Training for a Spartan Race can be a unique beast. It seems to be a no-brainer that both muscular and cardiovascular endurance training are completely necessary, especially when it comes to those longer distance races. And yes, strength training is a solid idea so that you can pull yourself over walls, flip tires and carry those impossibly heavy buckets, logs and sandbags. When you put it all together, you get a not often-heard thing called strength endurance. Having that combo of the ability to produce force while doing so over a long period of time can be a game changer in how you perform in an obstacle race like the Spartan Race.
The first pillar of the Spartan Race is the Pillar of Stamina. And when they talk about stamina, it’s not just the ability to endlessly run trails without getting tired. It’s the ability to endlessly run trails while carrying something heavy and stopping periodically to do something extra super fatiguing before continuing to run those trails…without getting tired. Strength endurance is the key to doing just that.
Now, let it be said that although I'm talking specifically about obstacle racing here, strength endurance is useful for pretty much any sport you want to play. My roller derby pals can back me up here. It's not just about pushing through immovable walls of humans. It's doing so repeatedly for a 60 minute game. And there are plenty of other sports that benefit from some combined strength-endurance training. So even if you're not a Spartan Racer, there is plenty of good stuff to be learned here. But if you're not a Spartan athlete, my next question is - what are you waiting for?
But I digress...
Now that we know why strength endurance is important, what are the hows and whens when it comes to training for strength endurance?
Let’s break down a little bit about how we generally train for strength and how we train for endurance.
The traditional way to build strength is to lift heavy weight for low reps with a long rest in between to allow your muscles to fully recover between sets.
To train for muscular endurance, one would lift less load for a higher volume of reps with a short rest in between sets, to train your muscles to be able to perform for longer amounts of time. Cardiovascular endurance is built through increasing time spent performing cardio activities like running, bicycling, rowing, etc.
But if you simply trained in this way for the duration of your pre-race training, your body would not be properly and specifically adapted to carry that back-breaking bucket for a half mile up and down a hill…as was required in the Spartan World Championships in Tahoe. Or to do a rope climb immediately followed by a Tyrolean Traverse immediately followed by a Hercules Hoist, as can often be seen on Spartan courses.
At some point, you need to get some strength in your endurance. And you have to get some endurance in your strength. Those two tastes need to taste great together in your world like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of training that they are.
So how can you go about doing that?
Think about some of the specific things that are required of your body in a Spartan Race and start training that way. Especially as you get closer to race day.
You will be required to lift weight over a long distance. Incorporate some weight into your training runs/hikes. You could wear a weight vest, carry a sandbell, sand bag or Wreck Bag, or even put some weights in a bucket and do some practice bucket carries.
You will be required to, at some point, carry a heavy, awkward load when you’re already feeling tired. Work to reduce the rest you take between strength training sets so your body can begin to adapt to lifting heavier with little rest. Safety should always be the first consideration here, so ease into this.
You will be required to do work when you’re fatigued. So challenge yourself to do some extra work at the end of a tough workout. Take a short rest and then knock out some extra pull-ups, rope climbs or a heavy Farmer’s Carry.
As you plan your race training and you start getting closer to race day, keep thinking about opportunities where you can mix up your strength and your endurance training to create what (I presume) can only be called a magical elixir of STRONGDURANCE.
Your body will thank you on race day…and likely in the days to follow!