Two thing Spartans have in common: we're all busy, and we all have a shared understanding that fitness extends far beyond the gym. Opportunities for physical challenge are all around you, and by frequently accepting their invitations, you become better equipped to handle anything life throws at you. You also become better equipped to do some throwing yourself. Want to get fit fast? This is the approach to take on if have a busy life.
Take Rose Wetzel, who may look like just another fit, busy mom in a Seattle park—that is, until she pulls out her spear. During Spartan races, nearly nine out of 10 people fail to hit the target on the spear throw, and as a result, they incur the 30-burpee penalty. “I’m practicing because I don’t want to do burpees,” she says. A fifth-place finisher in the 2016 World Championship, Wetzel routinely throws 30 to 40 spears three or four times a week. And that’s despite the fact that she’s currently trimming down on training before her first kiddo.
The truth is, elite Spartan racers are always figuring out how to improve the skills they need to clear obstacles on race day—which means creating everyday challenges that non-Spartans might find a little strange. Here are five of those challenges. Deploy them in your own life and they could pay dividends come race day.
1. Give Yourself a 30-Day Challenge
Brakken Kraker, a 2017 Pro Team athlete, is a big advocate of 30-day challenges. Pick something that targets an area where you could use improvement—squats, lunges, foam rolling, whatever—and then make a plan to do a minute or two several times a day over that month. One of his recent examples was focused on upper-body strength. “I put a pull-up bar over the bathroom doorframe, and every time I walked in and out, I’d do 10 to 20 pullups,” he says. “Very few of those days you end up actually sore, because it’s bits and pieces, but by the end, you’ve just gotten better at them.”
2. Veer Off Course
The more variety you can work into your daily runs, the faster you‘ll be when faced with mud and bramble. “I love running, and I try to make it more fun all the time,” says Max King, who won the 2015 Warrior Dash World Championship by almost 30 seconds. If King sees something interesting during his miles—a tree trunk, a hill along the path, or a small creek—he’s sure to veer off course and jump on, run up, or leap over it, improvising as he goes. “All that stuff works on your agility, your core, and being able to move quickly over objects, which all ties in to obstacle racing,” he says.
3. Reshingle Your Roof
Pro Team member Matt “Bear” Novakovich, 43, credits his fast ascent to the top of the Spartan pile in part due to his longtime day job as a roofer. Fifteen to 18-hour days hauling shingles, in addition to his regular training, resulted in conditioning far ahead of those who spent an hour or two at the gym. Okay—so maybe you’re not due for a new roof. But odds are, you can find a home-improvement project that will have you climbing ladders, hauling lumber, or lifting bags of concrete. “Supplement that with all the running and cycling and it makes for a pretty good Spartan racer,” says Novakovich.
4. Surf the Train
As a pro OCR athlete and a badass American Ninja Warrior competitor, Wetzel is very busy often finds herself on trains, traveling to and from airports. While moving, she’s gotten into the habit of letting go of the rails and adopting a surf stance to work on stability. “To me it’s a fun game, if nothing else,” she says. “But I do feel I’m getting just a little bit of balance work.” It sounds small, but that's the point. If you're already using public transportation every day, letting go of the rails can turn your boring commute into a brief moment of daily training—especially if you're carrying a heavy commuter bag on your back.
5. Plant Obstacles Everywhere
Consider how impactful it would be if you had to pass a kettlebell—and do 10 swings—every time you walked into your kitchen. You'll be surprised how using this simple tactic will help you get fit fast or prepare for a race or maintain good fitness. Or if you had to do 60 seconds of battle ropes every time you pulled your car back into the garage. Mini workouts like this turn busy mortals into Spartans. Novakovich, for instance, has three pullup bars planted throughout his house. Each time he passes, he hangs for a minute or two to work on his grip strength. “It all adds up as you keep doing it month after month, year after year," he says.