How to Train for an Obstacle Course Race like Tough Mudder

Running through mud

Tough Mudder is becoming more and more popular every year. In fact, in 2022 almost 100,000 people took part in its events. When you take on Tough Mudder you’ll push your body mentally and physically. But what a feeling it is when you cross that finishing line!

If you’re planning on doing Tough Mudder this year or you’re already signed up for an event, training will be key. Here we give you some helpful advice in our Tough Mudder training guide.

Assessing your Fitness Level and Developing a Training Plan

You need to start somewhere. Your mind might be wandering to what’s coming, whether the distance, the obstacles or a combination of both. But first you need to focus on you.

Asses your fitness levels and set realistic goals for your training. The best way to prepare your body for Tough Mudder is with a combination of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), cardio and weight training. You can also look to train for specific kinds of obstacles you’ll encounter on the Tough Mudder course.

The key is to keep your training fresh and make sure you cover all of your bases. For example, if you focus too much on strength training you may be able to smash the Funky Monkey obstacle, but you’ll start flagging on mile six if you ignored your cardio and HIIT. Mixing it up will also keep your training interesting and make sure you’re still enjoying it come race day.

Strength Training for Obstacle Courses

Women on obstacle course

When you take on Tough Mudder, it’s no exaggeration to say you’ll be using every muscle in your body. Obstacles like the Hero Walls and Pyramid Scheme will push your body to the limits. Your training plan therefore needs to cover strength training where you’re working all your muscles.

Total body exercises like the bear walk are ideal. With the bear walk, you should do the following:

  1. Get down on your hands and feet with your knees slightly bent and your back flat.
  2. Walk your right hand and your left foot forward.
  3. Walk your left hand and your right foot forward.
  4. Keep walking and alternating sides until the set is complete.

The farmers walk is another exercise you should use as part of your training as it works your forearms, abs, glutes, traps, quads and hamstring. To do the farmers walk, you need to:

  1. Stand with your feet hips-width apart between two kettlebells.
  2. Brace your core and extend your hips and knees to stand, with your arms long and weights by sides.
  3. Walk forward, taking small steps and moving the weights as little as possible.
  4. Continue for 45 to 60 seconds. Try for 3 sets.

With strength training, you may think about building up your arms for example so you look good in the gym, but that’s not really the goal here. It’s not about how you look, it’s about how strong you get, so when you’re taking on obstacles like the Cliffhanger you’ve got the strength in the tank. Dips are a great exercise to build arm strength as they strengthen your triceps, chest and shoulders. Squats are also a hugely effective exercise to build strength. You can start with just your own bodyweight, then use the rack bar and build up to weights or kettle bells as you go.

We also recommend planking regularly and for as long as possible. Planking helps to build your core strength, but it also puts you through it when you’re beginning to ache. If you keep pushing through, it will help build your mental strength too – something that’s always important with Tough Mudder.

Cardiovascular Training for Obstacle Course Races

Mud run

Whatever your Tough Mudder course – whether 5K, 10K or 15K – cardiovascular fitness is essential for running between obstacles and for the endurance to keep going.

You’ll need to make running part of your training plan. If you’re not a good runner just start somewhere, even if it’s with a quick 15 minutes. You can then build this up to 30 minutes of consistent running before you start looking at adding specific distances into your training plan. Cycling and swimming can also help too with endurance training.

But cardio and endurance fitness isn’t just about bashing out a 10K. You’ll also want to look at specific exercises to boost your cardio capabilities. These include:

  • Burpees
  • Squat jacks
  • Hip touches
  • High knees
  • Press ups
  • Lunge with high knee pulls

You can do many of these exercises in as little as 10 minutes at home to boost your fitness and endurance levels.

Combining both Strength and Cardio with High Intensity Interval Training

Smart watch

Tough Mudder is a challenge like no other. It consists of obstacle, run, obstacle, run over and over across your chosen distance. You need a combination of strength and cardio, which is where HIIT training comes in. It mimics the action you’ll do on the course and pushes your body to its limit. If you can sign up to a HIIT class at your local gym a couple of times a week and build this into your training plan, it will work wonders for your Tough Mudder fitness levels.

Specific Obstacle Training for Tough Mudder

Whenever you sign up for Tough Mudder, there will always be obstacles that give you the heebie jeebies. But you can do them. You just need to be prepared.

Everest is one obstacle that always proves troublesome for many people, and is the iconic half pipe obstacle. Fortunately, you can build Everest training into your training plan with the following plan:

Week 1

Exercises: 7

Work for: 20 seconds

Rest for: 10 seconds

Sets: 2

  • Kick throughs
  • Mountain climbers
  • Touch backs
  • Squat thrusts
  • Burpees
  • Fast feet
  • High knees

Week 2

Exercises: 6

Work for: 20 seconds

Build up for: 10 seconds

Flat out for: 10 seconds

Sets: 2

  • High knees
  • Mountain climbers
  • Squat thrusts
  • Burpees
  • Lunges
  • Split jumps

Mudderhorn is another obstacle many people dread before Tough Mudder. It’s the tallest obstacle and requires superhuman strength and nerves of steel. You’ll need to be prepared! These exercises will help you do just that.

Wall Sit (great for a final obstacle like Mudderhorn even when your legs are tired)

  1. Stand with your back pressed against a wall.
  2. Slide downward along the wall into a squat position.
  3. Make sure you are sitting against the wall with your knees at a 90 degree angle.
  4. Your hamstrings should be parallel to the floor.
  5. Hold this move as long as you can.

Commandos (ideal for your upper body strength)

  1. Get into the plank position on your forearms, feet and hands should be shoulder width apart.
  2. Push up with your left arm so that it is now straight then quickly follow the same with the right arm.
  3. Come down onto your left forearm, then again follow with the right.
  4. Continue repeating this motion, alternating between left and right arms.
  5. During this exercise make sure you are activating your core and keeping a flat back.

Mental Toughness and Preparation

Women running marathon

A lot of what you experience out on the Tough Mudder course will push you just as much mentally as physically – maybe even more. So, you need your head in the game. Throughout your training, remember it’s a process. You’re building up to complete the obstacles and the course on the day. So if you’re struggling at the start don’t push yourself too hard and don’t be hard on yourself. You need to set realistic goals and gradually build up to them. If you’re hitting key milestones and ticking them off during your training, it will help with your motivation too.

Visualisation is a great way to work on the mental side. Worried about a certain obstacle? Visualise yourself doing it. Try and feel what it will be like to stand on the top of Everest, knowing you’ve done it. Be confident too. If you’ve done the training, have the confidence in your own ability. That way, you might even enjoy it!

Also remember to be kind to yourself too. It’s ok if you miss a training session or even if your run went badly – at least you went for one. If you’re too hard on yourself from the outset, your motivation may wane.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to be in great shape to complete a Tough Mudder race?

You need to be strong and have endurance to complete a Tough Mudder race. It isn’t about how you look or the shape you’re in. If you can push your body over obstacles and go the distance you can do it. Strength, cardio and HIIT are all key to help you reach your potential on the Tough Mudder course.

How do I prepare for cold water and muddy conditions during the race?

Some Tough Mudder events have the Arctic Enema – the coldest ice bath you’ll ever face. Fortunately you can train for this – whether you opt for cold showers at home or the icy plunge pool at the gym. When it comes to mud, get yourself out in muddy conditions for a run and some HIIT too – there’s nothing like a plank or a bear walk in the mud.

Pushing Towards Your Tough Mudder Goals

Remember, you have to start somewhere with your Tough Mudder training. Set yourself realistic short-term and long-term goals and build up to them during your training plan. Work on your strength and endurance and get some essential HIIT exercises in your training regime. And don’t forget to keep yourself strong mentally. You know you can do it!

For more information about Tough Mudder, check out our essential Tough Mudder guide.