Congratulations! You’ve paid the fees and committed yourself to the Spartan Beast: a 21km trail run with over 30 obstacles to overcome.
How do you train for this? This post outlines the four components of a weekly training program – four legs of a chair that will sturdily support you!
- The Easy-Pace Long Run
- MovNat Session
- High-Intensity Metabolic Conditioning
- Grip Strength
What makes a good training program? It depends on what your goals are, where you are starting from, and how much time you have. The program I outline here has the following assumptions:
- You are starting with a base level of health and fitness. You aren’t a couch potato, and your not a professional athlete, you are somewhere in between.
- You want to enjoy the event, stay injury-free, and finish somewhere in the middle-to-front half of the pack.
- You have a busy life and are looking for a minimium effective dose.
- You have at least four to six months to prepare.
If the above doesn’t suit your situation perfectly you’ll want to tweak certain aspects of this protocol but it will provide a program you can easily customize to your specific situation.
1. The Easy-Pace Long Run: once per week complete a run at a pace you can maintain a conversation and breathe through your nose. If you are using a heart rate monitor, think Zone 2 on the 4-zone scale. Keep your heart rate below 180 minus your age (140 beats per minute for a 40-year-old).
Your starting duration should be short enough that you don’t feel significant aches or pains and you recover easily. Each week, lengthen the run by 5 minutes. Even if you are not currently a runner and can only run 15 minutes comfortably, 6 months is sufficient to get ready. Following this protocol will have you running up to 2 hours and 15-minutes within 6 months and that’s a decent base to complete the Beast with grace and style!
Ideally, choose variable terrain trail runs rather than roads for the bulk of your running. You’ll likely have to walk up the steep hills to keep your heart rate in zone 2, but don’t worry that is normal.
2. MovNat Sessions: once per week complete a MovNat workout. You can find and subscribe to free MovNat workouts at this link. The MovNat workouts will dial in your body for all the obstacles coming your way. The sessions train: agility, balance, crawling, jumping, landing, hanging, pulling, swinging, and throwing. A MovNat workout can be completed with minimal equipment and takes 45-60 minutes to complete.
3. High-Intensity Metabolic Conditioning: once per week complete a short intense workout that leaves you doubled over and gasping for air. It doesn’t need to last more than 10-20 minutes, and interval workouts that include periods of rest are ideal. Incorporating burpees and sprints will serve you well: the burpees will prepare you for the burpee penalties you [hopefully don’t] encounter, and the sprints will improve your running capacity. During the race, some of the obstacles and steep hills are going to jack your heart rate and these sessions will prepare you for that. Here are a few sample workouts to take you into the pain cave – the more time you spend in this cave now, the less time you’ll spend in it during the race!
- 100 burpees as fast as possible. Short & sweet, self explanatory. As you get closer to the event, push it to 150 burpees as fast as possible.
- 400m sprint – 4 minute rest – 300m sprint – 3 minute rest – 200m sprint – 2 minute rest – 100m sprint
- Tabata: choose four exercises (eg: pull ups, push ups, sit ups, and bodyweight squats). Do as many reps of the first exercise as you can in 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this cycle with the first exercise for 8 rounds (4 minutes). After the 8 rounds, move immediately into the second exercise for 8 rounds, and repeat with the third and fourth exercise. Total time is 16 minutes.
- 4 X 4 Protocol: work as hard as possible for 1 minute, slow to a recovery pace for 3 minutes, and repeat for four rounds. This protocol works well with sprinting, burpees, swimming, elliptical, xc skiing, skating, etc. Pick an activity that doesn’t aggravate any injuries you need to work around.
- Find more sprint workouts and learn how to properly prepare/warm-up for sprinting with Mark’s Daily Apple Definitive Guide to Sprinting.
- Bonus Points: I asked the Father of Kettlebells, Pavel Tsatsouline, for his advice on metabolic conditioning. He provided these tips: 5 Metabolic Conditioning Tips from the “Father of the Kettlebell” Pavel Tsatsouline.
4. Grip Strength: at least once per week hang until your grip fails. Seek to steadily improve the length of time you can hang, and seek out a variety of objects to grip (narrow bar, fat bar, sloped objects, pinch objects, etc.). Ideally, accomplish this at the end of a weekly climbing session (rock climbing, indoor climbing, bouldering) as the climbing skills will transfer to many of the Spartan obstacles and simultaneously develop your grip strength. Many of the Spartan obstacles will require grip strength and stamina and if you don’t train your grip this will be your bottleneck, even if you are very fit otherwise. Use Pavel Tsatsouline’s “grease the groove” technique and look for opportunities to challenge your grip wherever possible around your home, work, and in your workouts. Sprinkle in farmer carries, suitcase carries, kettlebell swings, deadlifts, fat bar deadlifts, etc.
Some final thoughts to keep in mind:
- As much as possible, do your training outside in a wide variety of weather conditions.
- Train with friends.
- If you have additional time to dedicate to training or want to be more competitive, consider doubling up on any of the four weekly sessions noted above. I suggest doubling up on your area of weakness, or you can also get a great return on investment by improving your running ability. You could add in an additional run session of 20-40 minutes where you practise pushing a faster running pace. If your upper body is weak, add in climbing sessions. If you are uncordinated, lack power, balance, or athleticism, do more MovNat.
- Mind your injuries: work on prehab/rehab mobility and flexibility a few minutes each day.
- Practise the javelin throw at least once or twice close to the race date. Here’s a short video that teaches proper javelin technique.
- Smile while you train, especially in the high-intensity sessions!