You used to leave your homework to the last minute, then it was coursework, now it's reports at work, and continuing the theme, you entered Tough Mudder in an alcohol fuelled display of bravado with your mates months ago, and now all of a sudden you're running out of time to prepare. Right now, you are probably trying to decide whether or not to bother training at all, after all, how much difference can you make in a matter of weeks anyway? However, if you are going to commit some time and effort to improving your performance, and frankly, more importantly, limiting your risk of a nasty injury, then read these two very simple tips, and we'll see if we can get you round in one piece.
I recently read a post on Tough Mudder's own facebook page with some workouts that are supposed to be designed to help you complete the course. I understand that bodyweight high intensity interval training is big at the moment, and may have some degree of carryover to a mud run, but I'm afraid that kind of training is simply not going to get you round. You see, when you look at the little video clips of these kind of events, whether it's Tough Mudder, Toughguy or Mens' Health Survival of the Fittest, it always looks quite exciting. Up and down obstacles, running through fire, crawling through tunnels and so on. The reality is however, somewhat different. You have to remember that each of these courses ranges from 10km (SOTF) to 12 miles (19.2km) for TM, which is just a mile shy of a half marathon. Therefore you will be spending an awful lot of time traipsing from one obstacle to another. It's at these points you'll wish you had popped into Richmond Park a couple of times instead of trying to remedy your Sunday morning fuzzy head with a bacon sandwich.
The simple truth of these obstacle course is that the obstacles themselves are not really that challenging, if they were, do you really think that thousands of people would manage to get round? People help each other out, and if absolutely necessary, you can just mince around the back of the obstacle sheepishly, no one is going to throw you out of the race. However, no one is going to drag your lazy ass around 12miles of cross country, up and down hills, that's all on you I'm afraid. So if you are hoping to get round without too much pain, my first tip is to get out and get some miles in your legs. The flip side of this is that you don't want to go crazy with your mileage and intensity in training and run yourself into the ground. Instead, start at a distance that you feel fairly comfortable with, and look to build that up by 5 to 10 mins each week between now and your race. Depending on your goals for the race, you can go up to or even beyond the race distance in training, but I would aim for getting up to at least an hours worth of running, including a few hills, or I'm afraid you might suffer towards the end of the longer races like Tough Mudder. This will also give you some idea of how you are going to pace yourself. If you are at the slightly less athletic end of the spectrum, you may want to walk up the steeper hills to save your legs for the latter parts of the race and for the obstacles. If you are new to running, I would recommend running three times a week, with a day rest between runs to allow time to recover. As you get fitter, you'll be able to run more frequently and further, without needing so much time to rest. Well conditioned runners will even have short, easy runs as recovery days. Keep things short and light in the week preceding the race and you'll be good to go.
2. Get Strong
You might think that gym time to prepare for a mud run is purely for the extremists, but actually building a good base of strength will help you build stability to help avoid injury, and upper body strength to help you pull yourself up and over the obstacles.
What you might need to do here is drop your bro split for a couple of weeks, don't worry, your chest will not wither away and disappear if you don't devote your Mondays to international chest day. Try adopting a program involving two whole body workouts, and use the rest of your training time to get outside and take care of point 1. By the way, Body Pump is not strength training.
Having been in this industry a long, long time now, I have seen some techniques and postures in the weight room that will make your toes curl, and back hurt, so I strongly advise you learn good form and have someone spot you when you are lifting, even if it is your entirely unqualified bro. When you are in the gym, focus on the big lifts that give you biggest return for your time investment, that means squats, deadlifts, cleans, bench press, chin/pull ups (or lat pull downs if you are not able to overcome gravity) and an overhead press of some kind. If you have access to some kind of crossfit style rig, you'll be able to work on the monkey bars for some specific grip strength, although if you are deadlifting without straps and doing your pull ups, you'll go some way to taking care of the forearm and upper body strength needed to pull yourself up on the obstacles.
If you already have a good base of strength, by that I mean you can squat at least your own body weight on a barbell, you might want to drop in some plyometrics to develop your explosive power (good for jumping over fallen runners) and stability when landing after jumping off obstacles. I wouldn't say that this is a huge priority versus improving your running and getting strong, but if you have the time and inclination to do some, they can give you an extra boost.
There are actually plenty of other things you can do that may help, improving core strength, flexibility and so on, but I've deliberately kept things simple, and focused on the two things that will make the biggest difference on the day.
One last point that I would like to make is this, have a plan. It's likely that you are doing this with team mates, I would say friends, but that might be a stretch. That being the case, you may want to discuss what you intend to do, as in do you go round as a group, or is it every man for himself? I only say this as from experience, some people just don't want to work as a team, and spend their bank holiday dragging around asthmatic wannabe crossfitters around the Hampshire countryside, while other people say that they do want to work as a team, only then to run off and sort themselves out as soon as the cannon goes off at Tough Guy 2006. And just in case you do get split up, and when I say split up, I mean leave each other to it quite deliberately, make sure you have a meeting point at the end, preferably somewhere warm that serves post workout orange coloured fizzy drinks, and I'm not talking lucozade.
Joking aside, it really is worth putting in some hours now, so that you get the most out of your mud run experience, as it can be great fun in a masochistic kind of way. If you are at Henley in May, I might see you out there!
In the fitness industry we tend to obsess (and argue) about how to achieve your goals. Each practitioner, myself included, promotes the service that they provide for obvious reasons. Some do this simply because they are running a business, and some because they genuinely believe they know the best way to attain physical perfection, whatever that may be. The problem with this is threefold. One, it's based on the assumption that we all know what your exercise, two, that you know what you want from your exercise, and three, that their particular training method is actually as effective as they say it is.
The focus of this blog is trying to figure out a solution to the second problem, which is helping you to decide why are you exercising in a bid to then help better inform your choices as to how you are going to exercise.
Why Am I Here?
This is a deep and philosophical question to be sure, but at some point most people will have raised this question internally during a spin class, triathlon (I've asked myself that question a few times) or whilst waiting to get to the squat rack at peak times in a busy commercial gym. If you can't find the answer to this question, I would suggest that you are on borrowed time before you drop out of your current plan.
This question should be the first thing that you answer, certainly before you go trawling through various options for your fitness. Why should this be? Isn't it simply a matter of finding something you enjoy and then just turning up and the results will follow? Well, yes and no. The problem we have stems from one of the foundational principles of training which is the principle of specificity. This principle simply means that you get specific adaptations to the imposed demands of the exercise, so your body will respond differently to yoga than weight training, which will both be different training responses to long distance running. There may well be crossovers. For example, contrary to popular belief, weight training increases mobility, and will also improve speed and agility
So ask yourself, what do I want from my exercise and why? Now most peoples' answer to this question is "tone up and lose weight", or "get fit", but now you have to think "what for?". This is particularly important for those who talk in general terms about getting fit. Fit for what? Fitness is ruthlessly specific, getting fit for running makes you better at running, cycling improves cycling and so forth. Do you really want to be fit for a specific purpose, or in reality, do you want to look fit, which is not necessarily the same thing as being fit. If you are primarily interested in improving your physique, you be be interested to know that running and spinning may not be the best way to go, they'll improve your cardiovascular fitness and performance in those two modes of exercise, but are unlikely to bring about significant changes beyond that.
If you are training with aesthetics in mind, I must urge a word of caution. Don't be misled by the physique of the people at the top of that particular food chain (instructors or fitness models on the advertising material etc). What I mean is that you can switch on TV on a Saturday night and watch strictly come dancing, have a quick look at the admittedly pretty hot professional dancers and think "aha, so ballroom dancing is good for your physique". What you have to realise is that these people will be dedicating 15 to hours a week every week, and probably have done since they were quite young, to their craft. It is absolutely not the same as going to a dance class three times a week. That doesn't mean that you can not get a good physique doing things you enjoy, but it might mean that you have to do more of it to get there than if you did activities that are dedicated purely to the pursuit of a better physique, such as body building. It's kind of like having two routes to get to a particular destination. One is the motorway which will get you there quickly, but is boring as hell, unless you like driving on motorways of course, and the other is a much more enjoyable drive, but will take a lot more time to get there.
There is absolutely no right or wrong with deciding what it is you want do do, or which route to take. If you are engaging in any meaningful physical activity on a regular and frequent basis you are already going to be in a better physical state than someone who does nothing, regardless of what it is, but just know that not all exercise methods are created equal, and starting off with a clear idea of what you want from your chosen activity is key to making sure you get the results you want.