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The 10 Toughest Race Obstacles - and How to Train for Them

author image Holly Del Rosso
Holly Del Rosso is a certified personal trainer and fitness expert in New York City and San Francisco. Holly is regularly featured on top websites including Self Magazine, Men's Fitness magazine, Livestrong.com, FabFitFun and Well and Good NYC. In 2014, Holly created Girl Fit, a non-profit for high school students in Los Angeles, CA, focusing on motivating low-income teens to eat healthy and exercise.

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The 10 Toughest Race Obstacles - and How to Train for Them

From the Tough Mudder to the various Spartan races, obstacle courses have been a big hit in fitness for the past few years, enticing crowds of young professionals eager to get into the best shape of their lives and put their vigor to the test. The races can also make running enjoyable for those who don’t go the marathon route, especially since groups are often welcome. But the obstacles can be as fun as they are terrifying. Want to be the next American Ninja (or just don’t want your friends to leave you in the dust)? Ready, set, let’s train for the toughest obstacles in your next race!

1. Warrior Dash: Warrior Roast


Sprinting as fast as you can, you see a row of flames ahead of you as you race to the finish line. It’s not the fires of hell -- it’s the Warrior Roast. You’ll need to build your long-jump skills to clear the flames, so start your training by jumping toward a target. Place a few cones ahead of you so that you have an exact place to aim. Set each cone about two to four feet ahead of your feet, depending on your height. With feet hip-width apart, start by bending down into a squat, using the force of your glutes to explode off of the ground, landing softly on the balls of your feet. The second your feet hit the ground, swing your arms behind you and repeat four more reps consecutively. You’ll fly over the flames with ease at your next Warrior Dash race and be the envy of all the other participants.

Related: 10 Fitness Bucket List Goals to Start Training For

2. Tough Mudder: Electroshock Therapy


Tough Mudder boasts the most treacherous obstacle out of all the races -- a field of hanging electrical wires containing up to 10,000 volts of electricity dangling over mud and hay bales. The racer must walk on their hands or elbows, staying as low to the ground as possible, while moving with speed and agility. To prepare for this challenge, perform walking planks on grass or on your carpet at home. Start with a plank on your elbows and walk for 30 seconds going forward, taking small steps with each foot while keeping your legs straight. Then switch to going backward for 30 seconds. Ensure that your back is flat and your core is engaged while moving. Repeat this move for four sets forward and four backward.

Related: How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder

3. Spartan Sprint: Upright Log Leaps


Feeling froggy? Get ready for a field of logs, which you’ll have to successfully mount and hop from one to the next or fall into a pit full of sludge and mud. The log tops’ circumference is small, so you will need to really hone your balance and strengthen your legs’ stabilizer muscles to prepare for this obstacle. Start by performing three sets of 10 single-leg hops on each leg to stabilize your ankles and strengthen your core. Start on one foot and jump as high as you can 10 times. Make sure to land on the ball of your foot and bend your knee slightly. Happy log leaping!

4. Civilian Military Combine: The Pit


Designed to level the playing field between strength and endurance athletes, CMC events have the reputation of determining who is the best athlete overall. One in particular, called The Pit, separates the pros from the amateurs and involves three strength movements: a push-press, kettlebell swings and jump-over burpee box jumps. Combiners have 90 seconds to complete AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of each movement with 20 seconds of rest between movements. To build speed, strength and endurance for this event, perform three sets of 25 kettlebell swings using a challenging weight that still feels within your fitness level. For the perfect kettlebell swing, start with feet hip-width apart, using a kettlebell that is comfortable but challenging. Allow the kettlebell to swing in between your legs, pushing your hips forward while slightly bending your legs when the kettlebell is in the downward motion. Repeat for three sets of 25 reps.

Related: 9 Moves You Can Do Every Day for Better Joint Mobility

5. The Diva Dash: Seesaw


The Diva Dash prides itself in having participants dress up in groups of fun outfits such as tutus, matching team gear, colored hair and fun costumes. This 5K is a noncompetitive race, but your time is tracked just in case you’re going for a personal best. Look out for the seesaw, but don’t let its fun colors fool you -- this obstacle requires the kind of balance that not everyone who has been training has developed. To train for running up and down the seesaw, balance on one foot while extending the foot that is off of the ground and holding it for 45 seconds. Repeat on each leg for three sets of 45-second reps.

6. Mudderella: Wheels in Motion


Women-only race Mudderella describes the challenge as swinging and jumping “from tire to tire to make it across without falling -- timing and balance are key here.” We want to focus on strengthening your upper body so you can manipulate the ropes to swing back and forth with ease, allowing you to finish the race strong. To get ready to hold on tight, try push-up to rows starting in push-up position and with eight-pound dumbbells near your hands. Lower into a push-up, and when you rise, grab the dumbbell next to your hand and perform a row, alternating arms for three sets of 10 reps.

Related: 15 Burpee Variations That Will Kick Your Butt

7. Rugged Maniac Race: The Ringer


This race boasts 25 impressive obstacles along 3.1 miles of trek, but one of the hardest might remind you of your days at the playground. As you swing from ring to ring hanging over a pit of mud, you’ll wonder how little kids make it seem so easy. Getting ready for this obstacle may seem daunting, but once you’ve prepped with this exercise, you’ll astound everyone. Start by laying on your back, holding two dumbbells that are challenging for you. Bring the dumbbells over your head all the way to the ground and come back so the dumbbells are right above your face. Repeat for three sets of 15 reps.

Related: How to Train Your Brain for the Next Big Race

8. Super Spartan: Wall Climb


The Super Spartan race is an eight-mile course with 20 or more obstacles. Climbing over a wooden wall will take core strength as well as speed. Working mountain climbers into your routine will be your secret weapon to help you conquer this race. Personal trainer and ReebokONE ambassador Lisa Balash of KettleBellBombshell.com suggests mountain climbers because they “strengthen the abdominals and upper body -- especially the obliques.” Start in a push-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your shoulders directly over your wrists. Bring your knees up to your chest as fast as possible in a running motion. Repeat for three sets of 35 reps.

9. Warrior Dash: Alcatraz


The Warrior Dash is so intense that we had to include a second obstacle, this one called Alcatraz, which brings to mind the famous prison isolated in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. According to the site, the obstacle calls for you to “swim out to floating docks in the water, climb up and over, and make sure you still have enough energy to swim to shore.” Though you won’t have prison guards chasing you, it will require pulling and pushing strength, so try doing pull-ups on a bar. If you need to modify this move, use a resistance band under your knees tied to the bar for extra assistance in reaching your pull-up. With your palms facing away from your body, do three sets of six reps. Pretty soon, you’ll be strong enough to escape the pack -- just remember to also practice your freestyle stroke in the pool.

10. Spartan Beast: Barbed Wire Crawl


Pushing you to your limits, this Spartan Beast obstacle is inspired by the real-life military boot camp training standby. Here is your chance to prove your mettle by fearlessly diving under barbed wire while crawling on your elbows and knees. To prepare for “Operation Spartan Crawl,” do Spiderman push-ups, which will build up the same muscles that you will use to crawl low on the ground. Start in a push-up position, then, as you lower towards the ground, bring your knee up toward your elbow on the same side of the body. Alternate legs for three sets of 10 reps.

What Do YOU Think?


Which races have you run? What was your hardest obstacle? Did you train for your race? We want to hear what you have to say. Share with us in the comment section below!

Related: The 10 Toughest Endurance Challenges You Can Actually Do

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