Core Strength Training For Spartan Race And Tough Mudder

Core Muscle Training Is Vital To Spartan Race and Tough Mudder Success

Whether you're relatively new to fitness training or a seasoned gym veteran with the body to match you've no doubt heard all of the buzzwords around core training. There are television infomercials obsessed with giving the perfect six pack abs which the media seems to assume as a sign of fitness success.

The truth is that if you're looking at nailing your next Spartan Race or Tough Mudder the difference could be your core muscle strength training.

Everything at Spartan Race revolves around having strong core muscles
Everything at Spartan Race revolves around having strong core muscles

Obstacle Race Success Is Not About Simple Crunches

In reality those perfect model-like abs you see in the media might not actually have much of a purpose during a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder if they're been achieved through crunch after crunch. The traditional abdominal curl might give you the body form but certainly won't give you the body function required to be successful during a mud run or obstacle course race.

Core muscles training for events like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race requires a different approach to your workouts which will help to target the functional fitness of your muscles.

Suggested below are a number of exercises which will help develop a solid platform for race performance while providing excellent training for most sports where power is transferred through your body. Whether you're just beginning your training towards your first Spartan Race or looking to maximise and build upon previous performances.

Are Your Core Muscles Strong Enough For Obstacle Course Racing?

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Gym Exercises To Target Your Core Muscle Strength

When you're in the gym, consider added some or all of the below exercises into your sessions to help develop the kind of core muscle strength that will be specific towards the challenges of Tough Mudder and Spartan Race.

The below gym exercises for obstacle race success will challenge your body in ways that you may have not done so in the past. If you've never done so before, consider taking some TRX based classes at the gym to help gain an understanding of how the TRX system works and can aid your functional fitness too.

Russian Twists. The Ultimate Spartan Race Core Exercise

Sometimes known as Landmine 180's, The Russian Twist is an old school exercise which is seeing a real revival as functional fitness has started to become more applicable for sportspeople and exercisers in general.

Landmine 180's are an anti-rotational core exercise which have specificity towards movement patterns. Whether you're carrying a tire through a quagmire or swinging along a set of monkey bars this core exercise could really help in the quest towards better event performance.

As well as targeting your abdominal muscles for a challenging workout this exercise will also require action from your glutes, lower back, latissimus dorsi and shoulder muscles

How To Perform Russian Twists (Landmine 180's)

  1. Position a bar into a landmine securing system or alternately anchor it into a corner. At first you won't even need any additional weight.
  2. Raise the bar up to shoulder height with both hands with your arms extended in front of you.This will form your central point.
  3. Take a moderately wide legged stance with a slight bend in the knee
  4. The movement is performed by rotating the trunk and hips as you control the bar around it's axis down to one side of your body. Keep your arms extended throughout the exercise.
  5. Reverse the motion to swing the weight all the way to the opposite side. You'll really have to rotate through your trunk to perform a repetition
  6. Continue alternate side-to-side repetitions until the point of fatigue or a set number of reps is complete.

Landmine 180's / Russian Twists In Action

A Great Introduction To Core Strength Development For Beginners- Planks and Side Planks

The plank is one of the simplest yet often most overlooked exercise as part of many gym goers workout arsenal. They put a stress through the core of your body forcing the stabilizing muscles within your muscles to work hard. There are many variations on the plank but for any obstacle racer the first step has to be to master the relatively simple plank and side plank and then further variations can be utilized once the initial strength has been developed.

How To Perform A Plank

  1. Get into press-up position on the floor.
  2. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and allow your weight to rest on your forearms.
  3. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
  4. Hold the position for as long as you can while maintaining steady comfortable breathing.
  5. Any Tough Mudder or Spartan Racer's aim should be to hold a plank for up two minutes.

How To Perform A Plank- Stick Man Style!

A simple stick-man version of how to perform a plank exercise dropping from a press-up position
A simple stick-man version of how to perform a plank exercise dropping from a press-up position

Side Planks Are A Great Beginners Core Stability Exercise

Side planks are a great core exercise than will really help to develop strength and stability through your core muscles whilst strengthening your back muscles which should decrease your risk of training related injuries which means there will be no need to take too many breaks in your Spartan Race or Tough Mudder training.

How To Perform A Side Plank

  1. Lie on your side, in a straight line from head to feet, resting on your forearm. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder.
  2. Lift your hips off the floor by gently contracting your abdominal muscles, maintaining the straight line through your torso,
  3. Your hips should be square and your neck should be aligned with your spine as you look forwards.
  4. Hold this position for as long as possible
  5. A good target you should aim to be able to hold this position for is a minute or more.

A Soldier Performing A Side Plank Exercise

The Side Plank performed using a TRX suspension trainer for increased difficulty
The Side Plank performed using a TRX suspension trainer for increased difficulty | Source

Get Up's To Develop Functional Core Strength

The Get-Up is a fantastic exercise to include in your obstacle race training workouts

It's rare that I see people performing get ups in my gym. I see too many people crunching away on the mats thinking that they will give them the mid section they feel they deserve. The Get Up has gained a little more prominence with the re-emergence of kettlebell training but it;s rare to see individuals performing them outside of classes or the occasional PT session. Sometimes they may also be referred to as a Turkish Get Up exercise.

Fantastic Fitness Benefits Of Get Ups

  • Single leg hip stability.
  • Development of shoulder stability and mobility
  • Thoracic extension and rotation.
  • Enhanced flexibility at the hips
  • Development of core stability different stances (Lunge and Squat positions).
  • Development of functional movement pattern stability

The Simple Yet Effective Turkish Get-Up Exercise

Mountain Climbers For Functional Core Strength

Mountain climbers are one of those exercises you very rarely see people performing on their own at the gym. They're often one of those 'forced tortures' that form part of boot-camp style sessions but that nastiness really helps with core strength and posture for race events.

Mountain climber exercises in action. They're a vital training component for obstacle race success.
Mountain climber exercises in action. They're a vital training component for obstacle race success. | Source

How To Perform Mountain Climbers

  1. Start with your hands flat to the floor, almost straight armed and knees on the floor with your toes pointing toward the floor.
  2. Extend your right leg (Push it outwards) straight and behind you taking your left knee slightly off the floor.
  3. Keeping your hands on the ground jump to switch leg positions.Make sure both of your feet leave the ground as your bring your right knee forward, while pushing your left leg back. At the end of the movement your left leg should be fully extended behind you. It is key to keep a strong solid upper body posture and the leg movement forward should involve a curl up through your abdominal muscles.
  4. Repeat that motion for the opposite legs and continue until fatigue sets in and your point of failure is reached.

While a mountain climbed is effectively a 'jump' action, if you keep your core strong there should be minimal up and down movement of your backside as shown in the great video below from Angry Trainer Fitness.

Let Angry Trainer Fitness Show Your How To Perform A Mountain Climber With Great Form

Do these squats make my butt look big? Maybe so during but imagine the workout you're giving your legs and glutes
Do these squats make my butt look big? Maybe so during but imagine the workout you're giving your legs and glutes | Source

Never Neglect Your Squats- Core And Lower Body Strength For Obstacle Course Racing

Most gyms are full of exercisers that really put a priority on their upper body training but seem to be missing the point when it comes to lower body training. They seem to stick to rudimentary machines like leg curls and the cheaters version of doing proper squats- the leg press machine. Yes you can use the Smith machine for your squats but the element of really engaging your core machines for balance and posture will be lacking. Perfecting dumbbell and barbell squats will really take your training to new levels.

Why everyone training for Spartan Race and Tough Mudder should aim to perfect their dumbell and barbell squats

  1. Enhancements to core strength. As your body is loaded throughout the squat exercise your core is responsible for maintaining posture and keeping in a strong position to avoid potential injuries. Squats will put stress through your abdominal muscles and lower back giving them a great workout. By including exercises like front barbell squats you're going to put significant demands on your core muscles for greater strength gains.
  2. Squats can reduce injury risk. The strength in your muscles developed by performing squats can have a dramatic effect on reducing injury risks . By building the key muscles in your legs you're working on not only your contracting muscles but the ones you use as stabilizers whilst running or doing other actions like scrambling over a climbing frame.
  3. Squats can help to improve flexibility and range of motion. Squats help to increase your range of motion through the hips which can help in Spartan Race and Tough Mudder performance.
  4. Increased leg strength. Whether you need to carry a pale of water around a deep muddy pool or lock and push your way up a climbing rope- Your leg strength is a vital component of obstacle racing. Squats will help to develop this. Implement single leg squats to your workout repertoire to really get specific as you don't often get the chance to push off with both feet together in competition.
  5. Maximum effect in minimum time. Why complicate your workouts. Adding Squats into your workout arsenal can save time as you're hitting your legs so hard in just one movement that you'll have more time to spend on perfecting other areas of your fitness as a result. Why do leg extensions and leg curls which have no real specificity when you can hit your legs hard with a set of squats.

Great Squat Variations To Help Your Training

Add Some Barbell Roll Outs To Your Workout Routine

Barbell roll outs are a relatively rarely seen exercise in most gyms but the effect they can have in strengthening your core muscles and in some people developing that six-pack they crave. For many a Spartan Race competitor core muscle training is vital but the side effects from training can be lower bodyfat and a more prominent six-pack.

Barbell roll outs are close to being both the ultimate six-pack sculptor and core muscle workout rolled into one simple exercise. All it takes is a barbell and two nice round weight discs, the weight of which doesn't really matter as even at low workloads you're going to get an incredible core workout. The barbell roll out targets deep into your abdominal muscles and helps strengthen your back muscles to prevent against lumbar extension.

Barbell Roll Outs In Action

Rock Climbing At The Longshaw Estate, Derbyshire

Rock climbing is a great way to improve core muscle strength for events like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. Photo is from the Longshaw Estate, Derbyshire
Rock climbing is a great way to improve core muscle strength for events like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. Photo is from the Longshaw Estate, Derbyshire | Source

The Ultimate Core Workout- Head For Your Local Climbing Wall

When you're competing in obstacle races you're going to encounter some form of climbing related obstacle at some point. Whether you're attacking the aptly named 'Everest' at Tough Mudder or simply need to quickly scramble your way up a cargo net.

As a diversion to the gym, a weekly session at a local indoor climbing centre will undoubtedly help you to develop an exceptionally strong and supportive core as well as giving a great workout to your arms, back and leg muscles which are forced to work together.

Many competitors assume a high level of importance to upper body exercises in relation to developing the skills needed for climbing obstacles. A few sessions of rock climbing tuition with a coach will help to develop technique and to help use your body more efficiently through better utilization of your more powerful leg muscles.

If Your Thought Core Workouts Couldn't Get Harder- Try Jackie Chan's Dragon Flag Exercise

If you're looking for an insanely hard core muscle workout then consider trying to add some of Jackie Chan's Dragon Flag's into your training regime. Be warned that while a difficult bodyweight exercise it will place a lot of strain on your joints and should only be attempted by exceptionally well trained athletes and exercisers with appropriate levels of strength and body conditioning. It is by no means an abdominal exercise for beginners to try as the video below will showcase.

How's your training going?

We'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Have any of these exercises helped your obstacle race training or do you have workout suggestions you'd love to share.

Thanks for reading

CyclingFitness

© 2013 Liam Hallam

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