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Your Full Guide to Spartan Race Training

By Adam Trainor October 21, 2019

Are you looking for a new fitness challenge?

If so, it's time to try a Spartan Race.

Spartan Races are obstacle courses of varying distances, from the Spartan Sprint, which is 3-5 miles long and involves 20-25 obstacles, right up to the Spartan Ultra.

That's more than 60 obstacles spread over 26 miles of rugged terrain!

Spartan Races take place all around the USA and have also been franchised to over 30 countries, including Canada, Australia, and many European countries.

No Spartan Race near you?

Don’t worry – there are lots of other companies offering similar events.

Completing a Spartan Race requires a wide range of fitness attributes and skills. Every race is different, and the organizers do not release the details of the race until the event day. Because of this, participants need to plan their spartan race training according to the military maxim of hope for the best, plan for the worst!

In other words, you need to be prepared for anything.

While you won’t know what obstacles you are going to face until race day, common Spartan Race challenges include:

   •  Climbing ropes
   •  Cargo nets
   •  High walls
   •  Water-filled ditches and tunnels
   •  Steep ramps
   •  Deep mud
   •  Barbed wire
   •  Monkey bar traverses

    As well as overcoming each obstacle, you’ll need to run from one to the next. The combination of obstacles and running will challenge every component of your fitness, including your cardiovascular fitness, endurance, strength, and agility.

    Some of the obstacles will challenge your bravery too, such as crawling through water-filled tunnels or climbing high cargo nets. You’ll also need lots of grit and determination – there is no such thing as an easy Spartan Race!

    Unless you are lucky enough to live near to a military base, you’ll have to prepare for your chosen event without the luxury of training on any actual obstacles.

    Don’t worry though:

    You can still get yourself in great shape, even if you mostly train in a gym.

    Spartan Race Training Plan

    You should start your preparation for a Spartan Race several months in advance – even if you are already fit.

    The demands of a Spartan Race are unique, and that means you may need to add new training elements to your workout.

    Your Spartan Training plan should include the following components:

    Cardiovascular fitness

    At its heart, a Spartan Race is a running event.

    That means you need a high level of cardiovascular fitness. If you aren't fit enough to run quickly between the obstacles, you are going to lose a lot of time throughout your race.

    Also, when you reach the next obstacle, you may be so out of breath that you have to rest before you attempt it.

    Because of this, cardiovascular training and, in particular, running should be the cornerstone of your workouts.

    The amount of running you need to do depends on your current level of cardiovascular fitness and the length of the event you have entered. However, most participants should try to work up running around 10-20% further than the race distance.

    This will give you confidence that you can complete the running part of your Spartan Race, and will also ensure you have plenty of fitness in reserve for all those obstacles.

    How to do it: Lace up your running shoes and get out there and run! Aim to run at least three times a week on non-consecutive days and over a variety of terrains and inclines. Include longer, slower runs and shorter, faster runs in your workouts.

    One especially useful training method for Spartan races is fartlek. This funny-sounding word is Swedish for speed play. It involves mixing up your running pace randomly over the course of your workout.

    A 40-minute fartlek session could look something like this:

       •  Jog for 5 minutes to warm up
       •  Run fast for 3 minutes
       •  Sprint for 1 minute
       •  Walk for 2 minutes
       •  Run at a moderate speed for 4 minutes
       •  Walk for 1 minute
       •  Run at top speed for 3 minutes
       •  Jog for 2 minutes
       •  Sprint for 1 minute
       •  Run at a moderate speed for 4 minutes
       •  Walk for 2 minutes
       •  Jog for 2 minutes
       •  Sprint for 1 minute
       •  Run at top speed for 4 minutes
       •  Jog for 5 minutes to cool down

      Fartlek will prepare your body for the range of heart rates and running speeds you’ll experience during a Spartan Race. Make it even more event-specific by breaking up your run with sets of bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and sit-ups, of feats of agility.

      Try and do most of your running outdoors, even in inclement weather. After all, your race is going to involve a lot of water and will take place no matter what the elements throw at you.

      The occasional treadmill run is okay...

      treadmill run for spartan race training

      ...but it's important to realize that miles run on a treadmill do not equate to miles run outdoors.

      Muscular endurance and strength

      Muscular endurance is your ability to keep on going even when you are tired. Muscular strength is your ability to generate force.

      You are going to need both of these fitness components during a Spartan Race.

      Strength is crucial for overcoming obstacles and preventing fatigue and injury. That doesn’t mean you have to take up bodybuilding, which all about how your muscles look.

      Instead, you need to work on increasing muscle performance. The stronger you are, the easier you’ll find it to overcome obstacles like ropes, walls, monkey bar traverses, and cargo nets.

      How to do it: You can build muscular endurance and strength using bodyweight exercises, free weights, kettlebells, medicine balls, or resistance machines. You'll get even better results if you combine all of these training methods into one holistic workout.

      Train for endurance and strength at least twice a week on non-consecutive days. Focus mainly on compound or multijoint exercises that have an obvious correlation to the movements you will perform in your race.

      For example, pull-ups will be very beneficial for developing your strength for rope climbs. Planks will help strengthen your core for crawling under obstacles. Lunges are an excellent exercise for strengthening your running muscles and improving your balance.

      Not sure where to start?

      Don’t worry – there is a sample program for you to follow below!

      Agility

      Overcoming all those obstacles will require coordination, mobility, and balance, which can collectively be called agility.

      You are going to have to move your body and use your muscles in ways that you have never done before. Some people are naturally agile, while others need to work at it.

      The good news?

      Agility is a very trainable fitness component.

      One of the best ways to develop your agility is to include some gymnastic training in your workouts. Forward and backward rolls, rope climbing, jumping over and ducking under hurdles, vaulting, bear crawls, leopard crawls, cartwheels and any other multi-directional movement will teach you to move more efficiently over obstacles.

      Another way to develop agility is to play sports. Basketball, soccer, and touch football are all good choices. If you are serious about increasing your agility, consider joining an adult gymnastic class or getting some parkour training.

      How to do it: If enrolling in an adult gymnastics class is not possible, take yourself to your local playground and spend some time doing the movements described above. Take it easy at first, moving slowly and deliberately, and increase your speed as you begin to feel more comfortable.

      Once you get the hang of these movements, try doing them after a run to replicate the demands of a Spartan Race.

      Even simple skills and obstacles are much harder to do when you are out of breath and feeling tired.

      exhausted

      Sample Spartan Training Week

      To save you from designing your own Spartan Race training program, here is an example for you to follow!

      Adjust the distances and workout intensities to reflect the length of race you are training for and your current level of fitness.

      Remember that rest and nutrition are just as important as training! Make sure you get plenty of sleep and follow a healthy diet.

      Day 1 – distance run

      Run for 45-60 minutes at a steady speed. Increase the distance gradually over the coming weeks. Stay in your aerobic training zone of 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. Work up to 10-20% over race distance. For example, if your race is 8 miles, build up to running 8.8 to 9.6 miles without stopping.

      Day 2 – strength training

      Perform the following workout as a circuit. Do as many reps as you can in 30 to 45 seconds, using a weight that makes the last rep or two very challenging. Move quickly from one exercise to the next. Rest one to two minutes between laps and do 3-5 circuits in total.

         1. Goblet squats
         2. Dumbbell bench press
         3. Box jumps
         4. Pull-ups
         5. Romanian deadlifts
         6. Planks
         7. Dumbbell shoulder presses
         8. Standing long jumps
         9. Body rows
         10. Alternating lunges
         11. Push-ups
         12. Stability ball mountain climbers

        Day 3 – agility training

        Go for an easy run to warm up, e.g., 15-20 minutes. Find a flat, grassy area such as a playground or park. Have a good stretch and then attempt the following exercises:

           •  Bear crawls
           •  Leopard crawls
           •  Duck walks
           •  Crab walks
           •  Monkey bar traverses
           •  Forward rolls
           •  Backward rolls
           •  Cartwheels
           •  Headstands
           •  Handstands

          On completion, jog for 10 minutes to cool down and then stretch again.

          Day 4 – speed run

          Choose an appropriate distance e.g., 5km, 8km, or 10km, and then run it as fast as you can. The distance should be around 50-70% of the race you are training for. Alternatively, do a fartlek training session over a similar distance.

          Day 5 – rest

          After four days of training, you should be ready for a rest. Spend today stretching, getting a massage, using a foam roller, enjoying a gentle walk or swim, or doing anything else that will help you recover faster.

          Day 6 – start over!

          After a day of rest, you should be ready to start the four-day cycle again. Try to increase distances, weights, and reps to keep your fitness and strength improving.

          In conclusion...

          Spartan Races are a great leveler.

          Runners often struggle with the obstacles, while stronger but less fit people find running between obstacles the biggest challenge. Beginners will probably find the entire event tough from start to finish!

          Whatever your experience or fitness level is...

          Completing a Spartan Race is a major achievement!


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