I am not a professional Obstacle Racer. I’m not even an experienced one; Saturday’s event was my first. I am however an expert on physical fitness and a professional trainer. The Georgia Spartan Sprint contained 18 obstacles space along 5 miles of cross-country terrain, forests, and creeks. Each was designed as a test of both form, strength, and mental fortitude. Any military serviceman would be well equipped to tackle a course such as this, most were no more than the tried and true obstacles we are all familiar with from bootcamp, infantry training, and reserve stations. For those of you preparing for an upcoming race I thought I would share a few of my observations about the work involved in overcoming these and how I prepared for them.
While my method is not the best or fastest, and I certainly don’t want to be that guy pushing his patented method; I do feel that a common sense approach and attention to detail will save many people from frustration and Burpees on race day. If you do not prepare and train for these races it will show on race day and as the event creators like to say themselves “you cannot fake your way through a Spartan Race.” Do yourself a favor now and start training hard. You may not win the race but the time you dedicate in the weeks leading up to the event could save you from injury and embarrassment to say the least.
First and foremost the obstacles I encountered were about three things; Upper body strength core stability, and aerobic stamina. Don’t kid yourself; the course is spread out over 5 miles if you cannot run that kind of distance comfortably you’re in for a long ordeal. The obstacles themselves are brief and over within a matter of seconds then you are off running again to the next one. You should not be so winded from the runs between that you have no strength left to maneuver on, over, or through whatever you face. You must learn to transition from aerobic effort to strength exercises quickly and seamlessly in a race like these.
Additionally if being dirty, muddy, and wet bothers you, get used to it now. I was wet and muddy within the first ¾ miles of the race and stayed that way until the finish only getting more slick with filth as it went on. Also mud adds weight and slows you down. It also gets into intimate places and rubs against the skin like sandpaper. Embrace the suck or stay at home; there is no way around it so you might as well enjoy it in some perverse way if possible.
The walls seemed to provide the toughest challenge for those I witnessed. Short of actually finding a wall to practice on the best advice I can give is to work on your Back muscles, specifically your Lattimus Dorsi, and traps. These muscles are responsible for pulling your arms from an overhead position down to your trunk. They are assisted in this movement by little known chest muscles called the Pectoralis Minor, which also attach to your Humerus bone and pull it down. Supinated pull-overs are a great exercise to develop both muscle groups. Simply lie on your back on a bench or floor arms extended over your head grasping a dumbbell or weight plate. Start with the weight touching the floor then pull it down over your torso stopping at your core. Of course the best exercise in this case would be the pullup/chinup and a lot of them. Also if you have access to cable station machines you will face a similar event in the races.
The legs also play a significant role in wall obstacles as well as the core muscles. I use my legs to jump and boost me as high as I can letting the momentum assist my arms and back to pull me up and over, then my core to swing my legs over the wall. Try explosive jump-squats with your own bodyweight at first then light dumbbells as you go. Also instead of spending hours on crunches utilize hanging legs raises to really strengthen your core and hip-abductors. This is also more realistic and closely resembles the moves you will use in a real race, especially in wall and rope obstacles. Also many do not realize how much of a role your core plays in the barbed wire crawl. It works with the muscles of your inner thighs and upper body to propel you forward. Planks, side planks, mountain climbers, and superman’s are the exercises that build real stability and stamina in these fast twitch muscles.
Finally I cannot stress enough how important it is to build your grip strength. So many people failed obstacles Saturday because of poor grip. All the arm, chest, and back strength means nothing if your hands are not strong enough to transfer that force to whatever you’re holding onto. Even before the first heat started ropes and bars were slick with mud and water, the only way to overcome it was a ferocious grip and some dry sand if you could find it. Flexed arm hangs, farmer carries, rubber ball squeezes, roll-ups, Deadlifts, and dumbbell forearm flexes are all great tools to utilize here. Your grip strength comes from your forearms. Believe it or not there are very few actual muscles in your hands. Your fingers are primarily controlled by long tendons attached to the muscles in your forearm. For example hold your arm out in front of you palm facing down. Now wiggle your fingers as if you were playing a piano or horn and watch your forearm near the elbow. See it moving? Find some monkey bars in a nearby playground and makes friends. This childhood plaything is a great builder of Popeye arms.
The most important weapon to utilize on race day is your brain. Learn to stay relaxed on the runs and use them as active recovery periods. When you come to an obstacle take a minute to collect yourself and formulate a plan over or through it. Tired people are sloppy, sloppy people make mistakes and take shortcuts, and both lead to injury. Watch a few people ahead of you to see what lane is fastest, easiest, has the most grip etc. I used this trick at the walls, barbed wire, and rope climb to save time and energy by taking the path of least resistance. Find a buddy and help each other. It will save both of you precious energy and time at obstacles and give you someone to converse with and make the whole thing go faster. Most of all have fun and remember this isn’t meant to be so serious. Yes it’s important to push yourself and do the best you can but not at the expense of your health and enjoyment.