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General Running • July 1, 2013

Tough Mudder: How to Train and What to Wear

Tough MudderTough Mudder: How to Train and What to Wear

Guest post by Bobby Gillespie

Tough Mudder has been on my list for some time, so when my friend from my CrossFit box (PUSH511) asked me if I wanted to join his team the answer was an enthusiastic “HELL YES!” I’m not typically interested in the obstacle events, however the Tough Mudder isn’t just an obstacle course. It earns its name by way of the 10-12 rugged mile, 25+ obstacle test of endurance, fitness, guts, and bravery. I signed up for the Mid-Atlantic event held over in West Virginia, about a 2 hour journey from Baltimore. Scheduled for April I knew that a proper combination of physical fitness and gear would be crucial to me finishing strong and enjoying myself.

How to Train for the Tough Mudder

If you just run, you will get owned. If you are just a meat-head and avoid cardio, you may be able to finish, but it will suck. You need to mix it up.

While a 10-12 mile trail run is challenging, it is only a portion of the adventure. There are 25 obstacles that will challenge you even more. You will get wet. You will be cold. You will also have to climb, jump, crawl, slide, swim, carry, and pull yourself up and over all sorts of things while being tired, soaked wet, and really cold. Sounds amazing!

Having competed a dozen or so half and full marathons I knew what it would take to be prepared to cover that distance. Also being an avid trail runner, I understand the challenges of the terrain and possible conditions. Belonging to my CrossFit gym for nearly a year, Push511 in Baltimore, I felt like I had the conditioning and agility to survive the obstacles. Combing these two challenges; along with the unknown and intangibles like the water, electricity, and weather conditions; a proper fitness strategy has to be employed to ensure a enjoyable and successful event.


Tough Mudder Training

I am not going to give you a step by step training guide to prepare for the Tough Mudder. That doesn’t make sense since most of you have different levels of fitness, different body types, and honestly mixing it up and combining exercises is part of the fun. What I am going to do is offer my recommendations on exercises that you should consider and should help you set goals and get yourself ready. I will also offer examples of movements you should look to as inspiration for your workouts. By race day you should master these exercises and be able to mix them up for a comprehensive workout that leaves you exhilarated and gasping for breath. Workouts should be hard work.


Long Run: Think of this as a recovery run, no need to go all out or to run hard. This run should get your blood flowing, but the goal of this workout is to increase stamina. By race day it is recommended to be able to run ten miles without stopping. One long run a week.

Hills or stairs: Find the biggest hill in your neighborhood and jog over to it. Start at the bottom and run at 80% max speed up the hill, jog or walk down and repeat. Work up to 8-10 repetitions to build strength and some serious cardio.

Fartlek: Swedish for “Speed Play,” Fartleks are interval training where you vary the intensity during the run. Living in Baltimore I sometimes run to PUSH511. It is a 5 mile run to the gym, I run one mile to warm up and follow with 3 miles of Fartleks where I sprint one block and walk/jog the next, and run the last mile to cool down. You can do Fartleks for time, like tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off), you can do Fartleks on the track: sprint the straights, jog the turns. The key is mixing up the intensity and getting the lungs working hard.

Trails: If you have access to trails, make a point to get out on them a few times a month just to get your legs and core acclimated to the terrain. You can even do your long runs, hill repeats, or Fartleks on the trails.

Prescribed: 2 runs a week, mix it up!


Yes, everyone hates Burpees (except maybe me). But there is no exercise to get you fit better than the Burpee. Overall fitness and conditioning are imperative to giving the Tough Mudder your all. performing Burpees regularly will get you there.

A real burpee is as follows: standing upright, crouch down and put your hands on the floor, kick your legs back and drop your chest to the ground, while pushing your chest up pull your feet forward to a croch, stand up and jump with your hand clapping over head. Repeat.

There are countless Burpee exercises out there. You can do them for time, mix them into your runs (run 100 m, do 5 burps and repeat for a mile), burpee jumps, rupee pull-ups, etc, etc!

Prescribed: perform 20 Burpees without stopping by race day. Hardcore: 100 Burpee challenge curing training.


The more you can do, the better you’ll be at the Tough Mudder. Most of the obstacles require you to move your body weight up and over things. You’ll need the upper body strength to get over the ten foot walls and log cabins. If you do not have a full pull-up, grab a chair and start at the top of the pull-up and lower yourself down as slow as possible, using the chair to assist as you “pull-up.” While kipping pull-ups are a staple of CrossFit, I recommend strict pull-ups for Tough Mudder training.

Prescribed: 10 pull-ups men, 3 pull-ups for women


The classic push-up. 20 a day, scale as necessary


While not necessary for a successful Tough Mudder, I recommend working deadlifts and thrusters into your routine. Heavy weight isn’t mandatory, but it is good to mix things up. If you are using low weight, do lots of reps; heavy weight, do lower reps. Dumbbells, kettle bells, sand bags, heavy stones, bags of dog food, an old log, etc. can all be used if you do not have access to a gym.

Prescribed: deadlift your body weight 10 times

Putting it all together:

All of these exercises are great alone, but combing them makes for a good time and a fitter you. Here are some recommended combination to get you toughened up for the Tough Mudder.

– 50 burpees, 5 strict pull-ups, 800 meter run x4 for time. (Try to beat my 42 minute PR)
– 21, 15, 9 Body weight deadlifts, bar facing Burpees, pull-ups for time
– Mile warmup, 100m sprint (80%), 15 Burpees, 30 second rest x 4, mile cool down
– 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Thrusters (1/2 body weight), pull-ups
– 100 bupees for time
– 1600m run, 3 minutes rest, 1200m run, 2 minutes rest, 800m run, 1 minute rest, 400m run for time



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CW-X Pro Tights MEN’S PRO SHORTS in Black

Quick drying and a snug fit were the two things I wanted from my shorts. Baggy and/or long shorts would just get caked with mud, get snagged on things, stay wet all day and just be a pain. I went to my local City Sports and tried on a pair of CW_X tight shorts. They offer a lot of support, are durable enough to take a mudder of a beating, would dry fast, and they look really cool. I didn’t worry about looking silly or having an awkward bulge from these shorts (I’m not a Speedo type of guy – haha).

They shorts were great. They easily handled every obstacle and dryed very fast. For the most part they dried out between water obstacles, until the sadistic course planners had about 6 water obstacles in a row. I like the compression the shorts offered too. They were very comfortable and added some support to my upper legs, hips and butt—all of which helped combat fatigue. Traditionally running shorts or gym shorts would have gotten trashed during the Tough Mudder, but the CW-X Pro Tights survived to be worn many more times.

I do recommend dark colored clothing, the mud does stain.

From the CW-X Web site:


The CW-X Pro Tights offer optimum muscular support for activities with linear movement, such as running. CW-X’s patented CW-X Support Web™ provides a suspension system for the hamstrings, reducing workload in the pull phase of the running motion. Combined with targeted variable compression to increase circulation and reduce fatigue, your muscles don’t have to work as hard over time and your legs will feel fresher.


I word an under Armour singlet, one of my Team Faster Bastards jerseys. It has the performance profile and pedigree: quick drying, slim fit, allows a full range of motion, looks great. However post race I do not think I would wear the same shirt next time. The obstacles took their toll on the shirt, my big was almost ripped through the material while I was scaling a ten foot wall, the rocky group rI crawled over roughed up the material as well. Next time I think I will go with a tight compression tank or go shirtless. Loose fitting shirts, long sleeves, cotton fabric, etc would all be bad decisions.

Other items to consider

Gloves – I thought about wearing my Mechanix Gloves, but I’m glad I didn’t. They would have gotten cold and wet right away and would offer nothing. My hand were fine post race and I completed every obstacle myself, even the monkey bars without falling. I recommend going gloveless.

Hat or headband – I wore a headband to keep my hair out of my face and I would do it again. If my head was shaved I would wear nothing on my head. I did almost lose the headband a few times plunging into deep water, so jeep that in mind.

Socks – Socks aren’t necessary but if thou wear them be sure to wear something that dries fast. I would suggest Smartwool. I went sock less but I did have to stop a few times to dump gravel and water from my shoes. Next time I will get gators to help keep junk out of the shoes.

Padding – Crawling though ice, gravel, and water was tough on my elbows and knees, especially when getting hit by electrical wires. Some folks say knee and elbow pads help. I won’t wear them next time. But I did get some cuts and scrapes. If you think you want to protect those parts, keep in mind you’ll be getting wet and dirty so a minimal solution is best. Perhaps compression sleeves and soft, cheap knee braces would help.

Glasses – Don’t wear sunglasses or eye glasses. You will lose them or break them, no question.

Hydration – Personal hydration during the race is not necessary and will get in the way. The event supplies plenty of water and sports drinks during the course, they also provide fuel such as bananas and gels.

tough mudder

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