Tough Obstacle Race Training Plan

We can’t prevent the mud and sweat, but we can fend off the tears

Well, well, well, what have you gotten yourself in for? The answer is a lot. There will be mud. There will be water. There will be walls. There will be hills. There will be monkey bars. And there will be angry soldier-types enquiring if “that’s all you’ve got” and screaming at you to do better.

Sounds fun, huh? Actually, it is. Ask anyone who has battled through a Tough Mudder, a Rock Solid or ‘The Suffering’ alongside his or her friends and they’ll tell you that it was painful, but absolutely brilliant. And the good news doesn’t end there. For while tough obstacle races are guaranteed to be brilliant, they don’t actually have to be painful.

“Obstacle races are tougher than standard 10k runs or half-marathons because of the resistance,” says personal trainer and creator of ‘The Suffering’ Markus Boyall.

“But if you undertake the following high intensity tough obstacle course training plan 3 times a week for 2 months, you should be in really good stead for your chosen race.

“High intensity training is a win-win way of preparing for obstacle events. Not only does it prepare your body for the explosive exercise you’ll be required to do during the race, it also doesn’t take very long. You should be able to compete all 4 sets in 30-45 minutes.”

– For our guide to what burpees, lunge squats etc actually are, head to our exercise glossary

Coach’s tips

“Good core strength is a really big advantage in obstacle racing, as it improves your hip alignment, boosts your balance and aids your posture when you’re tired,” reveals Boyall.

“But core strength isn’t the only benefit obstacle racers get from doing a programme that strengthens this area. Exercises like burpees, press-ups, planks, pull-ups also strengthen your arms and legs, and improving these areas greatly increases your ability to spring up walls and drag yourself over other obstacles.

Unbound’s training programme features exercises that primarily strengthen your core, while boosting your arms and legs. If you follow our programme for the whole two months prior to the event, you’ll get round without any issues. But if you want to ensure you’re leading the pack, try the following drills.”


HILL SPRINTS “People who enter tough obstacle races often train in the wrong way,” warns Boyall.

“The main mistake I see people making is looking at the distance they need to cover and starting to do lots of long-distance running.

“This makes sense on paper, but in reality this distance is chopped up into lots of individual sprints. Because of this, it’s better to focus on building powerful legs that are capable of recovering quickly.

“The best way of doing this is explosive interval hill sprints. You can do this on the treadmill in the gym, or up a local incline.

“Charge up the incline to lung-busting levels, then give yourself 20 seconds or so to recover before entering into another sprint.

“Keep going until you’re knackered. The more you can do, the more you will build will push your lactic acid threshold and your stamina.”



“Undertaking some explosive jumping drills will boost your performance,” says Boyall.

“Box jumps are great, and so are burpees and squats, but if you really want to improve your spring and don’t really want to have to worry about technique, I’d suggest doing 30-50 reps of two different jumping drills.

“First, crouch down, wipe your hands on the floor and then jump up as high as you can for 30-50 reps.

“Then, do 30-50 lunge jumps (see technique hack video, right), making sure to alternate legs.

“This workout will really hurt at the time, but it’ll really boost your chances of putting one foot on a wall, pushing yourself up and getting on the top in one hit.”

Box jumps are great, and so are burpees and squats, but if you really want to improve your spring and don’t really want to have to worry about technique, I’d suggest doing 30-50 reps of two different jumping drills

Technique hacks






“Mental strength is a big part of obstacle races,” says Boyall.

“At some point, on some obstacle, you will have a moment of doubt and at that moment of weakness you need to have an answer in your head that allows you to keep going.

“A good example of this comes from Sir Ranulph Fiennes. When he goes on his expeditions he always steels himself to think of his father and his grandfather when he’s in trouble, because he knows he would be too scared of disappointing them to quit.

“Your dad and granddad might not have the same effect on you, so a couple of other suggestions would be: thinking of the charity you are raising money for, or thinking about how you’ll feel if your friends finish and you don’t. Those type of things tend to spur people into action.”


“I signed up for my first obstacle race when a friend told me he was getting a team together,” reveals Iqbal Ali, 32, who ran the West London Tough Mudder in 2014.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect or how to train, so began to attend some circuit classes once a week. After a while all of us felt like we weren’t doing enough, so started doing some extra group training once a week.

“By the time we got to the start line we felt physically ready, but mentally unprepared. We’d heard rumours of ice water and electric shocks, but having done no research, we weren’t sure if these were true or not.

“I can now reveal that the rumours are true and both were horrible. The whole course was really difficult to be honest. But I got to the end with a smile on my face because of my team.

“I should add this wasn’t because of their words of encouragement. It was because they were suffering, and it was funny to watch.

“When we got to the end we all agreed three things. First, it was fun. Second, we’d re-run the fun in 2015. Third, we’d train harder than we did first time round.

“We’ve not begun this new training regime yet, but I did manage to get another obstacle race under my belt when my wife’s cousins asked me to join their team for a Tough Mudder in Ireland.

“It was a bit last minute, but I combined it with a family holiday and loved it even more than the first one and now can’t wait for Tough Mudder No.3.

“My wife says it’s an addiction. I disagree, but I will say one thing. Painful or not, once you do one obstacle race, you definitely want to do more.”


Choose a tough obstacle race from our list to tackle with friends

See our all our latest tough obstacle race articles

Share this tough obstacle race training plan with a friend who’d find it handy

– Any of your own tips for taking on tough obstacle races that would be useful for other people? Drop them in the comments below


– Tell Unbound what issues or barriers you’ve got with tough obstacle race training

– Our comprehensive guide to tough obstacle race tricks 

– Unbound’s ultimate guide to solving your tough obstacle race injury and pain problems

– The ultimate tough obstacle race further-reading resource: The best blogs, forums and personal trainers

Tough obstacle race training meal guide

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