How Michael Dean Puts His Lean, Muscular Physique to the Spartan Test
Fitness influencer, online coach, and Trifecta Nutrition athlete Michael Dean has spent years sculpting an immaculate physique. He’s big, strong, lean, and ready for anything. As COVID restrictions lessened and racers returned to Spartan courses in droves, Dean decided to take on his first Spartan race to put his physique to the ultimate test.
After putting a date on the calendar, he began tweaking his training and nutrition from bodybuilding and strength to Spartan race-specific preparation. Then, he smashed the Spartan Sprint in Vernon, NJ in October 2021, followed by the Spartan Super in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2022.
Related: The 4-Week Spartan Lean Muscle Training Program
“I love a good challenge, and I knew my body would be broken, but that’s what drew me to doing a race,” he says. "When I finished my first one, I was amazed at just how good of a challenge it actually was."
Here, Dean shares why he specifically picked Spartan races to put his physique to the test, how he tweaked his training and nutrition for the challenge, and what he did to prep for the obstacles and the course. Plus, Spartans get an exclusive training program to build muscle and lose fat fast.
Meet Fitness Model Michael Dean, Who Tested His Fitness With a Spartan Race
SPARTAN: What made you want to do a Spartan race, and how did you do?
MICHAEL DEAN: I wanted to put my physique to the test. There were certain parts of the first race that were like breeze, but obviously the running uphill was hard for me. When I’d get to obstacles where I was jumping over something or climbing seven or 10 feet, it was pretty easy for me. But I’d need to be catching my breath a lot, and when I got to the Sandbag Carry, I was gassed. I saw these big burly men just throw the sandbags up on their shoulders and they were just going, while I was crushed.
SR: Did you do anything differently in your first race versus your second one?
MD: For the second race, I knew what I was good at, but I also knew what I was certainly not good at. I did train differently. For example, I immediately started jogging with weight and I was just way more conditioned when I got back to the Sandbag Carry the second time around.
SR: Is there anything else you do?
MD: When I was training for the second race, I was running a lot more but my hips were constantly getting tight. That was something that told me that my hips were weak, so I started doing a lot of band and hip flexor work. I strengthened my entire hip area. The other thing I did was just pick up a lot more awkward, heavy shit. I’d pick up anything heavy, start incorporating battle ropes, and use a slam ball a ton. Instead of doing stuff like curls, I did things like that.
SR: How would you say training to get lean is different from training to race?
MD: Training to race can be more fun. When you're training for body composition, sometimes there’s things like 20 minutes of cardio because I just know I have to do it to get leaner. It's not as fun sometimes because it's very methodical, but with race training, I would throw extra running miles in here and there or some random grip strength exercises to prep for obstacles.
Michael Dean's Approach to Nutrition and Hydration
SR: How would you say nutrition is different when training to get lean versus training for racing?
MD: My approach to nutrition as a whole is that fitness should fit in your life. It has to be small habit changes over a long period of time. That’s how you’re successful with whatever you do. As for physique versus racing, when you’re training to race, you should be eating enough beforehand, especially getting lots of carbs after big runs. I think with running and racing, replenishing your body with carbohydrates is key.
When you’re lifting a lot, then I feel you need more protein, but I don’t necessarily think you need as much protein when you’re running because you're not breaking down the muscle tissue that much. Trifecta Nutrition is my go-to source for all my meal prep, no matter what I’m training for.
SR: Is there anything else you noticed about nutrition for race training?
MD: When performance is the goal, you can eat more. You don't have to be as structured with your eating times because you're consuming more calories as a whole. When you're eating to get lean, you don't have a lot of wiggle room, so that's structured, timing-wise.
Related: How to Eat to Build Lean Muscle and Stay Fast
It's really important for you to perform well — not just look good — when you're leaning out. If you’re trying to get lean, and you're not eating enough, you’re not going to feel good and then you're not going to perform well. Ultimately, the results will suffer. To ensure I'm eating enough and hitting all of my performance goals, I eat two Trifecta Nutrition meals per day: one at lunch and one at dinner.
SR: Was hydration a factor for you out there on race days?
MD: They gave me the Spartan Hydration tablets when I walked in. I thought, I don't need this and I threw it away. I definitely needed it. The next time I raced, I used the tablets. Plus, I started doing eight ounces of water virtually every hour on the hour, 24 hours before the race.
How Michael Dean Embraces the Spartan Mindset
SR: What do you tell yourself during tough shit like grinding out a race or training?
MD: Too many people expect to go into a workout and feel the endorphins, or feel that high, but most of the time that doesn't happen. They start the workout, they’re not feeling it and then just quit. When I'm getting ready, I take 15 minutes to get into the workout and know that I’m going to feel better. It’s that discipline that leads to feeling good.
I also always have my goals written out. If I want to do a Spartan race, I've got what I need to do in order to be ready for the race, written out. Then, all you have to do is do it.
SR: What’s your best advice for other first-time Spartan racers?
MD: Do not be afraid to get muddy, and be sure to have the mindset of a Spartan. Do you call yourself an athlete? Then a Spartan race is how you put that to the test. Also, don’t be afraid to be unconventional out there. When you're doing the Barbed Wire Crawl, they don't tell you that you have to Army crawl, so go on your side and roll right through it. If you're going for time, don't be afraid of burpees. I see people that spend five minutes trying to perfect their Spear Throw before they do it, but I can finish two rounds of burpees by the time they throw the spear.
Want to build lean muscle like Dean? Try his 4-Week Spartan Lean Muscle Training Program!