By SGX Coach Mark Barroso
You’ve heard it before from your gains-chasing gym buddies: “I hate running; I could never do an obstacle course race,” or “I can’t do an obstacle race because it’ll get in the way of my gym training.”
There’s no question about it: many elite Spartan Racers have running backgrounds and log dozens of running miles per week. However, this doesn’t mean that weightlifters can’t compete in Spartan Races at a high level.
One can make scientific arguments about how genetics, VO2-max, muscle fiber type distribution, running economy, lactate threshold, and training ATP/phosphocreatine, glycolytic, and oxidative systems are necessary for Spartan success—but the reality is that even the leanest and most muscular people have finished Spartan Races without injury. Specifically, I’m referring to physique competitors, athletes who compete in competitions judged based on their appearance, not their athletic performance.
So, can a bodybuilder do a Spartan Race and excel? It’s rare, but some athletes have found a way to balance both training for a Spartan Race and preparing for bodybuilding competitions. Check out how these five athletes trained to be the most athletic and aesthetic physique competitors.
- Age: 27
- Residence: New York, NY
- Website: epichybridtraining.com
- Instagram: @cassidylanewatton
- SPARTAN PRO TEAM MEMBER
(Photo credit: NPC News Online.)
Spartan Pro Team member Cassidy Watton placed second at both the 2016 AT&T Stadium Sprint in Dallas, TX and the Citi Field Sprint in New York. At the end of the 2015 Spartan Race season, the Epic Hybrid Training Coach decided to tackle a new fitness challenge: competing in an amateur figure contest.
“It’s been a bucket list item to see what my body was really capable of looking like,” says Watton. “I’ve always been fairly fit, but signing up for this physique competition forced me to take measures to see what my body was capable of in terms of being lean and ripped.”
FIGURING IT OUT
In March 2016, Watton hit the stage of the 2016 NPC CJ Classic competing in the Figure Division. She took four months to train, diet and prepare for the contest, and worked with a posing coach six weeks out from the show. Watton’s preferred training method was one that is well-loved in the obstacle racing community: interval training.
“I didn’t do the long, grueling Stairmaster and elliptical workouts like a lot of figure competitors do,” says Watton. “I figured that with interval training, I’d get my conditioning, work my muscles and keep my athleticism for Spartan Races. I think I can train for Stadium Sprints and a figure competition at once using interval training.”
A large part of bodybuilding, in any division, in adhering to a strict diet to appear very lean. As you might know, Watton’s was already lean and ripped four months out from March, so according to her, there was no need to start dieting that early. In fact, Watton was 11% body fat before and after the contest but dropped overall weight, meaning she actually lost muscle during contest prep.
“That was a learning experience,” says Watton. “My body was almost there already and all I needed to do was suck the water out of my muscles and they would’ve been fuller compared to how they looked after I depleted them for months.”
That depletion includes five measured meals daily with 25-30 grams of protein per meal. The cheat meals and desserts stopped at one month out from show day. As for the week before the contest, Watton drank 1.5 gallons of water Monday and Tuesday, then tapered down until the last two days when she then started to flush the water from her system. She “cut back on carbohydrates big time” in the last 10 days.
“The funny thing is, you start reloading on carbs the night before the competition and the day of the show you’re eating sugar and carbs, such as a Pop-Tart so the muscles look fuller,” Watton adds. “I’d definitely prepare differently if I tried it again because it takes a lot of trial and error.”
LIVE EPIC, BE EPIC
For Watton, Spartan Race was a way to create a performance goal, and with that came a physique that wasn’t too far-off from bodybuilding’s ideal. As a fitness instructor, Watton stresses the importance of training for athletic performance to see visual differences.
“Having a performance goal changes your body more than having a weight goal which is why there are so many cool things to accomplish at Epic Hybrid Training,” Watton says.
“People start focusing on tasks, such as crossing the monkey bars, instead of what they look like, and they are more successful and happy.”
- Age: 31
- Residence: Ottawa, Canada
- Instagram: @christales
- 2016 Goals: Obstacle Racing World Championships (Age Group)
(Photo credit: Muscle Insider.)
OCR Bikini Beast
In 2013, Canadian native Christale Maille, known as “OCR Bikini Beast” on social media, competed in her first Canadian Bodybuilding Federation contest in the “Bikini” division. The bikini division of bodybuilding organizations is often comprised of women who are less muscular or smaller in overall size than the figure and women’s physique divisions. The next year, Maille competed in a Spartan Race and was immediately hooked.
“In 2014, my cousin asked me to do the Ottawa Super, so I researched and saw there were obstacles and I thought that was cool,” Maille says. “I like challenging myself, [and] I’m super competitive. After doing the race, I was addicted.”
Maille has completed seven Spartan Races, including earning her first TRIFECTA in 2016, and five CBBF bikini shows, including a Top 10 finish at the IFBB World Qualifiers, where she nearly won her IFBB Pro Card. Both in 2015 and 2016, Maille has been training for both Spartan Races and bikini contests, and in 2017, she plans to compete in Spartan’s Elite Category.
Maille’s bikini routine calls for six weightlifting days and six cardio sessions per week. The cardio sessions are not unlike an elite’s training for a Spartan Sprint: hill sprints, 20-minute high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, and once a week there’s a steady-state session. For Maille, winter usually means treadmill and Stairmaster; she trains outdoors in the summer.
“Bikini is very leg-specific, so I train lower body 2-3 days a week and train different body parts every time I workout,” Maille says. “During back training, I do several pull-up variations, which help with obstacles such as the rope climb and rig.”
STICKING TO SCHEDULE
Maille has a new rule for scheduling bikini shows and Spartan Races: no less than a month apart. “Peak week,” or the week prior to a show, usually requires a significant Caloric deficit and Maille advises “it would be really hard to do a race the weekend after a peak week.” OCRbikinibeast learned this the hard way.
“When I was training for Bikini Nationals, I decided to do a Spartan Race two weeks before the contest, and it was really tough,” Maille says. “My energy levels were terrible on the course. I realized I couldn’t do them that close together.”
The only significant change Maille makes when preparing for a Spartan is that she adds more carbs (she favors jasmine and basmati rice) to her meals than she normally would eat if she weren’t racing.
Looking forward, Maille has her sights set on the OCR World Championships where she’s qualified in the age group division. For bikini, she’s considering doing the Arnold Amateur in March 2017 in Columbus, OH.
“My goal at OCRWC is to complete all the obstacles and finish top 10 in my age group.”
- Age: 32
- Height: 5’8”
- Weight: 168 pounds
- Residence: Boonsboro, MD
- Website: spartandaddy.com
- Instagram: @g.haupt
Gerad (pronounced like Jared) Haupt ran the Washington, D.C. Sprint, Palmerton, PA Super, and New Jersey Beast in 2015. This year, he’ll compete in his first NPC Men’s Physique contest in October, the Big Cat Classic in Allentown, PA. Author of the “Spartan Daddy” blog, Haupt brought his five-year-old daughter to two of last year’s races.
Haupt’s fitness journey began with one simple goal: run a marathon by age 30.
“I was almost 29 years old, and I was like, ‘I’m not getting any younger,’ so I started running, going from 5Ks to 10Ks to a half marathon then I finally did the Baltimore Marathon four months before I turned 30,” says Haupt. “Then, I thought, ‘These 5Ks are pretty easy, so what if I add obstacles to them?’”
“I did a few obstacle course events, then I did Spartan Race which was on a whole other level.’”
During these Spartan Races, Haupt realized that he simply wasn’t strong enough to muscle his way through some of the obstacles. The Herculean Hoist nearly lifted his 150-pound frame off the ground. As a result, Haupt got into weightlifting to avoid struggling at obstacles. That was in early 2015, and by the summer, Haupt knew he wanted to compete in men’s physique.
“I did product testing with Reebok and I always thought I could do fitness modeling for Reebok and other sports apparel companies,” Haupt says. “That’s been the end goal of this fitness journey, and getting my body in the best shape it can be is a stepping stone towards that goal.”
Haupt packed on 30-35 pounds in a year, getting up to 185 pounds before starting his “cut” to get shredded for the men’s physique show. Men’s physique calls for a look that is less “big” than bodybuilding, and the competitors wear board shorts instead of posing trunks like in the bodybuilding division. Nonetheless, Haupt still had to put in serious hours to prepare.
“For the most part, I was lifting every night, and I always do shoulders, back and biceps on one day, chest and triceps on another day and legs on a separate day,” adds Haupt. “I’ve been doing cardio every night, which is a different than the kind of cardio I would do while training for a Spartan Race. I walk on the treadmill, sometimes at an incline, to burn calories but not lose muscle.”
Diet-wise, Haupt eats 5-6 meals a day and started contest prep 16 weeks out. At four weeks out, Haupt started utilizing carb-cycling, where he only ate starchy carbs such as rice and sweet potatoes every three days. Ten days out from the show, Haupt wasn’t allowed many carbs on any day of the week until the day of the show; meals consisted of protein, veggies, and a scoop of peanut butter.
“I’ve seen the most results from carb cycling,” Haupt adds.
After being asked by skeptical peers about whether or not they can physically do a Spartan Race, Haupt tells them that they don’t even need to be able to run three miles straight because they’ll be stopping to do obstacles. He goes one step further, stating that for men’s physique and bodybuilding athletes, “if you’re doing basic cardio, you should be able to do a 5K obstacle race.”
“The Spartan Daddy” recently just had his second daughter this summer and started a new job as manager at Chik-Fil-A, so Spartan Races have been hard to fit into his schedule this year. However, he plans to return to the course again soon.
“I definitely want to do more Spartan Races in the future, and my daughter has been asking when we’re going to do another one,” says Haupt. “I’ve learned from Spartan Race that you’re capable of so much more than what you give yourself credit for…Your mind will always give up before your body does. That’s something I’ve learned to be true whether I’m on the side of a mountain wanting to quit…or in middle of contest prep on a low-carb diet.”
- Age: 34
- Residence: Connecticut
- Instagram: @the_fit_cupcake
Sara Fadziewicz is the only professional physique competitor in this list to have also competed in Spartan. Currently a World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) Pro, Fadziewicz actually competed in Spartan Race before her physique career in the summer of 2013—none other than the Killington Beast.
“I’ve always been into working out and I had a group of friends that were doing the Vermont Beast and I was like ‘OK, I’ll do that with you.’” says Fadziewicz. “I did the Beast, and the next year I had a friend that wanted to do the Spartan TRIFECTA.”
(Photo Credit: Fitness Atlantic.)
That year, 2014, proved to a busy one for the gym lover. She competed in her first fitness competition, earned her Spartan TRIFECTA, and ran half-marathons and other road races. Fadziewicz worked at a gym at age 21, where she fell in love with weightlifting. At age 26, her cousin told her “You’re the only person I know that works out twice a day and isn’t a professional athlete.”
“I just enjoyed it and it wasn’t until I start competing and doing Spartan Races that I was motivated to do other things aside from just lifting weights,” Fadziewicz says.
“By age 31, I was doing all of the things I had on my bucket list.”
To prepare for the 2014 Beast of her TRIFECTA, Fadziewicz signed up for 10Ks and other races and also went on trail runs. Training consisted of two-a-days: Spartan training in the morning and weightlifting at night. She would adjust her macronutrients, adding more carbs and fats into one her meals on the weekend of a long run to offset the carbs she was burning. Fadziewicz didn’t adjust much in the gym to train for Spartan, as her routine already included lots of burpees and pullups, two staples of any Spartan SGX training plan.
“Most bodybuilders are going to have the strength; it’s the endurance they need,” Fadziewicz adds.
Both an athlete and a mentor, Fadziewicz will continue striking poses on the WBFF stage and helping other women reach their fitness goals, applying the lessons she learned from her Spartan days.
“I love doing the Sprints, and when you finish and get that medal it’s a happy feeling,” Fadziewicz says. “The feeling of accomplishment is hard to replace. It’s a similar feeling to what I get when I’m on stage for a show. I’d recommend people to do Spartan Races because when you finish, it just feels amazing.”
- Age: 27
- Height: 5’5”
- Weight: 185 pounds
- Residence: Mahopac, NY
- Instagram: @jmariano_fit
NPC bodybuilder James Mariano is the anomaly that embodies the broad reach of Spartan Race. He’s a short, lean, muscular guy who competes in the bodybuilding division, the biggest of the big, yet he’s run so many Spartan Races that he has lost count. At one point, Mariano had competed in both competitive bodybuilding and Spartan’s Elite Racing Category, only to have multiple people question his motives. Mariano has been weightlifting for more than a decade, but Spartan Race came first before bodybuilding.
“In 2012, the Spartan Race Street Team came to my gym (then Evolution Fitness in Mahopac, NY), met with the owner, and gave out a flyer about a race,” says Mariano. “I was asked to do the Tuxedo Spartan Sprint with a few other gym friends and we ended up doing it. One month later, I competed in my first bodybuilding show as a lightweight where I placed second in the novice division.”
Mariano completed three TRIFECTAs, even though he claims Spartan Beasts “were never his thing” and that he’s not an endurance athlete. Nevertheless, after his race in 2012, Spartan used Mariano’s image on one of its advertisements within the Pandora music app, which brought Mariano considerable attention.
(Photo credit: Muscular Development.)
“I had people asking me, what was the deal about Spartan Race,” Mariano says.
After doing more races, Mariano made friends within the Spartan community but eventually his status as both a competitive bodybuilder and OCR athlete was questioned.
“The topic came up that I can’t physically compete in competitive bodybuilding and elite heats of Spartan Race and perform well,” says Mariano. “Hobie Call called me out and said point blank, ‘You cannot do this.’”
Mariano’s response was to run elite in 2013 while still training for bodybuilding. He literally left a bodybuilding show to run the 2013 Tuxedo Sprint. Over the past two years, Mariano has directed his competitive drive to bodybuilding, still while running Spartan Races, just not as an aspiring professional like he is in the NPC.
“My body isn’t meant to be 150 pounds chasing after these guys,” Mariano says.
Since stepping back from running elite, Mariano has partnered with Team Ilene.
“Ilene Boyer is one of my very close friends and she has a brittle bone disease which inhibits her from running these Spartan Races at a ‘normal’ pace because she can’t bump into or fall off of things,” says Mariano. “I’ve been helping her the past couple of years, and that’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to Spartan Race.”
“Whatever race she picks, I try to make sure I’m available to her.”
Mariano is training for two bodybuilding shows in November: the NPC Eastern USAs and the Miami Nationals. Contest prep for those shows started back in February, before he did the 2016 New Jersey Beast, among other races. Mariano lifts weights 6-7 days a week, taking an active rest day to go hiking. He trains legs twice a week and targets each individual body part with a certain intensity depending where he needs the most work. A rep range of 6-8 is preferred and dropsets and supersets are used to build size and muscular endurance simultaneously.
“In all the years I’ve been training, I never thought to push it to the 1-4 rep maximum rep range because with that comes risk of injury,” Mariano explains.
If Mariano is running with Team Ilene, a group of friends, or if he’s solo on a Super or Beast course, he brings his meals in his hydration pack. He doesn’t believe in carbing up before races and doesn’t change his bodybuilding diet for Spartan Race, but he has to have the pre-made food on hand if the course is longer than a Sprint.
“I’ve been caught at races with a spoon behind my ear tucked under my bandana and people just look at me and laugh.”
BRIDGING THE GAP
Both bodybuilding and Spartan’s style of obstacle racing have been around for a long time. Obstacle courses have been a part of American military training since the 20th Century, and the first Mr. Universe competition was in 1948. Fast forward to today and compare the bodies of 6X Mr. Olympia Phil Heath to a Spartan athlete like Robert Killian, and it’s clear why many see an enormous divide between these two worlds of fitness.
Devout bodybuilders and dedicated Spartans have more in common they think: it takes discipline of the mind and body to be good at either of these sports. The five athletes above are just a handful that have proven it’s possible to think outside of the “fitness box.” Not only that, but they show that it’s very smart for traditional weightlifters to step outside their comfort zones. Of course, professional bodybuilders are unlikely to stray too far from what they do for a living, but for everyone else that loves gains, including men and women’s physique competitors, Spartan has a lot to offer.
Hey, fitness industry. Spartan isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Come be a part of something big.
Learn more. Do more. Accomplish more.
Spartan Race exists to rip millions of people off the couch and show them that anything is possible with hard work, commitment and perseverance. Spartan brings together people of all types and backgrounds because all of us, runners and bodybuilders alike, could use some time outside of our comfort zones.