Unless you’re super-handy and have a couple acres to spare in your backyard you probably won’t train on any actual obstacles in preparation for a Spartan or other obstacle course race. But before you go out and buy a plot in the desert and a cord of wood, try this workout from Lawrence Sikorski, certified Spartan Race trainer and group fitness instructor for the Spartan Gym at 1 Hotel in South Beach, Florida.
“This workout helps develop body awareness and functionality while increasing strength and stamina,” says Sikorski. The program uses only a medicine ball and your own bodyweight as tools. “These moves are meant to prepare the mind and enable the body to adapt to any situations or obstacles that may arise in a race.”
Sikorski also recommends adding a steady run to your programming several days per week for endurance. “Not too fast — just maintain a pace that is challenging without being exhausting,” he says. “I wouldn’t go above 85 to 87 percent of my max heart rate. That way, when you get to an obstacle you’re ready to perform.” Do this workout up to three days a week and be ready for the unknown — and the unknowable.
Grab a medicine ball — 15 to 25 pounds for men and 10 to 15 pounds for women — and find some empty floor space. “The medicine ball is a great tool for transitional training — being able to go from one exercise to the next — to help increase muscle strength and stamina.”
After completing a warm-up that includes the three recommended moves from Sikorski (see box), follow this plan:
Round 1: Do each move for 60 seconds, then take 20 seconds to rest/transition to the next move. Repeat for all seven moves, then rest 60 to 90 seconds.
Round 2: Do each move for 45 seconds, then rest/transition for 15 seconds.
Choose your level:
Novice exercisers: Do the Sprint option
Intermediate exercisers: Do the move as written (Super)
Advanced exercisers: Do the Beast option
In addition to a general total-body warm-up, do each of these moves for 30 seconds three times through.
Square Bear Crawl
Trains: functionality, core strength
Get on all fours with hands under shoulders, knees under hips, spine straight. Turn your toes under then lift your knees off the floor so your shins are parallel. Hold that position as you walk forward two steps, to the right two steps, backward two steps, then to the left two steps to make a square. Repeat in opposite direction.
Get into an elbow plank then open your knees out to the sides so your belly is just hovering above the floor, hips low. Crawl forward staying as low as possible, pushing with one leg as you pull with your opposite arm. For an extra challenge, crawl forward then backward.
Trains: lower body/glute activation, mobility
Drop your hips as low as possible into a squat, chest lifted, then walk forward slowly in this position, allowing your knees to open to the sides with each step.
*For a more extensive warm-up protocol from Sikorski, go to muscleandperformance.com.
Burpee Ball Slam
Trains: power, stamina, athleticism
Hold a medicine ball with both hands, reach it quickly overhead then slam it to the floor, following with your hips to lower into a crouch. Place your hands on the ball and jump your feet behind you. Do a push-up with your hands on the ball, jump your feet back underneath you and stand, lifting the ball overhead to go right into the next rep.
Sprint: Do each move separately — first the burpees then the ball slams.
Beast: Jump and spin 180-degrees as you stand back up.
Tip: Make the transition between ball slam and burpee seamless and smooth, but swift.
Trains: strength, power, stamina
Stand with your feet outside hip-width apart and crouch down to lightly touch the floor with your fingertips, chest lifted. Explosively leap forward as far as you can, landing softly and again touching the floor.
Sprint: Jump for a shorter distance.
Beast: Add a pop-jack between jumps.
Tip: “Use your arms for momentum and explode with each rep, but take time to reload and reset,” says Sikorski.
Side-to-Side Ball Push-Up
Trains: mobility, stamina, core/upper-body strength
Get into a push-up position with one hand on the medicine ball, one hand on the floor. Do a push-up, then quickly switch hands over the ball and do a push-up on the other side. Continue, alternating sides.
Sprint: Perform the side-to-side push-up with no ball, or perform as written but on your knees.
Beast: Make it plyometric, exploding off the floor as you transition over the ball.
Tip: “Your chest should be no more than two inches off the floor for the push-ups, so if you have to drop to your knees to make that happen, do it,” says Sikorski.
Trains: grip strength
With the medicine ball between your knees or ankles, take a shoulder-width, overhand grip on a pull-up bar. Actively hang from the bar for time, pulling your shoulder blades down and back and contracting your back muscles and core to create total-body tension and prevent swinging.
Sprint: Hang with no weight.
Beast: Do weighted pull-ups.
Tip: “Focus on your breathing — this is far more mentally challenging than physically,” says Sikorski.
Trains: stamina, mobility
Get into a low crouch with your feet outside shoulder-width and hold a medicine ball on the floor in front of you. Pick up the ball, reach it forward, place it down, then hop forward, staying low and levering your body over your hands, arms straight. Land with your feet outside and slightly forward of the ball, and repeat.
Sprint: Do it without a ball.
Beast: Go for speed.
Tip: “Get your butt low to the ground with your chest high, and pull with your arms as you push with your legs to cover more ground,” says Sikorski.
Reverse Lunge Chest Press
Trains: stability, strength
Hold the medicine ball at your chest and stand with your feet underneath your hips. Take a large step behind you with one foot and bend both knees to lower into a deep lunge. Push off your back foot and bring your knee forward to hip height, simultaneously pressing the ball straight out from your chest. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Sprint: Perform without the ball.
Beast: Instead of a press, throw the ball explosively against a wall and catch it on the return.
Tip: Stabilize the hip and knee of your working leg for better balance by activating your glutes and core.
Squatted Side Shuffle
Trains: mobility, stamina and athleticism
Hold the medicine ball at your chest, elbows down, and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Kick your hips back and lower into a squat, chest lifted, thighs parallel. Hold that position as you dynamically shuffle 10 steps one way and 10 steps the other.
Sprint: Slow it down to a squatted sidestep with or without weight.
Beast: After your 10 shuffles, do a squat leap before going back the other way.
Tip: Don’t fold forward. Actively keep your chest lifted and draw your shoulder blades back to help support the weight of the ball. <
Lawrence Sikorski is a former U.S. Marine, fitness trainer and boot-camp instructor who specializes in functional training. Currently he is the lead fitness program coordinator for Spartan Gym at 1 Hotel, South Beach, Florida.