By Spartan SGX Coach Mark Barroso, NSCA-CPT
With more than 1,000 certified Spartan SGX coaches, Spartan SGX, the official training philosophy of Spartan Race, continues to dominate obstacle race training. Part of what makes Spartan SGX unique is that coaches are given the tools to create their own training programs and workout plans for their students and clients. As a Spartan SGX Coach, I almost assume—any time I meet another Spartan coach—that they take full advantage of their toolbox when programming clients’ workouts. To figure out how they do this, I talked to four of them. Let me introduce them:
Nicole Rosa, WITS-CPT, Spartan SGX, based out of Kerhonkson, New York is a busy mother of three who balances training for Spartan Race and preparing clients for the courses.
Steffan Fung, a Spartan SGX coach based in Singapore, is the Director of Endurance and Training for Spartan Race Asia and the first Hurricane Heat/Agoge Krypteia outside of the U.S.
Here’s what these top-notch SGX coaches recommend to crush your next Spartan Race. Read their training tips below.
STOP AND GO TRAINING.(Recommended by Jonathan Aragon, SGX.)
“For a Sprint or Super, you’d definitely need to do interval training to increase your explosiveness,” says Jonathan Aragon. “A month out from a race, I’d suggest doing a 30 second sprint, 10 burpees, take a 30 second break, then do another 30 second sprint. Do about 10 rounds of that then go jog for a mile. This is going to enhance your endurance and get you more comfortable with the 4-5 mile distance.”
Here’s another one of Aragon’s sample interval training workouts:
For beginners: 2-3 rounds. Intermediate-Advanced: 5-10 rounds.
- 1 minute, jump rope.
- 1 minute, burpees.
- 1 minute, rest.
Aragon recommends targeting 80-percent of your max heart rate (MHR) during sprints. During a Spartan Stadium Sprint, Aragon says, fast Spartans may see their hearts reach 90- to 100-percent of maximum. A terrain-based Spartan Sprint will require 80- to 90-percent MHR until you’re close to finishing, at which point you push to 100-percent effort.
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“For a beginner, I would suggest three days a week, so you can go one day off, one day on to get the proper recovery time,” Aragon says. “Once you become more advanced, let’s say a month into interval training, then you can do four days per week.”
PERFECT THE PULL-UP(Recommended by Jonathan Aragon, SGX.)
Regardless of your current fitness level, there is a pull-up variation for you. Pull-ups will help you to conquer obstacles like the wall climb, monkey bars, rope climb, Tyrolean traverse, and the Clif multi-rig. If you’re unable to do a strict pull-up, which is very common, don’t worry—you can use a suspension trainer, a rope, band, or Smith Machine to work your way up.
“Grab a resistance band, hold it above your head, pull the resistance band apart, then bring it down to your chest,” Aragon says. “This utilizes the same exact muscle groups you would use in a pull-up.”
You can also build back muscles by doing inverted rows using a suspension trainer, a Smith Machine Bar set at a low height, or a rope.
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“Loop a rope around a monkey bar or in in a gym, the pull-up bar or the middle of the top of a cable crossover machine,” Aragon says. “Use the rope to pull yourself up and down.”
Once you’re able to do 20 unbroken strict pull-ups, then it’s time to switch it up. Aragon suggests:
- mixed-grip pull-ups where one hand is overhand and the other is underhand
- alternating between wide grip and narrow grip pull-ups every rep
- hand-release pull-ups, where you release one hand off the bar at the start of the rep, grip the bar, do a pull-up and repeat
“Hand release pull-ups and other progressions will start getting you used to holding on with one arm for a longer period of time which trains you for the rig,” Aragon says. “If you’re reaching for a ring and miss it, you can fix your position, grip with two hands again, and grab it.”
STEP IT UP (AND DOWN)(Recommended by Jonathan Aragon, SGX.)
Spartan Stadium Sprints typically consist of running up and down stairs, and lots of them. Even for terrain courses, stair climbing is a great way to prepare for the ups and downs of a mountain. Aragon says to incorporate stair training once or twice a week. Here’s a sample stair workout designed by Aragon.
Do 3 rounds total:
- Stairs: 5 Flights (Up and Down), repeat three times
- 50-Yard Bear Crawl or Crab Walk
- 10 Burpees
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HIT THE (UNEVEN) ROAD(Recommended by Steffan Fung, SGX.)
Spartan Coach Steffan Fung holds Spartan SGX classes in Singapore, where it’s warmer and more humid than most of the US year-round, yet he still advocates training outdoors for Spartan Races. Furthermore, Fung suggests to run on terrain that you’ll see on the course.
“If the course terrain is going to be undulating, do more slopes and trail runs than running along sidewalks,” Fung says. “Be mentally ready, know how far you plan on running and what feelings you expect to have prior to a long run. Also, be equipped with proper running shoes, shirt, bottoms and a hydration pack for a long run.”
Aragon agrees that outdoor training is a plus for preparing for Spartan Races, especially when the race will be cold.
“The treadmill is OK for a certain amount of time, but it’s always good to experience the outdoors because you want get your body accustomed to different elements,” Aragon adds.
MASTER THE 7-MINUTE WORKOUT(Recommended by Nicole Rosa, SGX.)
Spartans find ways to maximize their time, and as a mother of three, SGX Coach Nicole Rosa is spreading the word of time management to the busiest of Spartans.
“Start to look at any 5-minute block throughout the day and understand how a short workout can help you train and relieve stress,” Rosa says. “If you go to the playground with your kids, don’t sit on the bench. If you go to the trampoline park, get moving with them. Indoor rock climbing is also another good parent-child activity.”
During a spare 5-7 minutes at home or in the office, here’s a workout that Rosa suggests.
As Many Rounds as Possible in 5-7 Minutes
- 20 Bodyweight Squats
- 20 Push-ups
- 20 Ab-Mat Sit-ups
Training doesn’t always have to be a regimen on a piece of paper; you can find ways to train for a Spartan Race all over the place, Rosa adds. Find every opportunity to be active and use your body whenever you can.
STRENGTH FIRST, THEN METABOLIC CONDITIONING(Recommended by Nicole Rosa, SGX.)
When a workout session starts with strength and ends with metabolic conditioning, you know it’s from Spartan SGX. Another staple of Spartan SGX training is grip strength. Rosa incorporates both tenets into her programming.
“Once a client is interested in doing a Spartan Race, I make sure they’re working on grip strength,” says Rosa. “I’ll have them start doing dead hangs, toes to bar, jumping pull-ups, assisted pull-ups, and kettlebell or dumbbell walks to help them build the grip strength they need to succeed at obstacles.”
For strength training, Rosa says to lift weights for 4 sets of 12 reps, because at 12 reps, clients “could go up in weight so if they were training on their own, they wouldn’t hurt themselves,” she adds. Rosa will start the workout with weightlifting, using perfect form, and then the last 15 minutes will be an interval workout. For example, she’ll have a client run a quarter mile, do 10 push-ups, pull-ups, or bodyweight squats, and then get back on the treadmill.
“I’d like people to give their most concentrated attention to heavy weight training first because injury prevention is very important,” Rosa says. “Give whatever is left after giving your best with weights.”
PLAN YOUR BREAKFAST(Recommended by Jonathan Aragon, SGX and Nicole Rosa, SGX.)
You don’t hear much about a “Spartan Race diet” or “cutting down for a Spartan Race.” That’s because most athletes tend to eat more food than usual the weeks leading into their race, since that’s likely when training will be most intense. There are huge variations on the ideal pre-race breakfast as people digest foods differently.
“My sample breakfast is a small bowl of oatmeal, a bagel, two waffles, a banana and a black cup of coffee,” says Aragon. “Make sure your last meal is at least two hours prior to your race time to make sure it’s going to be properly digested.”
Rosa’s breakfast consists of eggs, cream of rice, and fruit. Right before the race, she’ll eat a small apple and some black coffee. The apple gives her a quick sugar rush because she’s not used to eating sugar.
“I like to eat cream of rice before a race because it works for me as a fast energy source,” Rosa says. “Unless carbohydrates are coming from fruits and vegetables, I look at carbs just for the value of energy I get from them.”
RUN MORE FREQUENTLY, NOT “FARTHER AND LONGER”(Recommended by Helene Dumais, SGX.)
Helene Dumais, SGX placed second at the 2014 Ultra Beast in Killington, VT, and most of her current clients are Spartans. She’s an ultra runner who has been there and done that in the endurance community and she advises running efficiency over logging long miles.
“Each person is different, yet we’ll never really go for a full length of a Beast during training for Beast,” Dumais says. “Since Beasts are on a trail and not a road, we’re going to focus on time, not distance.”
The first week of Dumais’s 6-week Beast or Ultra Beast training program will contain 6-7 hours of running per week and progress to 10 hours per week. A workout plan will start with running and strength training as separate entities, and eventually Dumais mixes them together, throwing in pull-ups and burpees during runs as the event nears to mimic the course. Dumais suggests that instead of doing one long, 7-8-hour run on a Saturday, athletes should do a higher number of shorter runs on both Saturday and Sunday.
“Saturday morning you’re going to run 2.5 hours, rest a few hours, run 3 hours in the afternoon, then Sunday afternoon you’ll run 3-4 hours,” Dumais explains. “Using this method, you get that volume load but without a high risk of injury before a race. During the week, you’ll do some interval or speed work depending on where we are in the program.”
¾ SAFE, ¼ RACE(Recommended by Helene Dumais, SGX.)
On a Beast/Ultra Beast course, there are certain mental strategies that can make a substantial difference in race performance. Dumais provides a great safety tip for getting through these tough events.
“For the first ¾ of the total race distance, focus solely on your nutrition and pace with the goal of completing this distance safely,” Dumais says. “For the last quarter of the distance, start thinking about racing and competing. At the start line, it’s not about other racers, it’s about you.”
This means: don’t try to run the uphills or power the downhills or outrun someone on the sandbag carry in the beginning at the cost of being out of energy for the rest of the race. In typical endurance athlete fashion, Dumais places emphasis on staying positive at every moment during a race.
“Tell yourself things like, ‘The weather is great; I remember doing that run in the rain and right now it’s not raining,’ or ‘I ate food, I have energy in my legs and this is awesome.’”
YOU’LL NEED FOOD FOR AN ULTRA BEAST(Recommended by Helene Dumais, SGX.)
I finished my first Spartan Race Beast in just under 6 hours and I survived on energy gels and gummies. Dumais echoes this strategy, saying that gels and fruit bars work fine for 6 hours on a course. For an Ultra Beast, you’ll need some real food and protein bars to hold you over since you can be on the course for 12+ hours. To avoid “race distraction” during an Ultra Beast and actually stick to an eating schedule on the course, set a timer for 30-45 minutes and eat something when the timer goes off.