on stationary bike, followed by 5 minutes on rower
Strength Set #2
Repeat Strength Set #1
Conditioning Set #2
Repeat Conditioning Set #1, but feel free to change the modalities if you would like more variety
This is a 2-round workout, but if you are training for a longer race consider making it a 3 - 4 round workout. Then get out there and crush that mud run!
Casey Stutzman is the owner of The Performance Locker in Alpena, Michigan where he specializes in functional movement and performance training. He is a Master Trainer for Surge® and Kamagon®, teaching seminars and workshops to help trainers increase their knowledge and skill set.