Fitness Breakdown for Spartan

Today I’ve looked at the elements of fitness you might want to concentrate on for the spartan sprint.

Cardiovascular endurance
Endurance training involves cardiovascular training at a slightly faster pace than you find comfortable for a sustained amount of time. Running is the main activity of the spartan sprint, do endurance sessions should be geared towards running further than the distance being raced: 5-10K, running at a level that feels only just sustainable for that distance. This is hard, but, you can increase your speed with time. Whatever distance you end up running when doing your endurance training, keep going for at least 40 minutes, no matter what. Go longer if you wish.

In order to develop your cardiovascular response to high levels of physical effort, you will need to do some speed intervals. Any training that repeatedly requires your heart rate to rapidly climb, and then to gradually recover is called interval training; in fact recovery to a lower heart rate level before starting the next speed interval is critical to the expansion and development of the cardiovascular response to strenuous activity. Exposure to unpredictable conditions created by interval training means the development maximum capacity of the system to meet those possibilities. Measuring and controlling intervals is easier with a heart rate monitor, but can be done by measuring your pulse, or by getting to know how it feels to recover after effort.

Maximum effort activities such as 100m sprints can develop speed, however great care should be taken to make sure you do not spend too much time near maximum heart rate levels. Remember that decreased recovery time is a sign of increasing fitness.

A typical sprint workout would consist of a 5 minute warm-up, followed by 10 X 100m sprints at maximum effort, walking back to the start line after every sprint. Once all the intervals are done, a 5 minute cool down jog and stretching routine should be done. There are lots of different ways to run intervals. Google it.

For the spartan race, you will eventually need to learn to sprint uphill too.

Plyometric/Sudden Burst power
A Spartan race involves jumping, climbing, throwing, and hopping over
obstacles. In order to perform well on these obstacles, and not be completely drained by them, you will need to develop your ability to contract your muscles very quickly and and powerfully.

Fast twitch muscle fibres are developed through performing exercises like box jumps, hurdles, clapping push ups, boxing, javelin throwing, olympic lifts, medicine ball slams, martial arts, soccer, basketball and any other activity that requires fast reactions or jumping.

Other examples:

  • P90X Plyometrics and P90X2 Plyocide
  • Insanity
  • Air attack – Basketball drills

Deceleration control and negatives
What goes up, must come down. Controlling falls, descents down hills, and drop-off type obstacles is an essential skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Landing softly from these movements allows you to develop the strength needed to maintain control and stay injury free. Most running injuries happen when going downhill too fast.

One way to develop this kind of deceleration control is to practice box jumps. Hop off a wall or a box and control your landing by softening your knees and lowering yourself slowly into a squat. You can also make this move harder by dropping off the platform into a low squat, before immediately jumping up from the lowest point of the squat.

When running downhill, keep the core tight and keep your knees and hips flexible and responsive to the terrain, rather than attacking the decline with speed. Try and let gravity do most of the work, but stay in control. You will run downhill many times during this race, and will have to slow yourself down to stop falling over. Stay controlled and calm on the way down to make it an efficient recovery that retains energy for the next hill climb.

The same principle can apply in a different way to strength training. For example if you cannot do pull ups, you can start by using a chair to step on to get up to the bar, and lower yourself to the straight arm position as slowly as possible. With one arm on a preacher bench or leaning over a gym ball, you could try slowly resisting and lowering a dumbbell that is too heavy for you to curl with one arm, resetting the weight with both arms. These kind of movements are called negatives, and can develop strength very quickly, but require supervision to achieve safe form.

Getting your leg over the high wall, ducking under the barbed wire, raising your knees high above the mud as you run through it, stretching out across the horizontal wall traverse, will all require a lot of flexibility. You will need to do yoga or some form of stretching routine in order to gain the flexibility and range of motion you need to make it through this thing injury free. Seriously, yoga is the best way to do this. There are plenty of free yoga routines on YouTube.


Good balance is key to completing some of the obstacles without a penalty of 30 burpees. Performing strength training on one foot (like curls with one foot off the ground) will force you to learn to balance. Yoga standing poses, like warrior 3, half moon, shoulder stands, and standing splits etc, all force your centre of gravity to shift away from it’s normal position, and force you to use tiny accessory muscles to maintain balance. Walking on your tip toes, or on your heels, jumping side to side only landing on one foot at a time, or walking along a balance beam will also develop balance and coordination.


This might seem obvious, but you need to build a solid platform of upper body and lower body strength for the race. Being able to lift, push or pull your own bodyweight in a number of different directions would be a huge advantage when it comes to scaling the high wall, or the rope climb. It’s not all that simple though, and when you look more closely at athletic ability, what you really need to develop is a good strength to weight ratio: muscles weigh more than fat, but are infinitely more useful for climbing monkey-bars. You don’t have to be as strong as the next man or woman to do this race, you just need to be strong enough for your own bodyweight.

Bodyweight training, free-weight and tension band training will each give you a really great ways of developing strength. I say ‘and’ because you should probably do them all at some point, but this is fairly obvious stuff that you already know. Make sure you use the right form for any kind of strength exercise.

Another slightly different strength element of the race is moving with weight. You have to carry, pull, roll and lift a few different objects in this race. Try doing farmers walks (holding dumbbells at your side and walking in a straight line), or carrying a heavy rock, water bottle, or backpack up a hill and back down again. These movements use compound strength (groups of muscles together), rather than isolated strength (one muscle at a time).

Isometric strength

Isometric strength is the ability to hold yourself in one position. Wall squats, low planks, side planks, other core work, and nearly all of the yoga moves require you hold yourself in a controlled position and breath through the pain while keeping good form. These compound movements don’t burn a lot of calories, but I have seen huge functional fitness gains by using these methods.

Extra weight and diet
Obviously if you work out 5-6 days a week, you will find that you will safely lose weight and become leaner and fitter. If you want to perform well in this event, what you eat and how you view food can either help you win, or be your worst obstacle and the hardest exercise of all. The exercise of self control and sacrifice. If you are interested in getting some really great looking fitness results, (and lets be honest, you wouldn’t mind getting a 6 pack this year) you need to complete the whole equation and think about your food intake. If that’s not your goal, then fine, and I agree that long term fitness is the greater purpose in all of this.

But… I’ll be honest. Egg whites, cottage cheese, 0% fat greek yoghurt, skimmed milk, protein shakes… I don’t really enjoy these high protein foods much, but if you can view them as fuel, or as diversions from the crisps/potato chips/crackers that are sitting in the pantry, then you will find that they are excellent tools for making you feel fuller and less likely to snack on the bad stuff. My tip would be to concentrate on training, and use some general common sense when it comes to food. Avoid obvious traps like thinking that you’ve somehow earned yourself the right to eat whatever you want after a hard workout. You haven’t. Absent mindedly snacking between mealtimes is another major problem for people – breaking that habit can be hard. Eating larger portions than you really require is another big mistake, and an easy one to make.

For info on how I am trying to eat when training this year. See my next blog post.


The Food You Need, The Food You Don’t

There are lots of calculations on how much food you need to train properly for different effects. You can go and do that yourself. Here are some of the rules I try and keep when training:

I eat breakfast, a mid morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, and an evening snack.

Porridge oats/Oatmeal made with water and topped with no more than 1tsp of honey, a grated apple, some cinnamon and some raisins.
Egg whites in a wholewheat tortilla and salsa
Egg whites with spinach leaves and leftover chicken
Whole eggs
ok I eat a lot of eggs.
Smoothies with oats. 
Yoghurt and any type of berries I can find before Euan gets them all.
All the fruit until i’m full – unlimited.
Occasionally some cereal with skimmed milk.

Morning, afternoon and evening snacks often consist of one of the following:
12 un-roasted almonds or 30g of other unroasted, unsalted nuts. 
A cup of 0% yogurt. 
A medium sized protein shake.
A sliced apple and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. 
Edamame Beans. 
Unlimited amounts of fruit (I eat fruit whenever I want and however much I want).
If I need energy for a run, or a cardio workout:
A slice of wholewheat bread topped with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a sliced banana.

Cans of sardines and fish (Not for everyone).
Leftovers from dinner the night before.
Salads with EGGS IN THEM
Chicken breasts
All the salads
Veggie Chili
Low carb, low fat – I’m usually in.

Dinner is basically the same as lunch. I eat anything that is on offer or whatever we are eating as a family. If we aren’t eating at our own place, and someone else is cooking I just go with whatever everyone else is doing generally, but if I can, I will try and select the right elements of it for my own plate to make it healthy, or the right portion for what it is for me.

I eat unlimited vegetables

Often substitute vegetables for carbs

Eat meat with most, if not every meal.

Don’t eat until stuffed, eat until just full.

Fruit for dessert

Things I try to avoid:

Booster Juice smoothies – these have lots of sugar. As much as a fountain drink.
Granola Bars are usually full of sugar and fat. Make your own. 
I try to cut down on bread wherever possible. Doesn’t always happen.
Potatoes in nearly all of their forms. 
White rice

Fast food (obviously), but also including things like subway.

Pop/Fruit juice
Excessive amounts of protein (can be very bad for your kidneys)
Pizza is just phenomenally tasty. It’s not good for you though. 
Pasta (unless its a small amount of wholewheat pasta).
Snacking between snacktimes
Habitual snacking.

Pressure to eat socially is a big deal too. Often when people get together, eating large amounts of food can become an important part of ‘what we do’ when we get to get. I’m not just talking about Christmas time and Thanksgiving. If someone hands me a burger at a bbq, i’ll rarely say no, but being too dramatic about what you will and won’t eat can make other people feel uncomfortable, irritated, or self conscious about what they are serving or eating that day. There’s no need to be a douche dieter, but you shouldn’t let yourself get pressured into regularly over-indulging. The same rules can apply. Eat what you need, and decide what you want to indulge in. Enjoy it and then get back to your normal diet. 

Fitness and exercise should be part of a lifestyle, not just a trend or a few months before a race. You have to do things that are sustainable and make changes that are permanent, in order to have lasting change and ongoing health.