10 Best Exercises to Train for Your First Spartan Race

By Mark Barroso, NSCA-CPT, Spartan SGX

Congratulations. You committed to your first-ever Spartan Race. You’ve already done what most people are too afraid to do. Now comes the next stage: preparation.

While training for your first Spartan Race isn’t exactly brain surgery, I recommend mastering a few specific movements before stepping on the course. Do these simple moves a few times per week for 1-2 months prior to the race.

1. Dumbbell Burpee Cluster

Muscles Targeted: Full Body

How to Do It:

Stand holding one light dumbbell in each hand with your arms by your sides. Get into push-up position while gripping the dumbbells. Next, do a push-up (optional) and stand up into a squat clean. That is, stand so the dumbbells are at shoulder height and your hips are below your knee creases (below parallel). Now, press the weights overhead as you stand fully erect. Return the weights back to your sides. That’s one rep.

2. Inverted Row/Pull-up

Pull-ups are a key exercise in training for a Spartan Race, but if you can’t do one yet, that’s OK. Try the inverted row instead.

Muscles Targeted: Back, Biceps, Abs

How to Do It:

Set up a Smith machine bar (or a barbell in a power rack) so it’s 3-4 feet off the ground. Lie down supine (flat on your back) underneath the bar with eyes under bar and your feet away from it. Reach up and grab the barbell with a pronated (overhand) grip, and position your body so your arms are extended straight, feet are on ground, and your body is rigid (in a straight line) with about six inches between your body and the ground.

Keeping your elbows straight, pull yourself towards the bar until your chest touches or is close to bar. Pause at the top, then return your body to the starting position under control. That’s one rep.

3. Bear Crawl

Muscles Targeted: Full Body

How to Do It:

From the top of a push-up, step the right foot forward but not outside of the right arm as you simultaneously move the left hand forward in front of you. Next, do the same with the opposite arm and leg. Continue this for 50 yards prior to a cardio or weightlifting workout to work on functional strength and get warmed up.

4. Ninja Jumps

Muscles Targeted: Legs, Abs.

How to Do It:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with arms extended in front of you at eye level. Jump both knees vertically so your knee caps touch your palms. Land softly in a quarter squat position. That’s one rep. Repeat for as many reps as possible in 30-45 seconds. This plyometric exercise develops the adequate power necessary to scale walls, do box jumps and climb stairs quickly.

5. Walking Lunge

Muscles Targeted: Glutes, Legs, Abs

How to Do It:

You can do this as a bodyweight exercise, use a dumbbell/kettlebell in each hand, place a barbell on your back (not in front of you), or put a sandbag on your back or on top of one shoulder. Stand with your feet hip-width apart then step forward with the right leg so that your left knee is 1-1½ inches off the ground. Step your left leg forward and next to right leg as you stand fully erect again. Repeat on other side. To increase difficulty, don’t step the trailing leg next to the lead leg: keep moving it forward and step past the lead leg. This is a continuous motion and requires good balance.

6. Single Leg KB Deadlift

Muscles Targeted: Legs, abs

How to Do It:

Stand while holding a kettlebell in your right hand in front of your right leg. Flex the hips and lift your left leg off the ground behind you, raising it as high as you can while keeping your balance. As you do this, lower the bell in front of your right leg, keeping it close to the body. Return your left leg to your right leg and bring the bell back to the starting position. Do 10 reps on the right leg then switch the left leg. To increase difficulty, don’t step the leg that’s off the ground back to the floor: balance on one leg throughout the entire movement. This is a great stability exercise that readies the ankles, knees, and hips for the demands of uneven terrain on a mountainous Spartan course.

7. KB Swing

Muscles Targeted: Lower back, legs, abs, shoulders

How to Do It:

Grab a bell that’s in front of you on the ground. Drag the bell back between your legs, hinge at the hips, pop your hips forward and swing the bell to eye level. That’s one rep. Bring the weight back down between legs under control and repeat the motion.

8. KB Goblet Squat

Muscles Targeted: Legs, Abs

How to Do It:

Stand while holding one kettlebell with two hands, one hand on each side of the handle, in front your chest. Elbows should be bent, meaning your arms are not extended straight in front of you. Keeping the bell close to front of body, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Explosively push your hips vertical until you reach the starting position. That’s one rep.

9. Push-up (Side to Side)

Muscles Targeted: Chest, Triceps, Shoulders

How to Do It:

Do one push-up. Then, from the top of push-up position, move your left hand horizontally out about 3-4 inches. Do another push-up. Return hand to starting position (shoulder-width apart), and then do a standard push-up. Now, move your right hand out 3-4 inches and do another push-up. Return to the starting position and do a push-up. The best way to do these is to set a timer for 30-60 seconds and do as many possible, going from middle, left, middle, right.

10. Burpee

Muscles Targeted: Full Body

How to Do It:

To do a burpee, get on the ground in “chest-to-deck” position. Your chest should be touching the ground, your legs should be straight, and your palms should be on the ground as if you’re going to do a push-up. Next, do a push-up while moving your feet under your body so that you end in a squat with your hands on the ground. Finally, jump up with a straight body and your hands over your head. That’s one burpee.

I think the most attractive thing about Spartan Race is that you don’t have to follow a specific training plan to prepare. Everyone starts at a different fitness level and brings their own strengths and weaknesses. That said, these movements represent the “universals” that I guarantee will help you on any Spartan course, be it a Stadium Sprint or the Beast.

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