Mud Run Training – 3 Essential Elements

Mud runs are the talk of the fitness world now-a-days. So naturally anyone that’s into fitness is going to think about running one. The biggest question on everyone’s mind is “how do I train for one?” Mud run training is tough. And the tougher you make the training, the easier the race will be….

Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all. – Sam Ewing

Unless you’re a seasoned vet at these muddy good, yet brutal, obstacle courses you’re gonna be uncertain about how to train. You’re thinking the last thing you want to do is drag your teammates down (if it’s a team event), or go out there and embarrass yourself with a performance that only a sloth could be proud of. Or worse yet, not even finish on your own two feet.

This Ain’t Your Mamma’s Neighbourhood

A mud run or obstacle course is constantly changing. The only known element is the distance, and in some cases you don’t even know that. And even though you know how far you’ll have to travel to complete the course, it mostly impossible to know how far you’ve already traveled and how much further you’ve got. That makes it mentally draining because you can’t know how much energy you need to reserve. Through out the run, you experience changes in terrain which make it difficult for you to find a good rhythm and breathing pattern. The obstacles keep you further out of sync. You’ll experience jumping, climbing, crawling, and running all mingled together for your enjoyment/pain. And just think, you’re paying for wonderful opportunity.

But have no fear. If you make sure your mud run training includes the 3 elements listed below you’ll be well prepared for the challenge that lies before you. I’m going to skip over the obvious element of endurance. If you don’t know that you’ll need endurance, then I suggest you take up some sort of Wii Fit Challenge.

Element #1 – Ability To Transition
This element is often overlooked and it’s importance similar to a hero’s sidekick. Sure the hero will defeat the villain without him, but it’s gonna be a lot tougher. An interesting thing happens within your body when you need to change from speed to strength to power to endurance, add to that going from crawling on the ground to immediately jumping over logs.

Your breathing diaphragm and rib cage are constantly expanding and contracting. As a result your ability to breathe will be negatively affected. when negotiating an obstacle you’re going to need more oxygen than you do when just running. You’ll likely be in a state of contraction and won’t be able to get all the air you so desperately desire. This causes even more exhaustion. Often there’s a need to “gather yourself” after you complete an obstacle. Something like a few seconds of deep breathing does the trick.

As a mixed martial arts conditioning coach I have to train fighters to go through all these transitions and come out smelling like roses on the other side. Train you body to transition through physical discomfort and you will too.

Element #2 – Pulling Power
You must be able to pull yourself up (period)
The above statement should be enough, but I’ll give a little more explanation. I’ve run competitively in over 20 mud runs, and every one of them had lots of pulling obstacles. Things like walls to climb over, ropes to swing on, cargo nets to climb up, monkey bars, as well as other things that I can’t really describe. Bottom line – your strength training better be pull focused. Save the push work for later.

Element #3 – Agility and Explosiveness
I know. That’s actually 2 elements, but I couldn’t decide which one to go with. And those two really go hand in hand. You will be required to jump at some point in your race. If you don’t then you’re just trail running, if that. Jumping requires explosiveness which requires a lot of energy. If you don’t train for the finer art of explosive jumping when you’re already gassed then get ready to have your feelings hurt. Not to mention the increased risk of injury by doing something out of the ordinary.

You’ll need agility to tag along with that explosiveness because you won’t be jumping in straight lines or just for the sake of jumping. You’ll jump from side to side or on an angle. You’ll jump from one log to another. You’ll jump on the wall and need the agility to get over it. This also includes good footwork with strong ankles.

Mud Run Training Should be as Varied as the Event Itself

These mud runs are never the same. Even the same even from year to year will be different in some way. Your training should be constantly varied as well. You must become a well rounded athlete. You can’t train for the unknown by doing the same stuff over and over. Our bodies adapt to imposed demands. Continue to impose new demands. Do full body movements and change the angles of those movements from time to time. Pick an endeavor that sounds out of touch and begin training to reach it.

Sample of a Mud Run Training Routine

This routine is aimed at beginners running a short 3 – 5 miles. If you’re experienced and are planning for something like the Spartan Beast then adjust the number of miles, reps or sets to suit your needs.

Every workout begins with a 10 minute warm-up consisting of general joint movement followed by performing the workout elements at very low intensities.

Day 1 – Run 3 miles. Stop every 1/2 mile and perform 5 burpees (yes the jumping kind), and 10 steps of alligator crawl
Day 2 – Hill sprints X 4 – 8. Find the nastiest hill and sprint up it for 30 (count only left steps) steps.
Day 3 – Run 1 mile. Then 3 rounds of; 20 mountain climbers – 10 burpee broad jumps. Finish with 1 mile run
Day 4 – Run 1/2 mile easy pace. Run 2 miles at race pace. Stopping at unspecified times to perform bodyweight rows or pull ups on tree limb and 2 burpees. Finish with 1 mile easy pace.
Day 5 – Do this circuit for 2 (with a goal of 4) rounds performing 12 reps each. Any single leg/arm movement requires both to equal 1 rep;

  • push ups
  • renegade rows
  • thrusters
  • bench bounds (place hands on bench and bound feet over it from side to side)
  • forward moving speed skaters
  • bear crawl
  • plank bird dogs (from plank position – raise arm and opposite leg)
  • goblet squats
  • bicycles
  • jumping lunges

Day 6 – Long run. Disregard mileage. Run an easy pace for 60 minutes minimum.
Day 7 – The ever so sweet recovery day

About the author – Bryan Adair is a Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Coach and Crossfit Level 1 Trainer. He is an experienced mud runner and trains others in the fine art. Whether it’s their first or tenth, there’s always room for improvement. He also blogs about weight loss, health, and fitness training. Using his personal experience and common sense, he exposes the foolishness found in today’s fitness world.


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