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The Only Workout You Need to Train for an Obstacle Race

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Obstacle course races, such as Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac, and Spartan Race, have revolutionized the way people think about strength, perseverance, and grit. Although it takes determination to run a 10K, obstacle-style races pull from a different strain of mental fortitude and challenge muscles you never knew you had. (If you're still on the fence about signing up for one of these races, here are a few more reasons why you should bite the bullet and get ready to get dirty.)

These events reignite the primal athlete inside you (you know you secretly love getting dirty), so your training should be just as savage. A moderate-speed jog on the treadmill isn't gonna cut it.

"The biggest mistake you could make when training for an obstacle course race is not taking a 360-degree approach that preps your body for nontraditional crawling, hanging, pulling, and pushing obstacles," says Anytime Fitness trainer Rachel Prairie.

Here are her five essential moves to prep physically and mentally to conquer the fire, walls, mud, and monkey bars.

How to do it: Complete this 30-minute, five-move training workout at least two times a week, coupled with regular HIIT classes and foam rolling to work out the kinks. If you give it all you've got, you'll reap the agility, speed, and mobility benefits in half the time of a 60-minute treadmill run, and you'll work multiple muscle groups in the process. By the time race day comes, it will feel closer to playing in the mud than suffering through a dozen dirty obstacles.

What you'll need: Dumbbells (or barbell), pull-up bar (or similar), medicine ball

1. Plank Sequence

"Obstacle course races rely on mastering your body weight," says Prairie, which is why she says to start each training session with this plank sequence that strengthens the muscles used for quick crawling.

  • Plank with Ankle Touch: Begin in plank position. Bring right knee in toward chest and tap left hand to inside of the right ankle. (Almost like you're getting into pigeon pose in yoga.) Return foot to floor and repeat on opposite side, tapping right hand to left ankle. Continue alternating sides. Complete 10 reps on each side.
  • High Plank with Arm Reach: Lift right hand off the ground and reach directly forward in line with your shoulder. (Similarly to a bird dog position without lifting leg as well.) Place hand back on the floor. Repeat on opposite side, lifting left hand off the ground. Continue alternating sides. Complete 10 reps on each side.
  • Forearm Plank Hip Drop: Beginning in a forearm plank, drop right hip toward ground, hovering just above the floor. Bring hips back to neutral before dropping left hip to hover above the floor. Repeat pattern. Complete 10 reps on each side. Drop down to forearms and let right hip drop to the ground, hovering just above the floor. Bring hips back to neutral and drop to the left side. Repeat for 10 reps on each side.

Complete 3 or 4 sets with a 60-second rest in between.

2. Squat to Shoulder Press

This total-body motion increases strength and, if performed quickly in short bursts, builds fast-twitch muscle fibers, which can increase your overall obstacle course race speed. "If you have to jump to grab something in the race, your muscles will fire faster," says Prairie. Think: grabbing the handles of the sky-high monkey bars.

  • Using a set of light dumbbells or a barbell (grip the bar slightly wider than shoulders), bring weight to rest in racked position near chest at shoulder-height and sit back into a low squat. Press through heels and drive weight directly overhead as you come to standing, squeezing glutes as you rise. Slowly lower weight back to racked position and repeat movement.

Complete 3 to 4 sets of 20 reps.

3. Pull-Up

Obstacles that require a pull-up motion are "going to be the hardest thing you do in an obstacle course race," says Prairie. Plus, with mud, water, and sweat involved, gripping the bar, rope, ladder, etc., could be even trickier. Luckily, if you're struggling, a teammate or a helpful fellow racer can assist you, so don't worry if you can't successfully do a pull-up on your own just yet. These tricks can help you build strength to get there, though. Whether you start on a suspension trainer or loop a band over the bars to give you a boost, Prairie says that "practicing the movement over and over again is crucial." Here's how.

  • Using rings, bars, monkey bars, or a suspension trainer, grab on with both hands. Using your back, chest, abs, and arms, pull your body up, chest lifted, and ideally, chin above the bar. Slowly, with control, return down to a dead hang. Repeat.

Complete as many reps as you can within 10 to 15 minutes, resting or modifying as needed.

4. Frog Squat Thrust

Build endurance and mimic the heart-pumping effects of cardio with this one move. If you know the feeling of wanting to quit when you're doing that twentieth burpee, then you'll recognize the mental strength it takes to get through these squat thrusts, and you'll need that mental endurance during your race. "Part of an obstacle course race is being mentally prepared to power through the discomfort and pain," says Prairie.

  • Start by standing. Quickly place palms on floor in front of you and hop or step back into high plank. Without lifting palms, hop or step feet wide to the outside of arms and, using your legs, quickly come to standing and jump at the top. Repeat movement, going for speed.

Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

5. Medicine Ball Slam

This is another total-body badass exercise that simultaneously fires your core. "This exercise will help you remain steady and strong on uneven surfaces, swings, rings, and sandbags," says Prairie. This exercise should be performed at max effort.

  • Holding a moderately heavy medicine ball, stand with feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Rise to your toes with the ball above your head. Slam the ball down as hard as you can between your legs. Squat to pick up the ball and repeat the movement.

Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

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