Sunday, 4 May 2014

Tough Mudder (NZ) – Strengths and skills

I completed the first New Zealand Tough Mudder last Sunday (27/4/14) and had an absolute blast. I felt like the distance (18km) was set just right, such that the course was long and hard but still do able. The obstacles were a lot of fun; I was particularly impressed with the Berlin walls, Everest, and the walk the plank. All the mud was excellent and over all I really enjoyed the course and obstacles. I would have liked to see monkey bars, or hanging rings on the course but clearly this took a lot of money to set up and the event is in its infancy in New Zealand so I’m sure everything will scale up next year. I had such a great time; I plan on running both days next year.

That’s all I really want to write on the event itself, a friend of mine shot a short video which you can see here. In the second half of this post I want to lay out some strengths and skills which I think were important in this Tough Mudder. I know there are countless training plans, break downs and obstacle tutorials on the internet, I haven’t looked at many of them; this is just the way I saw things going down and how my run went so that you can apply this to your own training.

A friend and I before and after Tough Mudder. Photo credit to Francis Wheeler.


This is a long run over rough terrain, so (in my opinion) training some long distance running is key. Personally I built up to 8km training runs on the road, ideally I would have liked to build up to 10-12km. I know there are camps who say you can run long distance by only training short distance but I feel like the legs need volume; you need to feel long distance and know how you respond. I’m not suggesting 3-5 times per week running a 10k, but I think running 5-10k once per week is helpful (for more of my thoughts on running, and training for a half marathon see this old post here). Even better training might be to do a lot of your running off road to get used to the rough terrain of the course. I do all my running in vibram five fingers so I have strong feet and ankles, I believe this helped a lot on the course. Also I think the barefoot running style of feet landing under the body helps on wet slippery ground.

Climb ups

I felt like this was the most important skill/strength on the course, muscle ups weren’t necessary but climb ups were. Almost every time you needed to get up and out of a mud pit you needed to do a climb up, not to mention the Berlin walls and blades of glory. There was always people around to help (that’s the point of the event), but I find being pulled over or out of something uncomfortable (being dragged across your chest and belly). I found it easier to pull myself out, or have someone boost me from underneath. Building strong push ups would help, dips would be even better, but the best thing I can suggest is look up ‘climb ups’ on YouTube and have a go, or find a parkour practitioner you can teach you. You could even train this by climbing out of a ground level pool repeatedly.


Personally I tried not to jump too often during the race, as I said I was running in five fingers which I find put more pressure on the calves, I just wanted to play it safe and not add the additional stress of jumping. That said if you feel confident learning and training some basic parkour precision jumps would go a long way. Not needed for any obstacles, but could be helpful jumping over water hazards on the course.

Leg strength/Endurance

This one’s important, particularly with the Berlin walls and Everest falling towards the end of the course. It helps a lot to have additional leg strength that you are able to call on after running 16k (or more) to get you up and over obstacles. High rep swings and high rep squats might help this, I’ve been doing 100kg back squats for 20, don’t know if this helps directly but it is mental training as much as it is physical.


A few obstacles required that you crawl hands and knees, or if you’re bigger on your belly. This might be helpful to train for in order to do fast. Trust me, you don’t want to muck around in the electric eel. 

Upper body pulling and grip

I didn’t find this to be tested much on this course but looking over possible obstacles, many call on a strong upper body and grip. Pull ups, climbing, and all manner of grip training (particularly hanging) would be important if your event includes any of these obstacles. 

Finally some advice for after the event, moving around in a hot pool made me feel in top shape for work the next day, however I had a hard karate class on the next Wednesday which I felt fine heading into, but my legs were just not ready for it. They failed big time and it was all I could do not to fall over, so take it easy after the event.


  1. Thank you for your impression and input. Here some of my though:
    Running: this is definitively the longest obstacle of the course ;) You are thinking too much, go meet the first finisher and ask them how they train. Form my experience, their are most of the time long distance runners.
    Climb ups: You should have talked about the version with elbows, because the "parkour version" is not possible with mud or on slippery obstacle.
    Jumping: From a biologic point of view, it's HARD to jump far (power phase) during a run (endurance phase). So precision jump are even more challenging ;)
    Leg strength after Endurance: same as for jumping, pure strength it's HARD to request after a long run! For more information about these both point, check wikipedia ->
    After event, I would rather recommend Cold bottle rolling (for more information it check my blog here
    I'm happy for you that you had a great time :)
    Hugs from Stuttgart Germany

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it.
      I've not ever trained the elbow version of a climb up, but I'm guessing that's what I was doing for parts of the event, would be fun to train. Most of the jumps I looked at were really short (1-1.5 meters) so it wasn't that hard even after the long run, I was really just playing it safe. I've seen your videos with the cold bottle rolling, I've not yet tried it, I do a little foam rolling and it helps a little but I don't find that I get a huge boost from it. The swim after the race just felt really good.