Taking the step to sign up for your first Spartan Sprint is an act of courage and commitment. Not everyone is race-ready when they toe the starting line, but by the time you get to the finish, you’re damn sure that you'll be ready for the next one. There’s always a next one (and a next one) until you're crushing Sprints like the back of your band and casting longing looks toward the starting lines of Supers and Beasts.
But what do you do when you get to that point? How do you level up your training so that you can kill it when it comes to the more challenging obstacles out on those longer courses?
How to Upgrade From a Spartan Sprint to a Super (or Beast)
The most obvious change that you should make to your workouts is extending running distances to prep for the extra race length. The Spartan Sprint is 3+ miles while you’ll easily be clocking over 6-8 miles on a Spartan Super. By the time you get to the Beast, you’ll be running three times the mileage you crossed on the Sprint (at the very least).
But according to JP Siou, a Spartan SGX coach and the owner of BTG Fitness and Lifestyle Coaching, one of the best (and often least addressed) additions you can make to your training when your sights are set on a Super is to focus on grip strength.
“One of the key differences — besides the obvious length — between a Sprint and the longer distances is that you tend to see the harder hanging obstacles on the Super and Beast, with the Beast often taking things up a whole other notch in difficulty,” Siou says.
Sure, your whole body tends to take a hit when you first do a Sprint, but it's typically your hands, forearms, biceps, and shoulders that continue hurting the most the day after a Super or Beast. For that reason, he says that “it’s a good idea to double-down on hanging grip strength and body control.”
Stronger, Not Longer
For many, that might mean doing longer hangs in their training. But again, Siou suggests “trying to hang stronger, not longer. The hanging obstacles require repeated high-tension ‘grip events,’ not long-duration hangs.”
The coach also recommends focusing on one-handed hanging rather than static two-handed hangs.
“If you need to, build up to hanging one-handed by starting with your feet touching the ground — or on a box if necessary — for some assistance,” Siou says. “Then, gradually use your legs less and less, and your hands more and more.
“Hold for five seconds on one hand, and then transfer to the other hand for five seconds. Work your way up to sets of eight to 12 holds per hand, spreading them out through the course of your regular workout.”
As enthusiastic as you might be, the SGX coach and racer advises against doing multiple sets in a row.
“This is because your hands and gripping muscles will need a bit of recovery in between to get the best results,” he explains.
Obstacles like the Monkey Bars require you to hang and move, and it’s the latter part that often brings racers out in a sweat. For this reason, Siou notes the value of working on the ability to hang dynamically, which involves engaging multiple muscles for movement and momentum.
“If you stall out or miss a grab on a hanging obstacle and you’re dead hanging, you’re 100% relying on your grip to prevent a fall," he says. "If you’re hanging dynamically, though, you have the added safety net of being able to relax into the hang and use your muscles to shift the load before you have to let go.
“Of course, this is best practiced two-handed, unless you’re CRAZY strong.”
So how do you incorporate dynamic hanging into your workout? The SGX coach and decade-long personal trainer suggests the following:
1. Hang from a bar or rings with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your shoulder blades depressed and retracted.
2. Aim for as long of a 90-degree hang as you can manage while still being able to control the descent down to a dead hang after.
3. A good goal would be about a 10-second hang with a 4-6 second controlled descent.
“These are way more taxing than they seem, so only aim for sets of four to six at a time, again, spreading them throughout the course of your regular workout," Siou advises. "And again, don’t do multiple sets in a row. You’ll get better results if you give your body at least a few minutes between attempts.”
Focus on Body Control
Working on a stronger and more dynamic hang will really help you tackle the tougher obstacles such as the Monkey Bars, Tyrolean Traverse, and Rope Climbs (all of which are the dreaded staples of the Super and Beast). But to really crush these obstacles, Siou claims that you need to work on “controlling the dynamic weight transfer as you move your body across a hanging obstacle.”
For this, he suggests using hanging side swings, either on rings or a chin-up bar. Here's how to do it:
1. Start from a dead hang, and then use your core and legs to initiate a controlled, side-to-side swing. Continue controlling the swing side to side using slight pulls with your arms.
2. To keep the swing going, pull on the side you’re swinging toward and drive the knee on that side up as well.
3. To slow the swing down (or keep from swinging too far), let your legs hang down and pull on the side you’re swinging away from.
4. Once you have good control, work in a quick hand release and re-grip at the top of the swing on each side (at this point you can substitute these in for half of the sets of your one-handed hangs).
5. Aim for eight to 12 swings toward each side, and then come to a controlled stop into a dead hang before dropping from the bar or rings.
It may seem like a strenuous workout to add to any training and — make no mistake — it is. But the more hard work you put in before the race, the less burpees you'll be doing out on the course.
“The combination of dynamic grip strength and control that you’ll develop with these three moves will definitely pay dividends getting you to the finish line and saving you from unnecessary burpees as you tackle the Super or Beast course,” he says.