Strength Training for the Tough Mudder (or Spartan Race, Warrior Dash)

This article is a reprint from my old website written March 2012. All of this still holds true. I would only add that trail running a 5K or 10k once or twice a week would be beneficial. In the two Tough Mudders and one Spartan Race I partciapated, I ran less than 10 percent of the race, spending most of my time walking up hill or waiting for others ahead of me to complete the obstacle. 

I would also throw in a few ice baths per week after harder training sessions. Partly due to the potential recovery effects, but mostly to incoulate yourself to being submerged in ice and learning to breath as almost every obstable invloves being dunked in frezzing cold water.

So you think you’re tough enough?

Let me start off by saying I had a blast doing the Tough Mudder this past weekend and if you go into it with the right frame of mind and the right intentions it’s a challenge that will quench every thrill seekers thirst for fun & accomplishment. I highly recommended it if you’re into getting down & dirty,  enjoy a good beer, and you want to do something for a good cause.


With that being said, the Tough Mudder is NOT a competition. It is a challenge that tests your strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. It’s absolutely impossible to complete the Tough Mudder alone. It’s the main reason I enjoyed it so much. Thinking you are going to sprint the course and beat all your friends makes you a dick. Don’t be a dick.

And after completing the Tough Mudder please do not refer to yourself as “warrior”. Warriors are people who fight for their country. Warriors are people who battle cancer and win. Half way through the course on Saturday we passed a veteran with a prosthetic leg… that is a warrior. We had a Marine on our team trekking the course with us, who after doing multiple tours in Iraq, told me “yeah this is nothing”. This is not to take away from your accomplishment, the Tough Mudder is no easy task, I just want people to understand the difference between an actual “warrior” and doing something physically demanding for fun.

After competing this past weekend there are some sure things you can do in your training for the Tough Mudder to reduce your risk of injury and make the obstacles a bit more tolerable (sorry, but there is nothing you can do in training that mimics the actual obstacles unless you have access to lots of mud, rocks, ice water, and pain).

A few things you MUST have in your program if you want to be successful:

Ankle Mobility Drills – Running up hill and down hill, through mud and over rocks, demands adequate ankle mobility. If you don’t have it your knee and hip joints will take the brunt force, you will fatigue quicker, and you increase your risk of injury.

A simple test: Place your big toe 3 inch away from a wall. Driving your knee you’re your middle toe, can your get you knee to touch the wall without the heel of your foot coming off the ground? No? Better hammer these ankle mobility drills provided below.

Exercises: Lax Ball Foot, Calf & Posterior Tib/ Band Ankle Mobility / Ankle Mobility with an Anterior Tib Stretch/ Lunge Matrix

Hip Mobility – Running up hill, hurdling over hay bails, swooping under logs, crawling under barbed wire, running through tires, and scaling 10 foot walls, all require some serious hip mobility. If you don’t have it your knees and low back will be doing most of the work setting you up for an injury by the end of mile 1.

Exercises: Lax Ball Your Hips/ Hip Rotator Stretch/Spidermans/ Toe Touch Squat/ Box Hip Flexor Stretch/ Sumo Holds

Crawling – I have a new found respect for crawling. I was sore as hell for 3 days after the mudder and I am convinced it was from all the crawling If you have been following Strength & Conditioning for the past year crawling, primitive patterns, and child development have been a huge topic of discussion. I have added a multitude of different crawling patterns into my athletes & clients programs but I’m beginning to think we don’t enough volume. More sets, more reps, longer distance. Do it everyday. (for all the different version of crawling you can add into your program scroll to the sample program I’ve provide below)

Exercises: Bear Crawl/ Lateral Crawl/ Crab Walk/ Army Crawl/ Alligator Push Ups/ Spiderman Push Ups

Single Leg Work – Single leg work will help strengthen all those important stabilizer muscles you use for balancing, moving laterally, and absorbing force. This is especially important for the 5 total miles you spend walking and running downhill. Moving downhill is an eccentric action that puts a TON of unique stress on the joints and muscles that the body is not use too. The only eccentric stress most of us get like this is walking down a flight of stairs which may be once a day. This is where single work comes into play.

Exercise: SL Squat/ RFE/ Split Squat/ SLDL/ Skater Squats

Pull ups – 4 Obstacles: The Berlin Wall, Everest, Spiders Web & the Funky Monkey. If you can’t do at the very least 1 pull up, you are going to need a ton of help from your friends to complete these obstacles… or you may just end up face first in the mud, so either start working on those pull ups or get more friends!

Exercises: Pull Ups/ Chin Ups/ TRX Rows/

Sleds – Sled pushing puts your body at the same angle you use to walk or run up hill. This gets you and your calves ready for that brutal half mile up hill march. Sled drags get your quads ready for all that downhill walking. Crossover is a technique I used occasionally when walking both up and down hill to take some pressure off my calves, ankles and knees when they were really tired. Crossovers takes the stress off the lower legs and put it on the glutes and adductors instead. These were a life savor.

Exercises: Pushes/ Drags/ Crossovers

Carries – Add all 6 versions of the carries below into your program using various implements to get yourself ready for carrying logs and helping teammates through obstacles. If you were too just add carries into your workout, and nothing else, you would see a huge improvement in everything. Carries are the number one thing missing from most programs. (Sleds are categorized as a carry”)

Exercises: Farmer, Goblet, Suitcase, Overhead , Bottoms Up, TGU

GET OUTSIDE – Nothing beats getting some fresh air and best of all its free! Try to get outside and exercise at least once a week. Things like hill sprints and rock climbing will go a LONG way to making the Tough Mudder more doable. Plus the only place you can find monkey bars to practice on is the local playground!

Exercises: Hill sprints, swimming, running, hiking, rock climbing, the playground (monkey bars)

The next Tough Mudder event in New England is 8 weeks away in July. Sign up and start training today! If you dare…

Happy Mudding!