How to prepare for an obstacle course or mud run in 8 weeks
© Tough Mudder
PT Scott Laidler reveals his ultimate preparation guide for dealing with electric wires, monkey bars, giant walls and other muddy menaces.
Taking on a mud run and OCR event is a great way to challenge your level of fitness and overall athleticism. It will also tax you mentally as there may be times where you feel like you can’t go on. But you can...
In fact, as the popularity of obstacle courses has grown massively in recent years, I've tailored many of my PT programmes around OCR, helping clients get strong and fit enough to not only complete in an obstacle race but enjoy it, too.
Find your level
Before you commit to a race, it’s important to give yourself a thorough and honest appraisal of your current level of fitness. If you have a reasonable level of fitness, four weeks of training may be enough. But for beginners I'd suggest leaving eight weeks training before a race.
Here are the most common obstacles you’ll be up against
Crawling under barbed wire/ducking electric wires
You’ll have to be able to move your weight close to the ground for this one – if not you’ll regret it! Exercises such as the bear walk and spiderman drills will massively enhance your efficiency in this obstacle.
You’ll need: Strong core, mobile hips, strong shoulders.
Monkey bars aren’t anything new; you probably had them in your school playground, only these ones will be extended, slippery and probably overhanging freezing cold sludge, so hold on tight. Dead hangs, bat wings and pull-ups are excellent exercises to help prepare you for this obstacle.
You’ll need: Excellent grip strength, good shoulder mobility, flexible lats and chest.
Multiple wall variations
Most obstacle courses will have a few variations of a high wall. Some you’ll need to rapidly ascend, others will mimic a climbing wall with holds, while some will be slanted with a rope to help you pull yourself up. To ensure you can tackle them all, work on your bicep endurance, lat strength and overall pulling ability.
You’ll need: Great grip strength, bicep endurance and strength, strong calves and a solid vertical jump.
The rope climb is another classic throwback to our high school days, only this one will be three times as high and you’ll be doing it when your legs feel like jelly. You’ll want to be able to ascend rapidly using your arms and feet for grip, so again, bicep endurance exercises and lower ab work like hanging leg raises and windscreen wipers would be a wise investment here.
You’ll need: Good grip strength, flexibility in you lats, strong inner thighs, strong lower abs.
Sandbag Carry - The shoulder bag carry involves carrying a dead weight across a length of ground. So, as it’ll be quite heavy and awkward to carry, you’ll need to practice exercises that mimic the exercise and equipment. Bulgarian bag training and fireman walks are excellent training options here.
You’ll need: Excellent shoulder stability, strong glutes, good posture, strong core, grip strength.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the obstacles you’ll face on your obstacle course, but it does give you an idea of the total body strength and conditioning that’ll be necessary to complete the race, and how you'll have to be mobile to overcome them.
A breakdown of key areas over eight weeks
Week 1-2: Pre-conditioning and injury protection
Conditioning works on developing your body’s ability to exert itself over a sustained period; it’s not enough to be strong – you need to be able to apply that strength over a sustained periods for multiple repetitions. All the above exercises should do it, starting with 3 x 10 reps each.
Week 3-4: Prerequisite strength and endurance training
Strength training utilises compound resistance training to endow you with a base level of physical strength and muscle mass that you’ll need to negotiate the obstacles.
Your endurance training workouts will work on your running endurance, using the length of your intended course to inform the run distance. It’s important that you are more than prepared for the running aspect of your race or you will empty your gas tank before you’ve ever encountered the obstacles.
Week: 5-6: Athletic performance and skill
Skill training involves a lighter workout that focuses repetitively on the necessary skillsets needed to negotiate the obstacles with ease. The mobility exercises for the monkey bars and wall climbs would be worth doubling up on here.
Week 7-8: Power and sprinting
Power training involves intensive resistance workouts that work on your ability to generate great amounts of force and power, giving you the edge on jumping and sprinting obstacles whilst furthering your overall athletic ability. For this you can increase the amount of exercises for the rope climb and barbed wire crawl.
Sprint training involves hill and track drills that massively increase your ability to accelerate rapidly, whilst again developing your overall athletic ability.
Note: Be sure to complete a thorough warm-up and cool-down for each workout. I also recommend that you perform a total body mobility drill at least twice a week to maintain your body’s full range of motion. I have put together a 10-minute total body mobility drill:
I’d recommend maintaining a break-even caloric intake throughout your training plan. Get plenty of fruit and veg, as you’ll want to keep your immunity high as your body adapts to the new workout stimulus. Keep your protein intake high and your carbs and fats moderate.
For the ultra ambitious among you who would like to turn the plan into a body transformation programme at the same time, you can do this by raising your caloric intake to a 20% surplus on your training days and a -20% deficit on your resting days. This is an optimal setup for body recomposition (gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously).
What to eat on race day
The night before your race you should consume plenty of starchy carbs to ensure that you have plenty of energy for the race. The same goes for the morning, too, so be sure to get an adequate amount of protein in. Without it, fatigue will set in much further and you’ll likely suffer from a headache.
Hydration is also extremely important. Make sure that in the days leading up to the event, you don’t allow yourself to enter a state of even mild dehydration – that could massively sap your energy come race day.
If you would like to take your training programme to the advanced level and would benefit from a bespoke meal plan to help you make the aesthetic changes in your body whilst you train, Scott’s online personal training service will help you fast-track your results.