Sometimes runners like to add a little flavor to the challenge of running. Enter the Spartan Race, a type of obstacle course race in which competitors must run, lift, climb, crawl, balance, throw, jump, and carry to complete the race distance, and you’ll do just that. Tall walls, heavy objects, mud, barbed wire, and sometimes fire, are involved in Spartan Races.
If training for a running race is confusing enough, what about how to train for a Spartan Race and be prepared to army crawl under barbed wire and throw your bodies over logs?
We’re here to help! We got with Spartan Race expert Heather Hart, an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and RRCA certified running coach, who has competed in and trained athletes in obstacle course races for more than a decade.
In this article we will cover:
- What is a Spartan Race?
- How to choose the right Spartan Race for you
- How long should you train for a Spartan Race?
- How to train for a Spartan Race.
- Why should someone do a Spartan Race?
- Common Spartan Race mistakes to avoid
- Spartan Race Day Tips
- 3 Spartan Race workouts and training schedule
So, let’s get started!
What is a Spartan Race?
The different Spartan Race distances include:
- The Spartan Sprint (3-5 miles and 20 obstacles)
- The Spartan Super ( 6-8 miles and 25 obstacles)
- The Spartan Beast (13-15 miles)
- The Ultra Beast (31+ miles, 60 obstacles)
How do you choose the right Spartan race for your first race?
There are three main considerations when choosing a Spartan Race:
- Look at the distance. Start narrowing your Spartan Race down by choosing a distance you are comfortable with.
- Look at the terrain. Many of these races are run on rugged terrain such as ski mountains or all-terrain courses PLUS obstacles.
- Look at the elevation loss and gain. Spartan Races commonly include giant climbs and descents on black diamond ski mountains. This is very slow going and physically demanding, says Hart.
Related: Running Downhill: Training & Tips
How long should you train for a Spartan race?
Assuming you have a baseline of fitness, you should train for at least one month for a Spartan Race with strength training moves that build your upper body and grip strength.
Ideally, you would train for two to three months for a Spartan race to adequately prepare for the challenge.
What can you expect at your first Spartan race?
At a Spartan Race, Hart says that:
- You can expect to get absolutely filthy.
- You can expect to get mud in places you never thought you would.
- You can expect to probably get cut up/scraped up a bit.
- MOST people can expect to find themselves face to face with something that makes them physically or mentally uncomfortable (likely both).
- You can expect to have a ton of fun.
Why do people love Spartan Races?
Spartan Races and other obstacle course races are popular because they push you both mentally and physically.
“The first time I climbed up and over an 8-foot wall, or to the top of a rope climb over a mud pit, I remember thinking ‘this is kind of scary, I could slip and fall at any moment…but hell yeah, I DID IT,’” shared Hart. “There’s a huge sense of confidence that comes with accomplishing tough tasks that you weren’t sure you were capable of.”
Plus, you get to splash in mud and climb over things, making you feel like a kid again which is “a ton of fun!”
How To train for a Spartan Race
Now that you’ve selected which Spartan Race you are going to participate in, how on Earth do you train for one? You break your training into 3 main components to cover the distance, handle the terrain, and conquer the obstacles.
- Cover the distance: First thing’s first, Spartan Races are still running races, so train to cover the distance the same you would for a half marathon or marathon, says Hart.
- Train for the terrain: Because most of the races happen on trails, ensure your training includes trail running and running through fields and mud.
- Build your upper body: You must also train for the obstacles by strengthening your upper body. Many of the obstacles include climbing over walls, climbing up ropes, carrying heavy sandbags or buckets, etc. Lift heavy things and focus on grip strength as well, advises Hart.
Finally, practice those burpees! Failed obstacles are penalized by 30 burpees before you go on. Some Spartan races have volunteers counting your burpees while others are on the honor system.
What does a typical training week look like for a Spartan Race?
How to train for a Spartan Race together running, trail running, and strength training. Below is what a typical Spartan Race training week for a beginner obstacle course racer:
- 3-4 days of running workouts: Most runs are done in heart rate zones one and two to build endurance. At least one workout is a harder effort. Depending on where the athlete is in the training cycle, these workouts will focus on building aerobic capacity, hill strength, speed, etc. Don’t forget to run trails!
- 3 days of strength training: This strength training can be done at home. Some gyms even have actual Spartan type equipment, like walls, ropes, etc.
The volume and intensity of the training increase with the competitiveness of the racer.
3 Spartan Race Workouts
Hart recommends the following three Spartan Race workouts. Tailor these workouts to your fitness and event but don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable. Push yourself to do things outside your comfort zone like new strength workouts or running with wet feet to amplify your confidence for race day.
#1: The HSEC OCR Ranger Run
An example workout:
- Run for 0.25 miles
- Perform 30 burpees
- Run for 0.25 miles
- Perform 20 pushups
- Run for 0.25 miles
- Perform 15 jump squats…and so on. Get creative!
#2: Weighted Hill Workout
Use a longer hill (that you can run at least 30 seconds up), and some sort of weight to hold in your hand like a sandbag, a bucket full of sand, etc.
After a thorough warm-up:
1) Run hard (but consistent) to the top of the hill (30-45 seconds, ideally)
2) Jog back down the hill
3) Pick up your weight, and now hike to the top of the hill
4) Hike the weight back down to the starting point
5) Recover for 2 minutes.
Repeat the above for desired time or distance.
#3: Strength Specific Workout
For Spartan athletes, we recommend using free weights (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.) instead of machines if possible to help with grip strength. Find a weight that you can safely and properly complete 6-10 repetitions, for 3-6 sets, with about 1-2 minutes rest between sets.
- Chest press or bench press
- Bent over row
- Goblet Squat
- Single Leg RDL
- Farmer Carry
- Plank weighted pull throughs
Sample Spartan Race Training Schedule
Now that you have the workouts, how to train for a Spartan Race correctly also includes a well-organized schedule:
- Monday – Strength workout
- Tuesday – HSEC OCR Ranger Run
- Wednesday – Strength workout
- Thursday – Run with hill repeats
- Friday – Strength Workout
- Saturday – Long run on trails
- Sunday – Total rest
3 Common Spartan Race mistakes to avoid:
Underestimate the challenge. Hart says many first-timers will sign up for a Spartan Sprint, and assume it’s akin to one of the more “fun mud runs”, with inflatable obstacles, and more of a party scene. Spartan races are more intense so be sure to do your homework on the obstacles and course!
Being underprepared. Be sure you can cover the distance. Don’t just focus on being able to clear the obstacles but able to run the miles as well.
Under-fueling. Just like with a running race, you need to prepare your hydration and nutrition. These races can take twice as long as a road race of equal distance, warns Hart. Be sure you are prepared to fuel for the total amount of time on your feet.
3 Spartan Race Day tips
Wear form-fitting, sweat-wicking clothing. You may not want to get your nice athletic clothes muddy, but Hart cautions against wearing old cotton clothes. These get heavy and will weigh you down and get caught on barbed wire, walls, and other obstacles.
Leave your expensive stuff at home. Everything is going to get caked in mud so leave everything at home, including that GPS watch!
Run with a team. Hart says racing as a team will make the experience more fun and help you push through tough obstacles.
Now that you know how to train for a Spartan Race, let’s get going!
We’d love to help you with your next running goals whether it’s how to train for a Spartan Race, a good old road race, or an ultra! Check out our training resources for the half marathon, marathon, ultra marathon, and beyond.