How to Train for a Tough Mudder
The problem with many exercise programs is that they don’t train you to do anything.
Sure, exercise tunes up your heart and lungs, staves off muscle loss, and kicks your mood up a notch. But where’s the reward for all that blood, sweat, and tears? The culmination? The glory?
Since 2010, roughly three million people worldwide have had one answer: a TOUGH MUDDER. These days, you can barely check your social media feed without catching a photo of your best friend, your sister, or your real-estate agent covered in mud, grinning widely, the finisher’s headband encircling their brows like a bright-orange crown.
Want to join their ranks? You’ll need more than a few sessions on the elliptical: Obstacle course racing requires a mix of stamina, agility, mobility, and head-to-toe strength. Along the three- to 10-mile course, you surmount walls, scuttle under barbed wire, and, of course, submerge yourself in mud. Lots of mud.
A smart training program — like Openfit’s online training course TOUGH MUDDER T-MINUS 30 — gets you prepped for all of it: the running, the climbing, the scampering, the suffering. Here’s how.
The Tough Mudder Training Plan
Four-time Tough Mudder champion Hunter McIntyre — named by Sports Illustrated as one of the world’s fittest athletes in 2017 — teamed with Openfit to create a comprehensive, customizable program to help you get ready to conquer the course in 30 days.
It depends on where you start, of course, but if you commit to the program — a full month of workouts, four times a week, plus a running and nutrition plan to boost your stamina and whittle off excess fat — you’ll feel and see big changes in your fitness by the end, and have the confidence and skill to jump into a Tough Mudder with all guns blazing.
Can Anyone Complete a Tough Mudder?
“Everyone knows what a Tough Mudder is,” says McIntyre. “But not everyone understands when they get there just how much of a challenge it’s going to be.”
Tough Mudders — modeled after obstacle courses designed to challenge special-forces candidates — are built to challenge everyone, from the first-timers to the veterans. Short on grip strength? The Gauntlet will trip you up. Don’t like heights? Matterhorn and the Pyramid Scheme will mess with your head. Been lying on the couch all winter? All those hills will make you pay for it.
But does that mean only elite athletes should try one? Absolutely not. Here’s why:
• It’s not a race. Most Tough Mudder events aren’t timed, so if you need to take a break and walk for a little while, go ahead.
• There’s no penalty for skipping obstacles. Electrocution not your thing? Ice baths leave you cold? No worries. Walk around the obstacle and meet your pals on the other side (you can snap their photo while they suffer).
•There’s a distance to suit every participant. Elite athletes may jump at the chance to take on World’s Toughest Mudder — a 24-hour event. But newbies may prefer a 5K (3.1-mile) course. Choose the distance that makes sense for you!
Bottom line: You can choose your own commitment level. “Do you want to conquer every obstacle, or do you want to just roll around in the mud and take a picture?” says McIntyre. “There’s opportunity for both.”
The point is to hit the course, make some friends, challenge yourself at whatever level you can, and finish the event happy and excited for more. That makes Tough Mudder one of the most accessible fitness events you can enter!
How to Train for the Obstacles
“Tough Mudder is a foot race,” says McIntyre: That means you’ll spend the bulk of your time on the course running — or at least hiking briskly. But the most challenging (and fun) part of a Tough Mudder is the obstacles. Here’s how to prep for each type:
There’s no place like a Tough Mudder course to experience the ups and downs of life: Elevation changes are par for the course. And each one concludes with an obstacle called Everest — a curved ramp you sprint up and into your teammates’ outstretched arms. So if you sign up for a Mudder, hills are the order of the day.
That means you’ll need to build some serious muscle, strength, and endurance in your quads, glutes, and calf muscles.
Running helps — especially if you train on hills — but you’ll speed the process by adding lower-body strength and power exercises as well. You’ll find them in abundance in T-MINUS 30. When you’re scampering up your Tough Mudder’s steepest slopes during the event, you’ll thank coach McIntyre for all the squats, lunges, lunge jumps, broad jumps, standing climbers, sprinter squats, and other lower-body burners.
No way around it: If it’s a Tough Mudder, there will be climbing involved. Sometimes that means scaling a cargo net (as in the Mudderhorn) or a man-made waterfall (as in Augustus Gloop 2.0); other times it means navigating a mud-soaked rotating block (as in Block Ness Monster) or scooching sideways while hanging by your fingertips (as in The Gauntlet).
And that’s just the beginning, says McIntyre: “Whether you’re going out there for the Funky Monkey or getting to the top of Everest,” he says, “You have to have that upper-body strength to conquer it.”
For climbing obstacles, the relevant muscles are your lats (the big muscles on the sides of your upper back), your traps (the mid-back muscles that slope from your shoulders to your neck), your biceps, and — especially — your grip.
In Tough Mudder T-MINUS 30, those muscles get serious attention: The rowing moves, cleans, and curl variations in the Dumbbell Endurance and Dynamic Dumbbell workouts will muscle up your back and biceps so that climbing obstacles becomes easier. There’s even a dedicated program to help you master the world’s two most effective pulling moves — the pull-up and the chin-up. If you never managed to get your chin over the bar in gym class, here’s your chance at redemption.
No Tough Mudder is complete without a lot of crawling — and not the kind that goes pub-to-pub. We’re talking crawls through mud, crawls underneath wires, both barbed and electrified (Entrapment), and crawls beneath a pipe set very low to the ground (Tight Squeeze). In all of them, you’ll slither, slide, and shimmy about as close to the ground as you can get.
All that reptilian action requires serious strength, endurance, and control in your pushing muscles — the pectorals (chest muscles), deltoids (shoulders), and triceps — as well as in the core: the abs, low-back muscles, hips, and glutes (butt).
For those muscles, there are no better exercises than the push-up and its close cousin, the plank. And T-MINUS 30 is chock-full of them, including the up-and-down plank, the reach-tap push-up, the muddy buddy, and the famous cardio-burner, the mountain climber. All of them prep your upper body and core for the toughest crawling obstacles you’ll face on the course.
For many Tough Mudders, the hardest moves of all are the ones that challenge your mental game as much as you your physical one. Examples are Hydrophobia and Boa Constrictor (both requiring a crawl through a dark, narrow, water-filled pipe), Arctic Enema (a head-to-toe dunk in an ice bath), and Cage Crawl (float on your back through 60′ of water with only 6″ of air space). None requires much in the way of fitness, but all of them require you to look your fears in the face.
You can always skip an obstacle, so don’t let any of these deter you from entering. At the same time, the point of a Tough Mudder is to challenge yourself — and, ultimately, to surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
As it turns out, that’s also one of the major goals of T-MINUS 30: to help push you past barriers — mental and physical — that you thought were insurmountable, and to give you the experience of accomplishing more than you thought was possible. As Hunter McIntyre leads you through your month of workouts, picture yourself on the course, facing down the obstacles that scare you most: diving into ice water, zipping through that dark pipe, or sliding beneath those electric wires without fear — much the same way you’re attacking each circuit in the program with intensity and commitment.
When the time comes, lean on your training, your teammates, and the other people on the course. And be prepared to surprise yourself.