Laird Hamilton’s Four-Week Plan for Crushing an Obstacle Race

 Photograph by Peter Bohler

This year millions of people will compete in an obstacle race like Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan — or Force of Nature, the 10-mile, 20-obstacle race that I helped design and that launches this month. These events are a great way to jump-start your fitness, because training for one gives your workouts focus and purpose. But to do well, you’ll need to do more than simply increase your hours at the gym. Obstacle courses test your body in new and unpredictable ways; so should your training plan. Use my four routine essentials and the month long program below.

1. Do Fast and Slow Cardio
Every obstacle race has a fair amount of mileage, and you’ll need to boost your engine for intense sprints, along with longer stretches of running. To become more efficient moving at an all-out effort, try fast-paced body-weight circuits a couple of times a week. (Jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats, lunges, and push-ups are a great combo; perform each for a minute, with no breaks between moves.) And log at least one long, slow run a week to build endurance for covering multiple miles.

2. Focus on Your Back
Scaling walls, climbing ropes, and military-style crawling through mud demand strong pulling muscles — traps, lats, and the rhomboids in your midback. The best way to strengthen all three groups is with old-school pull-ups and upright rows.

SIGN UP: Find Your Next Race Today with the 2015 Adventure Race Calendar

3. Add Thrusters
This multifunctional exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your shoulders, core, and legs. Choose any kind of weight (barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell), and hold the load close to your chest, elbows down. Squat low, so your hips dip below knee level, and keep your chest up and back flat. Squeeze your glutes as you stand, and press the weight overhead, locking elbows. Do three sets of 12 reps each time you strength train.

4. Practice Heart-Rate Control
It’s easy to go anaerobic in an obstacle race; you push your heart rate so high that you can’t catch your breath, and you’re forced to slow down or stop. To avoid hitting this point, use steady breathing to train your heart rate to fall faster and stay lower. After an intense cardio bout (like your body-weight circuit), take a big inhale, pushing your belly out, then exhale, pulling your gut in. Repeat for a full minute. Do this often enough in training and you’ll naturally breathe this way on race day.

5. Your 4-Week Training Plan
Gradually upping intensity, volume, and distance — then taking a week to recover — will get you race-ready.

Week One

Monday/Wednesday
Do 1 minute each of jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats, lunges, and push-ups. Rest 1 minute. Repeat twice.

Tuesday/Thursday
Strength train. Include 2 sets of 10 pull-ups and rows one day, 3 sets of 10 thrusters the other.

Saturday
Jog 75 percent of racecourse mileage.

Week Two

Monday/Wednesday
Do the body-weight circuit from Week One; move faster and cut rests to 30 seconds between rounds.

Tuesday/Thursday
Strength train. Include 3 sets of 12 pull-ups and rows one day, 4 sets of 12 thrusters the other.

Saturday
Jog 85 percent of racecourse mileage.

Week Three

Monday/Wednesday
Do the body-weight circuit from Week Two, but add a round — 4 total — keeping rests at 30 seconds.

Tuesday/Thursday
Strength train. Include 4 sets of 15 pull-ups and rows one day, 5 sets of 15 thrusters the other.

Saturday
Jog 95 percent of racecourse mileage.

Week Four

Monday/Wednesday
This is your taper week to recover. Do the Week One body-weight circuit (3 rounds with 1-minute rests between rounds).

Tuesday/Thursday
Strength train. Include 2 sets of 10 pull-ups and rows one day, 3 sets of 10 thrusters the other.

Saturday
Jog 75 percent of racecourse mileage.