The everyday jog gets boring in a hurry, doesn’t it? When you’re training for a Spartan race, every day counts, and jogging doesn’t do much more than improve your mile time.
“It’s an incomplete workout because it’s mostly aerobic, meaning it relies on oxygen,” says Tania Dempsey, MD, who specializes in integrative medicine and is on staff at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Anaerobic exercise is done in short bursts without the use of oxygen and generally involves the need for strength moves. Spartan races involve a combination of both aerobic and anaerobic elements, and you will not be prepared with jogging alone.” She adds that you may be hurting your training. Jogging actually burns muscle along with fat, so it’s essential add strength and resistance training.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled tips from Spartans and personal trainers across the country who have taken their daily jaunt to the next level. They’ve gradually built in interval, strength, and resistance activities to get ready for the next race. Below are seven of their best tips to amp up an otherwise basic workout.
1. Mix in Elevation
Nick Peck is a veteran Spartan, with 25 races completed over the last five years. Part of his routine includes a couple of hills during his daily jog. He mixes in hill work followed by a series of multipurpose repetitions. He recommends getting off the pavement as much as possible too. “In my experience, trails and treadmills have helped take some of the pressure off my knees,” he says. An edited version of his jogging regimen is below:
- Half-mile hill, 30 burpees, 30 air squats, 30 push-ups
- 1-mile run at tempo pace (running at 90 percent of your 5K race pace on flat ground; Runner’s World elaborates on this), 30 burpees
- Half-mile hill, 1-minute plank, 30 burpees, 30 air squats
- (Options to add bag carries and more tempo—see below)
2. Integrate Intensive Leg and Hip Exercises
“You’re going to experience a lot of flexion in your legs and hips in a race,” says James Shapiro, owner of New York City’s Primal Power Fitness. “So it’s important to do exercises to prepare for that.” Jog for 5–15 minutes, then add a set of front and back lunges (10 reps each), then another 5–15 minutes of jogging, and repeat four times. This kind of interval training will help add mobility by balancing tension levels between muscle groups. When this tension balance is optimal, your joints feel well during and after a workout.
3. Make It a Game
Mix things up by turning your training into a series of self-guided contests. Chicago-based Stephanie Mansour is a certified personal trainer and owner of Step It Up with Steph, a private weight loss and wellness program. She likes to head outside and use the following as intervals:
- Whenever you run by a bench, stop and push yourself to the point of exhaustion doing as many push-ups as possible (aim for five rounds total during your jog).
- Whenever another jogger passes you along the path (either because they’re faster or they’re going in the opposite direction), stop and do 20 burpees.
- Whenever you can’t see another runner (and have the path to yourself), do 20 big jumps followed by lying on the ground and doing 100 ab crunches, aiming for five rounds total during your jog. It’s a dynamic combination of strength training and core work that turns the entire regimen into a high-intensity training workout with the cardio from jogging.
And this game makes you a winner whether you complete it or not. Interval training has myriad benefits from reducing blood sugar levels to improving cardiovascular health and perhaps repairing prior damage.
4. Mix in Tempo with Weights
"Spartan races are strategically set up to throw an obstacle carry at you when you've just gassed out up some hills,” Peck says. To conquer this, start out with a standard four-mile jog and based on your specific ability (as mentioned above). Once or twice every two weeks, add two to four bag carries to separate half-mile portions of one day’s jog. The bags typically weigh 25–60 pounds and are filled with sand. He stresses that you should only use them a few times a month to avoid injury.
5. More Tempo Without Weights
“For most people and those who are training, the sprint is usually one of the tougher challenges to conquer,” Shapiro says. Sprints help improve oxygen intake levels, which makes you a more efficient athlete as you don’t have to take in as much oxygen to perform a certain movement. “Your recovery improves because your heart rate does not stay as elevated after exercise, and that allows you to train at a higher and higher intensity every time.” To get outside your comfort zone and get your heart rate going, try the following:
- Jog for two minutes, working up to a sprint within the two minutes as the gradual increase in your heart rate allows. Going from a resting heart rate right to a sprint is not optimal for your body and won’t lead to measurable improvement.
- Mix in one of the following workouts in a 30-rep series: push-ups, bench dips, or Australian pull-ups (pull-ups on a low bar to build grip strength).
- Sprint for another 10–60 seconds as your personal ability allows. Build in active jogging recovery as needed. The idea is that as you build endurance, you can sprint for longer bursts with less rest time.
- Follow this pattern 15–20 minutes at a time, then rest as needed.
Shapiro cautions, “Sprints are nothing to joke about and can leave you begging for mercy if you do not ease into them properly. If you are performing a basic cardiovascular program at 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, the best way to add sprints would be to increase to 80–85 percent for 30 seconds to 1 minute for multiple rounds and return back to that 70 percent of maximum baseline between rounds. Measuring your success comes from understanding what rate of perceived exertion you have. If out of a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 is low and 10 is extremely high, you feel like a 7 out of 10 with that 80–85 percent of maximum heart rate for 30 seconds to 1 minute, it is time to increase that heart rate to a higher percentage of your maximum.”
6. Stairway to Spartan
ISSA-certified trainer Jimmy Martinez (a 2014 Citi Field Stadium Sprint finisher) advises his clients to use the powers of stair climbs. Grab a kettle bell and head for the nearest staircase.
- Warm up with no weights, jogging for one minute, then resting for one minute.
- Begin increasing the jogging up to 90 percent of your personal limit to complete the warm-up.
- Pull the kettlebell up using a farmer’s carry method: squat down and pick up both kettlebells at the same time, stand holding them equally on each side and begin walking up the stairs.
- Set the kettlebells down and complete 30 burpees.
- Jog back down.
- Jog back up, grab the bells and jog back down.
- When you can do three of these sets in succession, you’ve conquered it.
7. Add a Weight Vest as a New Challenge
The variable weight and positioning of a weight vest means you can tailor a workout to your specific needs. When used properly, weight vests can increase peak running speeds and economy. Look for one with highly adjustable shoulder and lateral straps so it can adjust to your specific body shape.
- Put on and fit the vest (Martinez personally uses a 40-pound version; if it’s your first time with a vest, start lighter).
- Grab two kettlebells (again, start light).
- Walk around for one minute.
- Set down the kettlebells, remove the vest, and rest for 60 seconds.
- Continue the cycle for a total of 10 minutes, including rest periods.
Getting ready to tackle a Spartan race? Download The Spartan 2018 Training Plan as your blueprint. #noexcuses