How To Train For Tough Mudder – By Someone Who Has Done it!
It’s that time of year again – Tough Mudder! For the last 3 years I’ve entered the event and I’m going to show you how to train for Tough Mudder, making sure the programme caters for the physical challenges you’ll come across during the event.
I love Tough Mudder. It’s an event that makes people believe in themselves. It’s an event that takes people out of their comfort zones. It’s an event where you do things you didn’t think you could, would or even should!
I’ve got a unique take on how to train for Tough Mudder because I’ve done the event a couple of times and I earn a living teaching people how to train.
I googled around for Tough Mudder training programmes and found the usual suspects pumping out utter crap – 8 weeks of circuit training style workouts.
Explain to me how 60 seconds worth of mountain climbers are going to help you during Tough Mudder…
Anyway, to rectify the problem I’ve put together a Tough Mudder training plan. One that explains what you’ll need to do, the areas of your fitness you’ll need to work on and how to incorporate them into a wider programme. Read on you’ll learn why the programme looks the way it does…
So how do you train for Tough Mudder?
First of all, understand that it’s completely different from a normal running race, the physical and mental demands are far beyond what you’d encounter on a standard run. For that reason alone, treat training for this totally differently. You can’t rely and running alone to prepare you for Tough Mudder.
Let’s break down Tough Mudder into it’s physical demands and then we can understand how to train for the event as a whole.
Tough Mudder is an (approximate) 12 mile obstacle course race. The race is run over mud, grass, dirt track and in some sections, tarmac. The terrain is a mixture of both flat and hills and the obstacles are massively varied – they include mud obstacles, carrying obstacles, cold waster obstacles, sprint obstacles, climbing obstacles and teamwork obstacles.
Tough Mudder will test every one of your physical attributes in a single event, so training for it has to cover a lot of bases!
Tough Mudder Cardio
First and foremost, you need to get used to running. You can’t get away with this one. It’s fundamental to the event, so there’s no hiding place. The good news is that although the event is around 12 miles, there’s no need to train for 12 miles – the longest section of continuous running seems to be around 1.5 miles.
It’s far more important that you can run short/medium distances (1-2 miles) repeatedly, than longer distances (8-12 miles) in a single go. Preparing for this kind of running is easier, both in terms of time and effort.
In terms of preparing for this element of Tough Mudder, if you’ve got a Park Run local to you, jump on board. It’s perfect, especially if you can find one that includes a few hills and off-road sections. My local ones do exactly that.
Why use Park Run when training for Tough Mudder?
There’s a few reasons as to why I suggest you use park run over road running…
- They are measured, so you know you are training the right length each time.
- Park Run track your data, so you can accurately gauge progress.
- They include off-road running in a lot of courses, preparing you with the off-road nature of Tough Mudder.
- They are mass-participation, so you can get used to running in a big group.
- Park Run are really common and popular so you’ll probably be able to find one close to home.
The cardio element of my Tough Mudder training has been done by joining in Park Run or following the route on days when their run isn’t on but I’m free to train. Depending on your running ability, aim for 2-4 sessions per week and don’t worry about doing more than 5km.
Practice Running on Uneven Terrain
When it comes to running, the obvious thing would be to just head out and pound the pavement. The reason I advise against this is because it doesn’t replicate the event sufficiently and therefore doesn’t prepare your connective tissues adequately for the event ahead.
It will improve your running of course, but why not kill two birds with one stone and run in a park, across fields, through the woods etc and improve your cardio and running whilst improving your joints’ ability to cope with the uneven terrain?
By the way, whilst we’re on the subject of running on uneven terrain and muddy, un-natural surfaces, you’ve got to think about the footwear you’ll be sporting. Doing Tough Mudder in normal trainers is possible, but you’ll make the whole thing a lot easier, grippier and less risky from an injury point of view if you wear shoes that are fit for purpose.
These Tough Mudder specific shoes from Merrell are PERFECT – you won’t find anything better for the event. They’ve been specifically designed from the ground up for the demands of running up and over obstacles in the mud and water!
Start Hill Running
In Tough Mudder you’ll have to run up hills. Aside from the technique difference, it’s also physically far more demanding than running on the flat. Rather than ham-fist my way around advising on hill running technique, I’d rather leave it in the hands of the professionals, so here is a great guide from Runners Connect…
Part of my reasoning for you using Park Runs to get your running in is that hills are included in the courses, so you’ve no choice but to practice running up hills. If you aren’t a habitual hill runner, I’d get plenty of practice in before Tough Mudder.
Of course the crossover benefit from all the hill running is that you’ll improve your cardio and running fitness significantly quicker.
Get Used to Cold Water
Here are the bits that no amount of physical training will prepare you for – the cold. If you’re like me, splashing about in freezing water isn’t my idea of fun. That being said, who wants to stay in their comfort zone all of their lives? Not moi.
There’s only one obstacle that contains freezing cold water and that’s the Artic Enema. Thankfully, it’s over in a flash….
Other than ice baths, the only advice I have for preparing yourself for the cold water exposure is to familiarise yourself with cold water plenty of times before you head into Arctic Enema for the first time!
Obvious ways to do this….
- At the end of your shower, turn it to cold and stay under for a while.
- If you have access to a cold water plunge-pool at your gym, use it weekly!
- Do you live by the sea? Get in it – without a wetsuit!
I have it on good authority that like other physical abilities, your ability to cope with cold water improves the more you practice it, so expose yourself to the cold often in the build up!
I found this page on Wim Hof’s (also known as the ‘Ice Man’ for his record-breaking cold exposure feats) website which gives some advice on preparing for cold water exposure…
This is me doing Arctic Enema in my first Tough Mudder. Those lumps are ice cubes…
Improve Your Grip Strength
Many of the obstacles in Tough Mudder require upper body strength, but when training for upper body strength almost everyone forgets a fundamental aspect of upper body strength – grip.
During Tough Mudder, the obstacles get wet. They get muddy. They are hard to hold on to, especially when you’re tired, cold and wet yourself! For this reason it’s vital you improve your grip strength to give you the best possible chance of succeeding on the obstacles.
When it comes to improving your grip strength, forget the little grip strength contraptions – pick up some heavy stuff. Simple as that. In terms of the best exercises for grip strength, you can’t look any further than Farmers Walks and Passive Bar Hangs…
Improve Your Pulling Strength
When training for Tough Mudder, upper body strength is important, but the right kind of upper body strength is vital.
Most of the obstacles requiring upper body strength need pulling strength, not pushing strength. For that reason, those programmes suggesting set after set of bench press and push ups are a waste of time – you’re not going to do much in the way of pushing, if any at all.
Pulling, you’ll do lots of – practice your pull ups, practice climbing a rope and climbing on top of walls from the floor.
Deadlifting is pretty much the king of the pulling exercises, plus when you start getting up to the heavy weights you give your grip plenty of training too.
When you train for Tough Mudder, keep your deadlifting at the heavy end of what you can safely lift – there is no real benefit to training in the 10+ rep ranges. You’re here to work on strength and grip strength, not your endurance.
Pull Ups are another great exercise when you train for Tough Mudder. Having the ability to pull your body weight up repeatedly is important – there are a number of obstacles in Tough Mudder that require pulling strength.
I’d aim for the ability to do at least 6 for men and 2 for women.
Another exercise that I think is fantastic and key when you train for Tough Mudder is rope pulls. You can easily increase the weight on the end on the rope, meaning you can make the exercise significantly harder, very quickly.
Attach a heavy weight to a long rope and pull. Rope climbs are also effective – improving both grip strength and back strength.
If you’re already strong, go with rope climbs – the king of all rope exercises!
Whatever rope work you do, try to make sure some is included as pulling your body weight along a rope is a fairly regular feature of the Tough Mudder obstacles.
Work on Injury Prevention
If you don’t usually train and are throwing yourself in at the deep end, you’ll need to really look after your body from a recovery standpoint. I like saunas for recovery (here’s why) and also practice regular foam rolling – I use this one, but any one will do as long as it’s hard – if it’s too soft it just doesn’t seem to work as well…
I also think a good stretching routine works wonders for post-exercise recovery. I know that my girlfriend (a regular runner) swears by her yoga practice and credits this with clearing up some niggly running injuries she’s suffered from over the years.
Of course this is anecdotal evidence, but she is a musculoskeletal physiotherapist so knows a thing or two about injuries! The yoga works because it involves stretching, but if attending a yoga class forces you into a thorough stretching session, go for it!
Failing that, this YouTube video is a running-specific yoga class that can be done in your own home…
Don’t Neglect Your Nutrition
This year I’m doing it with the support of For Goodness Shakes. They’re supplying my team and I with protein supplements which are going to be invaluable for helping our bodies repair and regenerate with all of the training they’re doing!
For more dietary information, give this a read. It’s a snapshot on how to build a diet that suits you, your lifestyle and your goals.
Sound nutrition is key, so don’t expect to train and perform well when you’re fuelled by chocolate and doughnuts. Eat plenty of vegetables, hydrate fully, hit your protein and car requirements. Supplement appropriately and you’re good to go.
How To Train for Tough Mudder – The Guide
I’ve outlined the key elements of how to train for Tough Mudder and here is a programme that when followed, will get you through it….
There may be exercises on the programme you’re unfamiliar with – if that’s the case, no problem. Go to my Hoyles Fitness YouTube channel and they’ll be there. If not, check this post for videos of exercises I’ve mentioned.
Of course it doesn’t include telling you when to head into the sauna or how to gradually increase your exposure to cold water, but it’s a pretty solid guide that will get you through the fantastic challenge that is Tough Mudder!
This Tough Mudder training guide won’t look like most of the other Tough Mudder training plans you’ll come across on the internet, but remember a few things…
- I’ve done Tough Mudder three times. I’m really familiar with it. This is a programme designed with the event in mind.
- I write training programmes for a living – it’s my job to help people get fit and exercise properly.
- My content isn’t paid for by advertisers – it’s what works, not what I’m paid to say!
Here’s the how to train for Tough Mudder guide again…
If nothing else, it’s a fantastic cross training programme that’ll not only prepare you for Tough Mudder, it’ll also improve your overall fitness, your physique and will help you shift some weight – not a bad return for 8 weeks of exercise!
If you have any questions about the Tough Mudder training guide, get in touch. If you like it and think someone else could benefit from it, share the post – the more eyes on it, the better!
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