How to Win Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge: A Training Plan

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Hunter McIntyre completing the Skullbuster, a 1/2-mile-long obstacle course on the ranch.Courtesy Broken Skull Challenge

As a pro Spartan Race athlete and former male model, Hunter McIntyre knows a thing or two about getting in peak shape. But when the producers of Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge told McIntyre he’d been booked on the show, he set his sight on an even higher level of fitness.

“I knew I’d be skinny compared to the other dudes. Some of those guys are just massive,” he says. So he trained on five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a day — his favorite calorie bomb of carbs, fat, and protein — and called up his local strongman coach, Logan Gelbrich at Deuce Gym in Venice Beach. With just a few weeks of max-rep weight work, tons of high-intensity cardio, and jar after jar of peanut butter, he gained 10 pounds of muscle and showed up in Texas ready to throw down with much heavier men — which he did and he won.

McIntyre credits a lot of his win to his “going in thinking either I’d kill the other guy or get killed” mentality. But his strength, aerobic fitness, and agility certainly helped too. Here’s how he got so fit. Best of all, the plan is simple enough that you could easily do it in your own backyard.

Train Mental Toughness

McIntyre is an endurance athlete, so he’s always out pedaling his road bike or running. But two months before shooting for Broken Skull, he got a single-speed mountain bike. It’s been his secret weapon. “I actually wish I’d had the bike earlier,” he says. “With a regular bike, when it gets hard, you shift and make it easier, but with a single speed, you just have to push harder. During the competition there were a lot of times where I was just like, 'Keep moving your feet. Keep moving your feet.' ”

He does some sort of cardio almost every day, often going out for two- or three-hour mountain bike rides in the hills behind his home in Malibu. He never takes a complete rest day, but he will take one day easy each week. “I’ll paddleboard or ride my road bike and focus on enjoying it,” he says.

Skill-Specific Workouts

“I always believe you should train for your specific sport,” he says. For Broken Skull that meant practicing dragging heavy things, shimmying up poles and flipping tires. “I did a lot of sled pulling and plate pushing, which created that feeling of power when you locked onto someone,” he says. Another standby was pulling a 200-pound tire up to the top of a steep hill. McIntyre incorporated some sort of skill-specific strength work two to three days a week. By the end of his training, he says he could carry a 265-pound sandbag and flip a 650-pound tire.

Powerful Weight Lifting

When designing McIntyre’s strength-training routine, Gelbrich focused on simple moves that would “give him the potential to move heavy loads very quickly.” Gelbrich assigned lots of heavy carries, and lifts that engaged multiple muscle groups at once, with some fast cardio thrown in to tax McIntyre’s aerobic system and create the type of fatigue he was likely to feel on the show. Here’s what a typical week of workouts looked like.

Day One

Five sets of three paused back squats: Load the bar with a weight heavy enough that three reps will feel like a lot. Put it pretty far forward on your back — it should be closer to your neck than a traditional weighted squat. Squat and hold at the bottom for three seconds. Return to the top. Repeat two more times for one set. Do five sets total.

5 x 800-meter run: These should be done at an all-out effort with three full minutes of rest in between.

Day Two

Five rounds of keg lifts, each time picking up a heavier keg: Pick up a heavy keg (or large heavy weight) and try to lift it over a bar set at 52 inches high. By the end, McIntyre was lifting 175-pound kegs. Rest two minutes between sets.

Five rounds, each in 60 seconds or less, of 100-foot sandbag front carry: Pick up a sandbag, hug it vertically against your chest and run 50 feet, then turn and run back to the starting point. Rest two minutes between sets.

Day Three

Gelbrich would have McIntyre start this workout by focusing on exercises that increase flexibility, stability, and range of motion. This might include things like the pistol squat, or doing pistol squats with added upper body rotation. Eventually, he worked toward a weighted pistol squats.

Next do six rounds for time:

Six overhead walking lunges: McIntyre did this with a 135-pound weight, but adjust as necessary.

Eight strict pull-ups: No kipping allowed.

Twenty double-unders: If you don't have this jump-rope move, do 40 regular jumps.

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