Mud Races: Get Your Clients Ready!

by Amanda Vogel, MA on Mar 27, 2014

We’ve seen many activity trends come and go in the fitness industry, but perhaps none quite as “dirty” as the current obsession with mud runs and obstacle races. While some events are milder than others, many could be described as an “ordeal” that also happens to be a workout. For example, you might find yourself slopping through mud, scaling impossibly high verticals and pushing yourself to the limit—physically and mentally. Test.

Some competitors arrive at these rugged, strenuous competitions woefully unprepared and quickly get in over their heads.

The popularity of these events has surged in recent years. Nevertheless, the fitness industry cannot ignore the fact that a lot of people are entering mud runs and obstacle course races, and there is a good chance our clients will be among them. They need our help to prepare properly.

Clients gearing up for an obstacle challenge or mud run should have a base of cardiorespiratory fitness. “If they are not fit enough to even walk, let alone run, 16–20 kilometers, they should not attempt a race of that distance,” says Rod Macdonald, vice president of Can-Fit-Pro and a competitive athlete and coach based in Toronto. But do not make the mistake of designing a training regimen that’s too heavily focused on running.

“Running is important but not enough,” says Casey Stutzman, director of education at Bay Athletic Club in Alpena, Michigan. “Overdoing the running to build up your cardio is a bad idea. Think of these events as athletic endurance events that require balance, mobility, strength, stability, endurance and power. To be successful, people have to train like an athlete, not just a runner.”

Since mud competitors perform exercises well outside the usual gym routine, personal trainers must be creative when preparing appropriate training protocols. “The athlete needs to have a combination of body awareness, muscular strength and muscular endurance developed through body weight training,” says Macdonald. “This includes the ability to perform crawling, climbing, throwing, lifting, balancing, jumping, and pulling of their own body weight, as well as external sources of resistance. These requirements may be used in short, powerful bursts or in a sustained manner.”

Think movement skills, as well. “Lots of jumping means learning to land. Lots of climbing means learning to pull,” says Stutzman. “Some obstacles require fast movement and explosiveness. Some require a level of ‘physical problem solving.’ Many require moving side to side and/or rotating.”

Macdonald suggests exercises such as the following to help prepare clients for the various challenges they might face on an obstacle course:

  • chin-ups and pull-ups, including hanging and traveling (walking hands right and left).
  • corncob pull-ups (where you pull up to your left hand and then shift over to your right hand before lowering)
  • chin-ups using a rope, or a towel to simulate a rope (rope/towel looped over top of bar)
  • high-incline treadmill walking and running, including high-incline treadmill circuits coupled with body weight movements to help with the peripheral blood flow changes needed for these events
  • plank crawls, straight-arm leg drags, farmer’s walk (walking on various terrains while carrying heavy weights in each hand for grip strength, muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness)

For more information, please see “Mad for the Mud” in the online IDEA Library or in the print edition of March 2014 IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Amanda Vogel, MA human kinetics, is the owner of, a writing, editing and consulting service for the fitness industry. She’s a Hootsuite-certified social media consultant for fitness brands and public figures and a Fitness Technology Spokesperson for IDEA. Specializing in group fitness, Amanda holds indoor cycling certifications from Schwinn and Keiser. In addition to blogging at about fit tech, workout gear and exercise clothes, she writes for popular magazines, including IDEA Fitness Journal, ACE Certified, Best Health and Reader’s Digest. Find her on social: @amandavogel on Twitter and @amandavogelfitness on Instagram.