1. Climbing. You need upper body strength – but more than that, you need grip strength. There will be some component in any race where you need to be able to haul your own body weight across something using your hands. Often this is a rope latter, monkey bars or a simple rope or double rope. Your hands need to be as strong as your arms and all your muscles need to work together so think functional strength. Parks are great… get on the monkey bars and hanging rings… just make sure to train your endurance as well by going back and forth since the monkey bar sets in parks are normally too short to mimic the ones used in most obstacle races. You should also do a variety of pull up type exercises: chin ups, v’s, typewriters, mixed grip, kipping, etc. One I like that really works grip strength is hanging from a bar and doing leg raises for your abs or changing your grip to fatigue. You should also know how to climb a rope with your feet because it is way easier. You can go take an aerial or cross fit class and they should be able to teach you within one hour.
2. Crawling. You will spend more time crawling than you have since you were ten months. Get used to it. Find things like benches to crawl under, work on the transitions in and out, crawl uphill and downhill, and do a bunch of different types of crawling. I like crab crawl, tapping opposite arms and legs behind your back, army crawl, crawling for speed, crocodile crawl, spiderman crawl and bear crawl. Pushups and their infinite arsenal of friends should be a staple to build strength and stability for crawling. And don’t worry about your hands and knees hurting… You’ll be better prepared for the blood and bruising come race day. There are sharp little rocks in the bottom of those mud pits!
3. Jumping. You are going to be jumping stuff so learn how to do it without injuring yourself. Land lightly by bending your knees and landing with soft spring joint by dropping your butt. The muscles should absorb the impact not the joints! Box jumps, skipping, frog hops, burpees, jumping on, jumping off, jumping over, jumping and grabbing (as in the top of a wall) are all important skills. Even in the trail portion of the races, there will normally be logs and whatnot to hurdle so get good at catching air.
4. Lifting. Sometimes you will need to carry stuff, be it a log or a couple of large pails filled with rocks. This one is the easiest to train for. Carry stuff. Buy too many groceries on get your ass home. Help a friend move. Just pick heavy stuff up and carry it… used tires are often free at tire shops and are great for dragging, lifting and flipping. Or fill carpenter’s bags with pea gravel and lift those. Just make sure to engage your core and lift with your legs!
5. Running. Do not forget that running is still the major player in a mud race. And not just any running. You want to get out there and do technical trail runs. Steep hills, roots, gravel, mud (obviously), log jumps, uneven ground. I would suggest meeting up with a trail running group or taking part in a handful of trail runs that are the same distance you plan to be racing or further. The run needs to be the relaxing part where you can get your breath back. Do not underestimate the running or your calves will be so cramped and your lungs so seared that you won’t be even able to even get up on the obstacles!
6. Swimming and or jumping/falling into water. It depends on the type of course but the Tough Mudder for instance, involves a lot of swimming in freezing cold water. Don’t be afraid to get wet in training and find a way to get used to freezing cold water. Be it jumping into the ocean or taking ice bathes. Your body will feel like it is seizing up – if you are taken by surprise it will likely paralyze you. Also, if your race includes an epic drop (like the 15′ drop in the TM) find the highest dive platform you can find or a safe place to cliff jump and get used to jumping in toes first with a very sleek hydrodynamic profile.
7. Other craziness. Whether it be getting electrocuted at Tough Mudder, lobbing a spear at Spartan, or getting sprayed in the face with freezing cold water while running down a slippery slope at the Warrior Dash, find out as much as you can what you are up against and get good at that specific skill. I know that a lot is kept secret in the spirit of adventure and spontaneity in obstacle racing but if there are signature stations in the race you are doing, it is good to be prepared. Like a boy scout who knows he is about to be hit with 10,000 volts of electricity every 3 seconds.
8. Playing. Get used to going head long into things and making it happen. You need to be able to use what you have. It is easy to get overwhelmed by a giant wall or tube or half pipe and not give it your all to get up and over. Confidence is a skill that needs to be honed. So get honing and have fun with it. Just have a look at little kids playing in a park, running up the slides and swinging about. They practice being confident and going into things with all their heart. That right there is the icing on the cake.