Training for your first obstacle race doesn't need to be as hard or repetitive as training for long distance road races, but you still need to build up your confidence with running. Even in a short race, such as a 5km Spartan Sprint, each obstacle will take up no more than 5-10m of that distance. So, even with 25 obstacles, you’ll still have over 4.8km of pure running.
That said, upper body and core strength will really help you to get over obstacles, so it's best to incorporate an all-round fitness regime.
The ideal training plan very much depends on the kind of fitness background you have:
If you’re already a runner:
Great! Welcome to the sport! It doesn't matter if you do 10k, half marathons, marathons or ultras, being used to long distance running is a great starting point for obstacle racing. You will need some upper body strength, so if you don’t already, I’d recommend doing some weights work outs – either at a gym or at home. Working on pull-ups will pay dividens, as they'll help you to get you over walls and across monkey bars in the more strength oriented races.
If you’re already a gym bunny:
Great! Welcome to the sport! If you work out in the gym a lot you should have a decent amount of strength but the chances are you've not run more than 5-10k… It’s time to up that, so strap your trainers on and hit the outdoors (not the treadmill) to get those miles in. Running outdoors is really important to get used to hills, uneven surfaces and natural obstacles that are a big element of obstacle race. Try to get onto grass and natural trails as well if you can – don’t just run on the road/pavement.
If you already attend crossfit / bootcamp / BMF / circuits:
Great! Welcome to the sport! In many ways, being used to bootcamps or similar is the best way to start training for obstacles because you’re already used to doing high intensity mixtures of cardio and strength exercises – often with unexpected surprises thrown at you to keep you on your toes. I’d say keep up the group exercises but also supplement it with some longer runs of your own, just to get you used to longer distances.
If you do no fitness whatsoever but want to start:
Great! Welcome to the sport! Everyone has a different base fitness level but essentially you’ll need to start thinking about cardiovascular stamina and leg strength for the running element, as well as upper body and core strength for some of the obstacles.
You don’t need to join a gym if you don’t want to but I’d recommend at least buying a set of dumb-bells to do workouts from home – it’s amazing how many exercises you can do with just a pair of dumbbells. A door-frame pull-up bar is also a great investment – they cost around £25 and are one of the best ways of strengthening your arms and shoulders enough to support and manipulate your own body weight. Never underestimate all of the other ‘ups’ as well – chin ups, pull ups, press ups and sit ups all do wonders for the muscle groups that will come in to play on obstacles. Try to incorporate sets of each of those exercises when you're out running, it's a great way of preparing for the stop-start nature of obstacle racing.
Here’s another top tip for training – and don’t tell too many people - but in most places you can run in the countryside or park FOR FREE!
If you’re not a runner at all and find the distance of obstacle races a bit daunting then map out a route of the same distance near you then go out and walk it, jogging small sections at a time to start to get used to running. Repeat this a few times, slowly building up the amount you jog until you’re comfortable to run for 900m out of every km with a walking rest in between
The thing to remember about obstacle races is that, whilst there is still a large amount of running, it is broken up regularly, which gives you a chance to catch your breath. So even though a 10km obstacle race is more of an all-round body work-out than running a straight 10km, you'll be constantly distracted so that it won't feel as tiring.
How to train for a Spartan Sprint
Spartan Sprints are perfect events for those of you who are more into working out in the gym than running, as they’re not too long and there are a lot of upper body strength obstacles. Concentrate on the weights and pull-ups, as they’re great training for monkey bars, high walls and rope climbs. Also make sure you practise burpees, and plenty of them, because it’s very likely you’ll have to bust them out midway through the course.
How to train for a Tough Mudder
If you’re doing a Tough Mudder you will need get plenty of running practice in, as they do cover large distances (10-12 miles as standard), but don’t feel that you’ll need to be able to run 12 miles in one go to complete one because the obstacles are very evenly spaced and you’ll get a breather at each one.
A top tip if you’re new to the game or a bit worried about your fitness is to enter in as big a group as possible, not only will you have more fun and more people to help you over the high walls, but you’ll also get more rest at each obstacle whilst you wait for all of your group to get through.
Although running for an entire race and getting over every obstacle unaided is a great achievement, don't feel like that's the only way to tackle an obstacle race. You will really feel the rewards if you push yourself to your limits but if you do need to stop and walk for a bit, go ahead, you certainly won't be alone and you'll still be travelling faster than those sat on the couch. If you find it hard getting over an obstacle, don't feel like you have to tackle it alone, there will be tonnes of people on hand to help you out, and you'll really feel the amazing sense of camaraderie when you help out somebody else as well.
We have tonnes of useful articles about preparing for specific elements of obstacle racing, take a look through our tips and training archive here. Also, if you want some inspiration to get you started with your own training routine, check out this article that Pete wrote about training for obstacle races a little while back.