How to Train for a Tough Mudder

Tought Mudder Training

The tough mudder is a brutal, extreme sport challenge that will test both physical and mental limitations and push you past what you ever imagined you could possibly accomplish. This hardcore challenge was designed by the British Special Forces with the purpose of testing a persons mental and physical abilities, strength, stamina, fellowship and morale.

Here are my results from my first tough mudder race.

The tough mudder is an obstacle course comprised of 10 to 12 miles of running, climbing, pulling and pushing through mud, ice, fire and electric volts. It is not for the faint of heart and is a true test of what a human being is really capable of.

As you can imagine, the training required of any competitor that hopes to survive through the bitter end, needs to be extensive and thorough. In addition to ensuring your own behind crosses the finish line, this challenge expects you to help your fellow man or woman cross as well, putting your character to the test as much as your endurance.

You’ll need a true, full body workout program that is well put together and thought out in order to do your best at this challenge. Training for strength and endurance through all kinds of elements and conditions should all be priority one factors in your program.

When to Start Your Tough Mudder Training

The amount of time you’ll need to give yourself to train for an event like this really depends on your starting point. If you’re currently a couch potato, you’ll need a lot more time than someone that’s already putting in the work at the gym everyday.

Typically if you’re a fitness enthusiast, working out at least three to four times a week with an honest effort, you’ll likely want to schedule about 10 weeks to get ready for this challenge. If you’re brand new to fitness you may want to double that. Whatever your current level of fitness may be, the more time you have to prepare, the better off you’ll be, but six to ten weeks is the minimum recommended even for those true fitness buffs.

All-Terrain Running is Key

The terrain you’ll be running on during the event will be nothing like the smooth pavement rolling through a subdivision

The terrain you’ll be running on during the event will be nothing like the smooth pavement rolling through a subdivision. Photo: Eric Lanning, CC BY 2.0

The tough mudder races normally include as many hills as possible and the steeper the better so you will need to spend a lot of time running hill repeats. Each event is somewhat different in terms of terrain so you will need to check out the particular race you are interested in to really appreciate how many hills are involved and just how steep they are.

It is recommended that before entering the competition, you are already running at least a couple times a week for a distance of 5 miles. You certainly don’t need to be a seasoned marathoner, but a good solid base will provide the starting point that will be required to train for the additional mileage.

It should be noted that the terrain you’ll be running on during the event will be nothing like the smooth pavement rolling through your subdivision. During the race you will be subject to steep hills, over long distances of mud and sludge. If you have a steep, muddy trail nearby, that will be your new gym for the meat of your training. Training on the treadmill, track or asphalt just isn’t going to cut it.

Uphill running demands a huge effort from the hamstrings and calves and nothing will train those muscles more sport specifically than uphill running itself. Leave the calf raises for the bodybuilders.

Since the running within the competition is broken up with intermittent physical and mental strength challenges it’s best to break up your training runs in a similar fashion. Try using interval or fartlek training on your runs. Sprint for a pre determined amount of time or landmark distance and then ease off again, repeating the process over and over.

Full Body Strength Training

Tough Mudder full body training

Photo: Tough Mudder

Swinging from bars, climbing ropes, pulling other humans up over obstacles, crawling through the mud, running through tires and carrying logs or other heavy objects over long distances are all obstacles you will face that will require a great deal of physical strength. Keep in mind that once again, you are not doing these things in the cozy comfort of your gym, you are faced with elements that may be uncomfortable and unpredictable.

Every muscle is involved in the obstacles you will be subject to during a Tough Mudder. It is imperative that you train each muscle in a variety of ways, in all types of motions to really be prepared for the types of challenges that will be asked of you.

Since the obstacles are placed sporadically throughout the event, it makes sense to train with numerous exercises set up in a circuit format. This will keep the heart rate up, the muscles moving and guessing and will mimic the course as closely as possible.

Full body exercises are the key to your success. You will not be prepared to complete this event by doing barbell curls or crunches. You need exercises that mimic real life and real movements, involving as many muscle groups and body parts as possible. Power, explosiveness, strength and endurance will all be required of your body.

Exercises like squats, push presses, kettlebell swings, windmills, rows, pull ups, push ups, snatches and lateral lunges are all high energy, demanding movements that will create the effect on the muscular and endurance systems that you will so desperately need.

Be creative when setting up your circuits, involving as many planes of motion as possible. Try a circuit of one arm kettlebell snatches, pull ups, lateral lunge jumps, explosive push ups and dips or superset certain exercises like deadlifts and pull ups or kettlebell swings with weighted dips. These are the types of compound, dynamic moves that will prepare you for what’s to come.

Pay close attention to form and range of motion during your workouts. Poor form will only lead to injury and the failure to progress while a lack of range of motion will simply deny the full potential of a great workout. Alternate your running days with your strength training days and make sure to take at least one rest day to recover, This system will get you over the finish line and have you looking like a million bucks at the same time.

The Mental Component of Tough Mudder Training

The Mental Aspect

Photo: Tough Mudder

While the physical requirements of a Tough Mudder are certainly challenging, the mental requirements may be even more so.

Completing any physical competition requires a mind over matter type of attitude but when you add in mud, fire, ice water, cold and/or hot humid temperatures, mud, rain, smoke and then electric shocks, you’ll need much more focus than simply an “I think I can” attitude. The Tough Mudder is a true test of human will and perseverance.

Even though you may enter a Tough Mudder challenge as an individual, it is somewhat a team sport as well. The event is designed with the purpose of proving your skills for camaraderie as much as your strength and stamina capabilities.

During the event you may be asked numerous times to help your fellow competitor over a climbing wall, under the mesh or through the water. You may have to carry an injured participant or help a panicked participant through the swim or the electric shock component.

While there may not be a specific training program for this particular element, keep it in mind during your training. If you’re training with a partner, take turns being the hero as part of your preparation. It’s not just a fun, tough physical challenge; it’s also a test of the human spirit.

Try to mimic the elements you will encounter as much as possible in your training. Run in the pouring rain, the mud, the muck, cold or hot weather, depending on the time of year you’ll be competing and expect to be bumped, bruised and scraped.

What to Eat Before Tough Mudder

Eating for Tough Mudder
Don’t underestimate the importance of a well fed body. Nutrition is one of the most important things when it comes to all aspects of living well and is even more crucial when you’re beating up your body with consistent, hardcore training.

You will need lots of fresh fruit and vegetables to provide your system with the proper vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Lean sources of protein will be necessary in order to replenish and repair beaten down muscle tissue. Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, beans and vegetables will offer the energy you need to conquer the 10 to 12 miles that you’re faced with.

Make sure your diet is rich in whole, real foods and void of processed, sugary snacks and treats during your training for optimum performance.

Enjoying the Fruits of your Labour

If you train for a tough mudder properly, with the physical and mental determination that will be required from you during competition time, you’ll have no problem crossing the finish line.  Your hard work will pay off and you will enjoy the pride and satisfaction that comes with achieving what may seem an insurmountable goal.

Here’s a race preparation workout you can use