So you’ve gone and done it and signed up for Spartan Race. You were filled with determination when you hit that button but now doubt starts to gnaw at you…
Now the cold light of day dawns and you realise that you need to not only be able to run however far that race is for, but you’ll also need the functional strength to pull yourself up and over obstacles, haul odd objects and perform other crazy feats of strength and fitness. There’s all kinds of crazy challenges in there that will well and truly take you out of the safe confines of Fitness First wearing your pretty Lululemon gear – you’re gonna have to get dirty.
Here’s some rules to live by in preparation for Spartan Race:
1. Run. It is a race and even shortest event is 7km. The Super is 14km and then there’s the Beast at 21km and Ultra Beast at 42km. As I found out during Ironman you can never have too many miles in your legs. But because the race is broken by obstacles the stress on the body is going to be less than it is if you were running a straight marathon, for instance. This doesn’t mean you need to run daily as for many that will be too much, but you should look to be running three to four days each week with one longer run on the weekend.
2. Strength train. I don’t mean high rep crazy MetCon circuits or killer WODs either. I mean get strong but be smart about it. Traditional gym lifts won’t cut it – you’ll gain too much weight. I’ll be blunt – most trainers have zero idea about performance training. They think that if you look like Rambo you’ll perform better. But let’s look at some stats – Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime was 6’0 100kg in contest shape. In comparison the average male medal winner at the London Olympics was 6’0 80kg. That extra 20kg that Arnie had to drag around in the mud is really going to slow him down on race day. So the exercises you want are those that will see you gain a ton of functional strength but little in the way of body weight.
This is where body weight training comes into its own. Many think that body weight training is solely about high rep calisthenics like you see in the old Army movies, but what about exercises like one arm pull ups? How freaky strong do you have to be to pull off one of those, and how much would that kind of strength help your rope climbing on race day? So let’s avoid barbells and focus on body weight as our main tool for strength. The added bonus here is that most hard body weight exercises are incredible core strength drills. All that core strength you’ll gain from doing them is really going to make you more stable running.
3. Weighted conditioning. While the standard punishment at Spartan race for a missed obstacle is thirty burpees I’m firmly of the opinion that exercises like kettlebell snatches, kettlebell clean and jerks and even kettlebell swings very much have their place. I tend to do very small circuits that have one or two exercises plus a “recovery” run in them. Something like five to ten double clean and jerks and a 400m run works great, as does 25m of sled work plus ten burpees. The key is not to go nuts with the conditioning just yet. Standard strength periodisation would be to work on base fitness and maximal strength this far out from a race and transfer that to power endurance and speed about six to eight weeks out. As you get to that phase out a lot of the maximal strength work, doing only what you need to maintain and devote more and more time to the conditioning work.
4. Long hybrid run. The key to any distance running program is the long run. No long run, no running long on race day and you’ll be reduced to walking and suffering. If your event is to be around two hours I’d suggest that you need at least a ninety minute run each week to build the endurance needed for the race. But because this is an obstacle course race you need to make sure you’re training appropriately. On your long runs intersperse regular bouts of body weight work and stints of much faster running. In our training we tend to walk the steep hills, and run flats and downhill. At track junctions or natural plateaus we do extra conditioning. Learn to love burpees. Again, as we get closer to the race we’ll even take kettlebells with us so that we can run a section and do some hard work like snatching or weighted walks in the middle of running. There’s a big difference between busting out a few snatches all warm and cozy at an RKC or SFG certification and doing it sucking for air after getting up a steep hill.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite conditioning drills, the Spartan Snatch Test, based on the infamous RKC Snatch test. Weights used are as for testing – 24kg for men, 16kg for ladies (or 20kg/ 12kg if over 50 years old).
Snatch 20/ 20 and perform 20 burpees.
Snatch 15/15 and perform 15 burpees.
Snatch 10/ 10 and perform 10 burpees.
Snatch 5/ 5 and perform 5 burpees.
Do this as fast as you can. Goal time is under six minutes. (Note you can do the scaled version of this and use push ups too, but then goal time is under 5 minutes).