Based on the statistics I receive on how people find my blog, many who read this blog are looking for the same type of information that I was when I first considered obstacle racing. Trying to figure out if you want to and/or are able to complete a Spartan race is first. After that decision (as monumental as it may be) is made, then deciding how to prepare for it is next. One of the things that I find extremely interesting and appealing about obstacle races is that running, strength, and agility are required for excellence. A straight marathoner will suffer on the strength obstacles and may have difficulty with the terrain. The “gym” guys might excel on the strength portions, but not have the cardio endurance. The best obstacle racers are those that have good functional strength, are agile, and adept at trail running. Because all of these skills are used, the opportunities for and types of training are almost endless. The purpose of this post and the related ones to follow is to give one perspective (mine). While the same principles apply to most other obstacle races, this post is specific to Spartan Races.
1. There is no one “best” way to prepare. Regardless of what some might tell you, there is not a single routine that is better than all the others. I converse with and read about other spartan racers’ training regimens and they vary greatly. Some swear by CrossFit training. Others by lifting weights in the gym and running. Some are mostly runners who combine hiking and/or weights of some sort to their runs/walks, while others simply get outside and “play” with rocks, logs, and other natural objects that can serve as a training tool. Hobie Call has produced a video on how to train for obstacle races. I own it and there is great value in his training philosopy. The thing is that many of those people who write and talk about obstacle race training are very successful racers who use completely different approaches. If someone tells you that there is one and only one “best” way to train, then I suggest you get a second opinion. The one thing that the most successful racers have in common is that they train hard for the types of skills needed for obstacle races.
2. Understand that not all Spartan Races are created equal and therefore training might differ for each. Spartan Sprints are shorter races in which speed is the primary factor. Supers are longer (8 – 10 milers) making endurance more important. The Beast, well, is a beast and you need endurance, strength, mental toughness, and a bit of an attitude. I have a general approach to training (that I’ll describe later), but then I switch to race-specific training as certain races approach.
3. All of us come from different situations, live different lives, have different athletic backgrounds with different levels of fitness, have different priorities, and different levels of responsibilities. For me, training hard and preparing for races are very important, but not my number 1 priority. I have a wife and daughter that I adore and want to spend time with. I also have a rewarding career in which I work 50 or so hours a week. I live in a rural area so the commute takes additional time. Church activities also play a big part in my life. Without those priorities I would probably train 2 or more hours a day, but I try to balance things out therefore I’m limited to 1 to 1.5 hours per day…..occasionally I’ll sneak in 2 hours on a Saturday morning or vacation days. On some occasions I will get a 3 hour block of time or can double up workouts in the morning and evening. It all depends.
4. Preparation is key. If you are in semi-decent shape, you can run in a Spartan Sprint and finish. However, I don’t think that most true Spartan racers are satisfied with just finishing a Sprint. That might be some people’s goal the first time around, but most are out there busting their tails to do as well as they possibly can. If you don’t train hard for these races, you’ll soon find out that you won’t be finishing anywhere near the top. When I raced in the Spartan Beast a few months ago, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the racers appeared to be in GREAT shape. It was actually very intimidating looking around at all the athletes. The Beast might be the exception to most of the races, but regardless you should come prepared unless you don’t mind bringing up the proverbial rear.
Now that you know that, let me tell you about my general approach to training. I typically aim for 3 strength and ab/core workouts per week, 2 “cardio” days that include either running or plyometrics, 1 day of yoga, and another day of rest/stretching/active recovery. My workout routine is based on the P90X calendar and it has worked very well for me thus far. My strength days consist of focused workouts alternating between the major muscle groups of chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs. It’s your standard fare of push-ups, pull-ups, and free weights. My cardio days are usually P90X Plyometrics, Insanity, or Insanity Asylum workouts and/or running. The yoga and rest/stretch days are there to keep my body flexible and resistant to injury…very important to someone who is 41 and just slightly less stiff than a broom handle. Depending on how close I am to races, I will also add bonuses to my workouts such as burpees at the very end, carrying and throwing a log, or even my favorite patented honey badger crawls.
You can browse through the archives (especially the oldest posts) to see how I prepared for the Beast the first time. My training will change this year now that I know which forms of “horrible” that I need to prepare for. My next Spartan Race is the Indiana Sprint, so I’ll talk about how I will be training specifically for it in my next post.
Superb post. I’ve written my training plan out for the Calgary sprint this year. Check it out and see what you think. I’d be glad to hear any suggestions you have.
I’d be interested to see what you think of my training plan. Of course it’s just for me and for the spartan sprint this year in Calgary. But if you’re interested in how I’m doing it, check it out.
Really nice tips for people just getting started. I just finished my first Beast and it was a pretty big change from the Super.
Going to check out more of your posts, good stuff.
Nice post, totally agree! Good luck and maybe I’ll see you at one in the future!
One month until my first race in the Kiln, Mississippi. A young 50. Glad to hear that P90x and insanity are recommended. I’ve been doing both for over two years along with biking. Thanks for the article. I feel calmer mentally now.
Don’t forget to have the right gear:
Awesome post Jeff. I’m curious. Do you ever use weight vests during your plyometric days? Any upsides? Downsides?
Thanks. I have not used a weight vest for plyometrics. For other workouts, yes, but not plyo. The reason for that is the extra pressure that it would add to the joints during all the landings. I have had conversations with sports experts about this very thing and they all left me with the impression that, although it might help fitness-wise, it is a recipe for injury.
Great tips and discussion about the Spartan! I seriously underestimated my forearm usage in the obstacle race. Great advice in this article for the Spartan. Wish I would have focused more on arms in training. http://www.beenbitten.com/top-4-training-tips-i-wish-i-knew-before-my-obstacle-race/