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Mud Runs Test Your Strength, Endurance & Grit


By Brian Klepacki, MS, CSCS, CISSN, FMS

SpartanRace-articleMud Runs and Adventure races have become the next fitness epidemic in the United States and for a good reason.

But if you think you are ‘fit’ enough to tackle one of these races, think again. These races are not for your average weekend gym rat. These are serious and will separate the men from the boys (or women from the girls ☺).

So even before we get into the gnarly 6-week program that I mapped out for you, let’s look at the history of these so-called mud/obstacle runs and adventure racing.

While they could be called the grandfather of all obstacle races, adventure races are some of the most intense, physically challenging endurance events in the world. Most of these events will require the use of various modes of transportation such as horseback, kayak, bike, arms, legs, etc.

In other words, you use whatever means necessary to get you from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time.   The term “Adventure Race” was coined by journalist Martin Dugard when describing the passion and challenges conquered by athletes in events such as the Eco-Challenge.

The Eco-Challenge, created by Mark Burnett of the TV show Survivor, was the world’s first adventure race and is considered by many to have put the sport on the map for all athletes looking for something extreme and adventurous to compete in.

Over the course of a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Eco-Challenge was reformatted in an attempt to make events more difficult and more exciting. In this process was the addition of the entirely self-encompassing sport of adventure racing through a mix of multiple different disciplines.

Today, you will find all different races throughout the year in all states and in remote countries around the world. Races like a local charity 5k obstacle course, The Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile team-oriented obstacle course, to the 4 Deserts Race, a 7 day, 250km foot race across the most extreme terrains on the planet.

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Whatever types of race interests you, there are requirements: physical fitness and mental toughness.

No matter the distance or degree of difficulty presented, you will need to follow a training program that will enable you to not only finish the race but to also look darn good in the photographs dominating the course.

There’s a strong possibility that if you are reading this, you’re already interested in adventure racing. And that’s great! Adventure racing is an experience that you’ll never forget and I guarantee that once you do your first race you will be hooked!

I don’t know about you but I am a competitor. I love to compete. Even if the race isn’t timed or there is no winner, I will still set my watch and run down anyone in front of me just because that’s what I’m driven to do. I know that’s the athlete in me but it’s also a primal instinct of our human design. We hate losing and rightfully so.

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Whatever your situation is you will still want to performance at your absolute best. Or maybe you’re a veteran racer and you’ve hit a plateau and just can’t figure out a way to get stronger and faster. Or maybe you just completed a race but had to bail out half way through because you’re training sucked. Regardless of how fit you think you are you will have something to gain from this program.

‘And remember, everyone responds differently to exercise but the main focus is following a set program to achieve your goals. Without goals you are running around in the dark wasting time. Modifications can be done to this program to accommodate your needs. Again, this program is a template for you to use in preparation for an adventure / obstacle race and in no way are we guaranteeing a first place finish or for you to walk away from your training / race without an injury. Adventure race training places great risks of injury on the body simply because that’s what these races are intended for: to push your body and your mind to the extreme and then cover it in dirt and blood. Mother Nature is not forgiving.’

Selecting Your Race:

Like I mentioned above, there are thousands of races to choose from but obviously you would want to start local. Do a quick internet search for ‘adventure race in (your city or state)’, ‘mud run’, or ‘obstacle course’ and go from there and select a race that appeals to you and go from there. Depending on where you live, I’m sure there is a least one race within a 1-2 hour drive from you and there’s a good chance it’s a sprint race.


A Sprint Race lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. These races are by far the most popular type of adventure race and also the most beginner oriented. The typical distance for a sprint will be between 3 – 6 miles on foot. Now throughout the course you will be faced with numerous obstacles, some man-made: running through tires, cargo nets, slip and slides, rope swings, vertical climbing walls, etc.

and some will be natural: swimming, mud pits, rocky terrain, rock climbing, etc. Because the races are shorter, teams are closer together and there is a ton of camaraderie and interaction with other racers during the race, I recommend this race to all first-timers to get a feel for the sport.

Many racers, after doing a few sprint races, long for an even greater challenge. The next stage of racing would be a Middle-Distance Race that would last anywhere from 2-6 hours. There are some important differences to know between a 3-mile race and a 13-mile race. Though the disciplines will be similar, the race itself will be much longer (7 – 15 miles) and much more challenging due to the number of obstacles.

The longer the race, the more obstacles you will have to battle and you might even have to use items or objects to finish the race: log carry, team canoes, zip-lines, and maybe even your own bicycle. These races will require your training to be geared more towards endurance simply because you are covering a greater distance. Now within this endurance event, strength is required so neglecting to do any type of strength training will limit you big time on the course.


The third type of race would be an Advanced or Extreme Adventure Race. This type of race isn’t for beginners or even those who classify themselves as fit. These advanced races will not be for everyone. These races will be at a minimum of 13 miles of running and that’s on the very low end. Some advanced racers would laugh at the 13 miles just because there are adventure races out there that cover 100+ miles of insane terrain.

Now in order to accomplish a race of this magnitude, man-made obstacles are very few. This is a no-brainer. Could you imagine a 50-mile race having 500 obstacles?! As fun as that would be, it’s nearly impossible for someone to finish that, let alone create that type of race. These extreme races will require you to run, bike, climb/trek, swim and paddle.

Since the more advanced races demand a much more personalized and thought out program, the two types of racing that we will focusing on in this program are the Sprint and Middle-Distance events. These races don’t necessary require you to go out and train 20-30 hours a week in preparation for your race. In reality, your week will look something like this if you stick to this program: 2-3 sessions per metabolic conditioning (a.k.a. metcon); 2-3 strength / power sessions; and 1-2 endurance-based sessions.

Having this format will allow you to successfully train all the systems of your body to properly prepare you for your race. Here are two sample weeks that would be for A) first-timer with little exercise background training for a 3-mile mud run and B) very active individual preparing for a 7-mile obstacle course with extensive exercise background:


As you can see that the work load is much greater in column B simply because that individual is coming from a much different background and the race that this athlete is training for is more than double the distance and obstacles. Again, this is a template that you can use to incorporate into your workout in order to fit your needs. The main focus is hitting all of the energy systems in the body but allowing the body to properly recover. Notice that each day there is a different focus for the novice athlete but for the advanced athlete you will see 2 sessions brought together. (i.e. strength in the morning, endurance or cardio in the evening). This is because strength can’t make you an endurance athlete and cardio can’t make you a strength athlete.


“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”  — Confucius

In this 6-week program I can guarantee TWO things will happen. First, you will thoroughly enjoy the mixture of complex and supplemental movements to attack every system and every muscle in your body. Second, YOU WILL GET STRONGER AND FASTER! This plan is based on big, functional movements that are not boring and definitely not found in most corporate settings.

Click Here for Your FREE 6-Week Training Guide for Obstacle Races & Mud Runs


Off-Season STRENGTH Training for Grid-Iron Warriors

By Brian Klepacki, MS, CSCS

Owner and Head Coach of Optimax Performance Training, LLC.
St. Petersburg Florida

American Football Game Action PhotoThe 2015-2016 NFL season is upon us and if you haven’t locked in your fantasy team yet time is almost up to get those rosters locked in. If you’re like me you love sports, especially football. I don’t care too much about the politics and all the nonsense that occurs off the field EXCEPT what happens in the weight room.

As a Strength Coach I love training athletes. I love everything about their training and how dedicated they are to taking their performance to the next level.

Sure they make a TON of money playing a game but I’ve seen first-hand how hard they work all year long. And you think spending an hour on the elliptical twice a week is hard?

You have no idea how hard these players train so before you start bashing professional athletes and how they are overpaid and lazy keep reading.

I have coached NFL players in the weight room and it’s impressive. These guys are STRONG and not just physically. They have mental toughness that is stupid crazy. They often laugh at and charge towards a challenge.

It’s what got them into the pros to begin with. The stuff that these guys go through is what sets them apart from everyone else.

American Football isn’t just about brute strength; it requires power, speed, agility, quickness and so on. However strength is a HUGE part of the player that can never be neglected when in the off-season.

There’s a saying amongst players, “HIT or BE HIT”. That pretty much sums up their mentality and rightfully so. Either you are the one hunting or you will be hunted. It’s a game of who’s better and these guys train with that in mind. If that’s not motivation then I don’t know what is.

Certain athletes are given incredible skills that might not have required a lifetime of intense training around the clock while some had to work a little harder just to make the bench.

Regardless of who worked hard or not I think it’s safe to say that any player in the NFL has and will continue to train harder than you and me. To me that’s an encouragement in itself.

I will never play in the NFL or any other professional sport for that matter but what I can do is continue to strive towards excellence and greatness just as they do.

Thanks to social media and the associated press we are able to get a glimpse into the training of athletes from all over the world. Videos and articles are pumped out almost daily showcasing an athlete off the field and what they do away from playing the game.

Most of what they do outside their game is train. It does make sense that they need to train so much for their job.

Think about it this way, they have a series of weekly consecutive presentations that they need to prepare for and if they fail to deliver a good product, they won’t make the cut or worse be fired from their job. Someone is always gunning for their job so they need to always be on their A-game.

How many hours a week do you work, 25, 50, 70 hours? Well I’d put my money on them working more than the national average and I guarantee their work is a little more physically demanding than ours.

Last season, JJ Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end, became the first player in NFL history to record 20+ quarterback sacks in a season two years in a row. By the way, it wasn’t from sitting around during his off-season.

Judging by a little snippet of his pre-season training regime he won’t be slowing down any time soon. Watt tweeted a picture of himself squatting a colossal amount of weight, which looked like roughly 585 pounds.

But to be clear, Watt stated in his tweet that it’s “NotAMaxOutRep,” suggesting that he performed multiple reps and/or sets at this weight. This deserves a #beastmode shoutout.

To shed more tackles and aggressively push defenders back upon the point of contact, NFL All-Pro running back Steven Jackson has been repeatedly seen manhandling a Prowler Sled Drive as an integral part of his off-season strongman training.

Reggie Bush of the Dolphins was also seen pushing the sled back and forth to get him even stronger than before! Bush fully believes in agility work and spent a good amount of his off-season freshening up and improving the quickness and precision of his footwork. Hopefully it’ll pay off and bring some wins to Miami (good luck on that one).

As a Strength Coach we apply the S.A.I.D. principle; ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’. In other words, if a defensive lineman needs to get stronger on his attack of the offensive line, he needs to train that particular movement pattern.

Doing a million pull-ups won’t benefit this ‘demand’ like a sled-push would. Players train specifically and intentionally to be the best in their playing position.

Strength / Power players (O&D line mostly) would follow an early off-season program similar to this in order to start relaying that solid foundation of strength:


Power Clean: 3×3 @ 60-70% max
Back Squats: 3×12-15 @60-70% max
Lunges: 3×12-15 each leg
Romanian Deadlifts: 3×12-15
Rear Delt Raises: 3×12-15
Technique Drills: 10-15 minutes
Sprints: 5×5 yards
Bounding: 3×10 yards
“M” Drill: 1×3
Standing Long Jump: 1×5


Push Jerk 3×3 @ 60-70%
Bench Press 3×12-15 @ 60-70%
Floor Press 3×12-15 @ 60-70% max of Bench Press
Bent-Over Rows 3×12-15
Standing Military Press – 3×12-15

Football is a game of athleticism and it’s definitely not just about brute strength. It takes total body conditioning to get in peak physical condition and NFL QB Tim Tebow’s metabolic conditioning circuit is no joke.

He might not go down as one of the league’s all-time passing leaders but there is one thing (really two) that he will always be remembered by, and that’s his hard work in the gym, (the second being his faith).

Here is an improvised version of a program that he followed this recent off-season:

Rapid Response Drills:

Perform several quick feet drills over a distance of 15 yards per variation

Vertical Set Circuit:

Using a barbell, perform a Clean High Pull, RDL, Low Row, Back Squat and Push Press


Sled Drives:

Stay low and push the sled for 20+ yards.

Explosive Bosu Push-Up:

Adds an upper-body power element to the circuit. Perform a normal push-up but on a Bosu ball. In the upward movement of the rep, explode off the ball and lift the Bosu ball off the floor.

Sledgehammer Tire Pull:

Using the sledgehammer allows you to stay tall and maintain proper body position when pulling the tire

Lateral Quick Feet Ladder Drill:

Improves footwork while in a fatigued state

Drop and Sprint Bag Drill:

Adds a position-specific movement to the circuit

And that’s just a conditioning circuit! Now here is a small sample of a strength workout that should be done immediately after the conditioning:

Incline Rotating Press:

Strengthens the chest, shoulders and triceps; rotate palms inward as you lower the dumbbells to the chest

Batwing Dumbbell Row:

Lying face down on incline bench with dumbbells, pull the dumbbells up while retracting the shoulder blades, hold for one count, and then lower the dumbbells to start position

Lumberjack Press:

With one end of a barbell resting on the floor pinned between two unmovable objects (like a corner of a wall), grasp the other end of the barbell with one hand, and then press the barbell out and in front of the body

If you think you are training hard think again. Take a few butt whooping lessons from the pros and you’ll be more than happy to be sitting on the couch Sunday afternoon watching those freaks destroy each other while you recover from only one of their workouts. With that said, GO BUCS!