T Nation

Training for the Tough Mudder

At first I was planning to post this to the Mudder blog. But I realized that my whole approach to training for the Mudder was based on things I know from being on T-Nation. So here goes. It’s been quite an experience so far, and any feedback or questions are both welcome and appreciated.

In early January 2012 a colleague at work asked if Iâ??d be interested in putting together a team for an upcoming Tough Mudder event. Iâ??d never heard of it before, so I Googled Tough Mudder that night and watched a number of YouTube videos on past events from 2011. The next day at work, my answer to him was â??Hell, Yes!â??

We were able to confirm shortly thereafter this event would be a full 12 miles with a total of 27 obstacles. At that point, we were just over 15 weeks out from the event. Knowing that I was pushing 42 years of age and hadnâ??t done any running since 2006, I had to quickly put together a training regimen that would allow me to be ready for the Mudder by Week 14. From reading several Triathlon blogs, I was able to determine the week before the event needed to be set aside for recovery and refueling.

First off, I had to list my goals for the training program. Maintain or improve base strength, improve grip strength, overall agility and explosiveness, and drastically improve my endurance (especially on off-road, uneven terrain). At first, these seemed like contradictory goals, and part of me wasnâ??t sure if I was biting off more than I could chew. But I decided to use my 20 years of training experience to put together a program, devote the next 15 weeks of my life to it, and let the chips fall.

I had just come off a mass phase where I increased my bodyweight from 180 to 190 and had made major improvements to my overall strength. I expected to lose most of the bodyweight I had just gained but wanted to maintain as much base strength as possible.

My plan was to keep the resistance training simple and functional. I chose mostly unilateral movements for lower body to mirror the movement patterns Iâ??d be experiencing during the event. Step-ups, split squats and single-leg RDLâ??s. I also threw in box jumps to try and improve my agility and explosiveness. Upper body was various pull-up variations (especially towels) for back , both weighted and unweighted. Various versions of push-ups and dips for chest, as well as dumbbell push presses and barbell clean & presses for shoulders.

Functional training started with tossing my wrist straps in a drawer for the duration. Grip strength has always been a weak point, so I decided to hit that one hard from the get-go. I also started hitting the local playground and performed multiple sets on the monkey bars, finishing with dead hangs to failure, to try and improve my functional upper body strength for various obstacles. I also started jumping and climbing over any apparatus the playground was able to provide.

Conditioning training was a combination of sprint workouts to try and improve overall VO2 max and interval recovery (which is a big part of the Mudder) and slower, steadier paced trail runs of ever-increasing length (finishing with a 10-miler two weeks out from the event).

Weekly programming would be two weighted resistance workouts (total body), one bodyweight resistance workout (total body) and two conditioning workouts. Resistance workouts would consist of one lower, one push and one pull exercise for 3 sets of 5-6 reps each. The bodyweight workout would be 4-5 sets of max reps. The plan was to switch to two resistance workouts and three conditioning workouts at week 7 or 8 if my conditioning wasnâ??t coming along as planned. I was also going to use alternating sets, supersets and giant sets to help with overall work capacity and conditioning also.

I knew that aside from training my nutrition and supplementation would probably make or break me. Basic macros would be high carb, moderate protein and low-moderate fat. Refined carbs were out the door, and I would rely on natural granola, potatoes, rice, fruits and veggies for my carb sources. Protein would be lean meats, Omega-3 eggs and whey protein. And I would rotate my fats weekly. Coconut oil, walnut oil, macadamia oil, olive oil, almond butter and natural peanut butter. And fish and salmon oil, of course. Generally, Iâ??d pick two for the week and then rotate. Peri-workout/post-workout nutrition would include Surge Recovery, chocolate milk/banana or Gatorade/amino acids depending on the particular workout that day (5 grams of creatine as a staple).

From past history, I knew training five days a week would quickly put my T levels in the shitter. I had two options to deal with that eventuality: add a natural T booster like Alpha Male or rely solely on proper nutrition. I also did a cost benefit analysis. My typical multi-vitamin/multi-mineral plus Alpha Male was a little cheaper than Superfood plus Elite-Pro Minerals. But the articles Iâ??d read on Superfood and Elite-Pro were very compelling. In the end, I decided to forego the T booster route and crank up my nutrition into the stratosphere to try and keep my hormone levels where they needed to be. I knew I also had an ace in the hole with my choice of fats and fish oils. Two heaping scoops of Superfood with breakfast and one serving of Elite-Pro before bed.

I was also going to add Spike tablets before my most intense workouts and use Power Drive liberally to help with CNS recovery. I knew my CNS was going to get blasted by the volume of work I had planned.

Well, that was the plan back in January. Time for a progress update. I just started Week 11, and the results have been amazing. Iâ??ve increased my strength across the board. Every single exercise. My box jump height has improved significantly. My grip strength on monkey bars and various apparatus is light years ahead of what it was when I started. And my endurance has gone through the roof. My first 2-mile trail run just about killed me. But Iâ??ve since done 6 miles twice, as well as one 8-miler. And Iâ??ve graduated from sprints at the local football field to hill sprints at the park where I do my trail runs. And my run times are right on what it typically takes for people to complete the Mudder.

And the biggest surprise — Iâ??ve only lost about a pound of bodyweight!

The combination of training and nutritional knowledge Iâ??ve gained from reading T-Nation all these years has been invaluable. And Iâ??m totally sold on the combination of Superfood and Elite-Pro. Using the â??morning tent poleâ?? as a barometer of my T levels, as well as my day-to-day recovery, this combination of supplements has had a phenomenal effect on my training. I was recently forced to take five days off due to work-related travel. I deliberately overtrained the two weeks before my trip, and maintained these two supplements while I was on the road. After those five days, I can say with certainty that my T levels are now â??high normalâ??. Just ask my wife! And my first workout back from the trip? Stronger than I was a week ago. I also credit this supplement combo with keeping me from getting nothing more than a minor head cold despite the rampant illness at my place of work these last three months.

Looking back recently, I realized that my entire approach to training for the Mudder came from articles Iâ??ve read over the years here on T-Nation. Training, nutrition, supplementation, managing recovery, managing workload and work capacity, all of it. Without all the knowledge Iâ??ve gained here, doing the Mudder at 42 years old would have been a pipe dream.

But, here I am at four weeks out, supremely confident that my training has been far tougher than the Mudder will be. Iâ??ll be going in both strong and healthy, which will let me enjoy the event rather than dreading it.

Iâ??ll follow up in four weeks once the event is over. But for the moment — thanks for everything T-Nation.

There were a few questions that popped into my head while I was training today that folks might be curious about:

Where are some of Biotest’s other high speed supplements that may have had a significant impact on your training?

My budget for this endeavor was substantial but not unlimited. I started out with known, fixed costs: entry fee, hotel room, road trip to the Cleveland area, high performance clothing for both cold and hot weather, food, etc. From there, I developed a supplement base that I decided I couldnâ??t live without: Superfood, ELITEPRO, Spike, Power Drive, whey protein. I had other supplements on a wish list that I would use if I could afford it: Indigo-3G, Surge Workout Fuel, ANACONDA/MAG-10 and Surge Recovery. Id used Surge Workout Fule in the past and knew what it could do.

And Id been dying to use both Indigo-3G and the ANACONDA Protocol since they came out. Unfortunately, I almost immediately had to eliminate this entire list. The numbers dont lie, and a budget is a budget. I figured I could afford to use Surge Recovery but not 5 days a week. So, I would use Surge for those workouts that were high intensity and/or long duration that significantly depleted me. Id read some articles about chocolate milk being a decent substitute. So, I decided to give it a shot with the understanding that if it didnt cut it, Id eat the extra cost and use Surge exclusively. For resistance workouts under an hour, its turned out to be adequate (I added a banana for the hell of it which has turned out to be a good call), but I still use Surge for everything else.

Whats up with the Gatorade/amino acid thing? Wouldnâ??t FINiBARs be a better choice?

After reading several Mudder and Triathlon blogs, I discovered that conditioning training nutrition is a very individual thing. I tried both bars and carb/whey hydrolysate at first and quickly found out that my stomach cant handle either of those before or during conditioning workouts. Most Mudders and Triathletes seem to use either carbs only or carbs/amino acids. I switched to carbs/BCAA pills which were better but carbs/BCAA powder turned out to be the best combo for me. I use the Gatorade version with sucrose/dextrose as the carb source. Over time, Ive actually found out that for resistance training I handle BCAAs only a lot better than the traditional carb/protein mix peri-workout. I save carb/protein for 30 min post.

Whats been the best mix of short vs. long duration conditioning training?

I discovered after my 6-mile and 8-mile trail runs that they beat up my lower body so bad that my other conditioning workout for the week suffered significantly. My legs were so trashed that I couldnt challenge my lungs sufficiently. My work intervals were so slow I doubt you could tell I was trying to sprint. So, Ive actually cut back on the trail distance and upped the pace. It seems to challenge my lower body the same but allows me to work on my cardio capacity a lot harder. By doing so, my cardio capacity has improved substantially over the last few weeks. For the last three weeks of training I plan to reverse this trend to get my body used to being under load for 3-4 hours since my cardio capacity is about where I want it to be. Ill be doing a 6-mile, 8-mile and 10-mile trail run before starting my maintenance/recovery week.

How did you develop the proper mix of resistance vs. conditioning?

After week 4 I actually lowered my weight training volume from 5-6x5-6 reps to 3x5-6 reps. I was starting to overtrain, so I listened to my body and backed off. My entire training program got kick started by doing that and has continued to improve ever since. For my bodyweight workout, Iâ??ve thrown in a few 10x10 sub-maximal workouts vs. 5 x max, and its definitely helped with recovery. I planned to switch the mix of resistance to conditioning if I wasnt improving at the required pace, but that hasnt turned out to be the case, so Ive kept the split the same. I think using alternating, super set and giant sets has helped to include some conditioning into my resistance workouts.

Good luck! It’s a great time. I’ve run New Jersey, Austin, Pennsylvania and NEw England. The obstacles break up the monotony of the distance and everyone is there to encourage you and give a hand if need be. I highly recommend trying a GORUCK challenge if you like this race and want to continue to challenge yourself like this.

Iron Bubba, you and I are roughly the same age and size. I ran Tough Mudder last summer. Strength is a non-factor if you are decently strong at all. The strength obstacles are easy. The water is bone-chilling cold, and will shock you when you are first immersed. Injury potential is real, as my son found out, and countless others at the not really emergency clinic discovered. The electrical wires at the end give you only a moderate buzz, and hopefully you are sprinting at that point to be done with it.

The main thing, the ONLY thing that you need to worry about is relentless, mile after mile, mountain climbing. This is like loading up a prowler and pushing it for 3-hours. At some point, I was reduced to bear crawling b/c I could no longer move on two legs up the mountain.

The only thing that was sore was my traps from helping push and lift female competitors over the walls. I stress again, work on cardio and hill climbing. You should be good for everything else.


I hear what you’re saying about being too worried about strength and the obstacles. My team has done a few makeshift obstacle courses at the local playground, and I found out quickly that my current grip and pull-up strength were more than adequate. I’ve recently been using my low volume strength workouts as just a way to make sure I don’t lose much fast twitch fiber as we start to work on longer distances. Although, I know that’s bound to happen. Luckily, the park where we train has plenty of hills of varying distance and steepness. And I’ve made that an ever-increasing focus. It’s good to know that I’m on the right track. Thanks for the info!

Hey guys, thought i’d chime in. I’ve signed up for the tough mudda uk in may, first one to be held over here so there’s a real buzz among all the competitors I’ve spoken with. As for training I hate running, but I know this is the bit that will let me down. Posts on this thraed have re confirmed what i already suspected and that’s that the obstacles themselves aren’t going to be overly challenging and its the running that’s catches up to you.

I usually stick to strength training but leading up to the event i’ve been trying to do more and more circuits, usually consisting of a mile run followed some form of resistance exercise for 60 seconds, and then repeat several times alternating exercise and sticking to compound movements, also gave me an excuse to get the trx out :slight_smile:

Anyone reading this doing the tough mudder west midlands on may 12th? I’ve set up a team with 5 mates so if there’s any lone rangers out there looking for a team or simply wanna catch a few drinks at the end with a fellow t-natoner give me a shout.

I am doing one in August!

+1 on the Goruck Challenge. It’s like none other. You can prepare for a Challenge, but it seemed to me like you couldn’t be ready for it. It’s going to suck 30 minutes into it and it’ll keep sucking 'till the sun comes up the next day. But completing the Challenge felt like winning a championship. Nothing like going to the bar downtown Chicago at 7:50 am…

For Tough Mudder, I switched up my training from 5x5 / Pyramid to the following:

  1. Push/Pull circuits for strength (Rows/Bench, DB press, DB reverse fly, and legs, etc)
  2. Bodyweight training circuits for endurance. The key is to time your circuits and push past the DFQ phase. If you’re not talking yourself out of cutting out the last 2-3 circuits, you’re doing it wrong.
  3. Running/Rucking. I don’t think I ran more than 6 miles at my max, but I would run 2.25 at a good clip (7.5-7.8 mph). I haven’t run since HS and I only started running to get in shape for Tough Mudder. I’d ruck with 25-40 lbs anywhere between 20-60 minutes. Tried to keep 5mph average.

The strength days are the best. The circuits/running days really sucked because the rep count is high and there’s something about keeping high intensity cardio up for prolonged times. To me, it was like holding a hot curling iron as long as you could. When I ran TM, I was glad I did it. I passed all the obstacles by myself (except Everest) and went back to help others. It’s a great time.

I’ve run 5 TMs and I’m running a Saturday/Sunday this September. I’ll be loafing the 1st TM (with my father in law and out of shape brother-in-law) but Sunday will be much more intense. It’s quite a change up to do something with the strength/fitness we build over the years.

I’m training for the 12 mile Spartan Beast and my only change is to have a longer LSD one day a week.

I haven’t done any of these obstacle/mud/adventure races, but they look like a good time and a good challenge. I’m not planning on training too seriously for one, but want to know what I’m getting into. Which one is more “serious”… Spartan Race or Tough Mudder? I’ve heard good things about both.

Captain B I have done them both and the spartan beast is definetely harder than the tough mudder. In Spartan they try to break you and make it a mental game for the last few miles where as in Tough Mudder it is more comrodary and go at your leisure in Spartan it is timed so most try to get their best time.

But in Spartan there are also 2 other distances a sprint usually 3-5 and the super is 8-10 miles. But if you do plan on doing one they usually use alot of hills so any extra hill climbing you do will only help you.

Since my last post I’ve found I’ve had to change my routine considerably. I’ve dropped the sprint days and have added about 10 miles a week. Most of the runs are outside. The hard intervals are still on a treadmill so I can control the speed and stay on one angle because I live on a bunch of steep hills.

Is the rope on the rope climb in the Spartan race knotted?

The rope did have knots in it prior to this year but the 2 races i have done this year the rope didnt have knots. Definetely alot more people doing burpees for the penalty because they arent able to climb the rope without knots.

The step and stomp method of using your feet is really easy but I got to find a tree to practice/ learn it on. I live on five acres of woods but it’s second growth so no huge tree limbs.

That’s fantastic. Are you open to sharing your programming? I’m about to start the Beast training. Last one for the trifecta.

To whom are you asking?