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[WOTM, 11/2013] Prepare Your Body For Battle With The Tough Mudder Training Plan

[WOTM, 11/2013] Prepare Your Body For Battle With The Tough Mudder Training Plan

Photo: Tough Mudder

Eectroshock TherapyThe Arctic EnemaFunky MonkeyEverest. That’s just a micro-sample of the 25+ obstacles you’re required to conquer during any given Tough Mudder — an excruciating 12 mile uber-gauntlet designed to break the human mind, body, and spirit.

The Tough Mudder is so nefarious that it summons all of the elements — including fire leaps, 10K volt electric pulses, infinite mud, and glacial ice water plunges that flirt with hypothermia — in the process to test your limits in ways you’ve undoubtedly never experienced.

But don’t let that intro get in your head or dissuade you from partaking. The physical aspect is daunting, but above all else, plowing through a Tough Mudder comes down to mental grit and coursing, volcanic adrenaline; factors that you just can’t simulate during training.

With the right training and proper frame of mind, anyone — and I mean ANYONE; we literally saw a team carrying their teammate through in a wheelchair — has what it takes to dig deep and finish. It comes down to resolve, determination, and an unwavering drive to use every ounce of energy; and you’re rewarded for your efforts with an experience that fosters an incredible sense of self-belief, camaraderie, and personal accomplishment.

November’s WOTM — The Tough Mudder Training Plan — is designed to enhance functional strength & performance, in a way that lays a foundation and prepares your body to battle a wide spectrum of grueling obstacles. It’s not about aesthetics or glamour, although that’ll naturally follow along in the process.

The plan emphasizes lower body and cardiovascular endurance, both of which are paramount; lack either and you’ll get eaten alive, especially on terrain that’s loaded with undulating hills, colossal dirt mounds, and upwards of 12 excruciating miles on your feet. Upper body explosiveness is also a critical component, as you’ll be flipping monster truck tires, traversing walls and dirt mounds, pulling teammates up ridges, and carrying miscellaneous objects.

Dive in and get dirty. You’ll be doing a lot of it during the event.


The Tough Mudder Training Plan

[WOTM, 11/2013] Prepare Your Body For Battle With The Tough Mudder Training Plan

Me (dead center) after the Tough Mudder Tri-State (10/2013)

The Tough Mudder Training Plan is broken into 3 components — upper body, lower body, and abs + distance cardio — and follows the workout schedule below. It produces tangible results in as little as 4 weeks, although 8-12 weeks is an ideal duration for legitimate Tough Mudder prep —

  • Workout A: Upper Body
  • Workout B: Lower Body, HIIT Cardio (15 m)
  • Workout C: Abs, Distance Cardio (45 m)
  • OFF
  • Workout A: Repeat
  • Workout B: Repeat
  • Workout C: Repeat
  • OFF

Three things before jumping in —

  • Complete Workout A, B, and C in the sequence laid out above. Keep track of your workouts and follow a 3-on, 1-off cadence — it doesn’t follow week days, but rather its own cycle.
  • If you unexpectedly need to skip a day, pick up where you left off. Time is essential — exercise your mental grit and stick to the routine as strictly as possible, even if you’re absurdly sore in the early stages. Soreness is inevitable.
  • Use a weight that allows you to complete the given # of reps, but that’s also challenging enough that you’re unable to do many more. Gradually increase the weight over time as you gain strength.



Workout A — Upper Body


1. Burpees


How to:

Video Demo — Burpees


Protocol: 2 sets, 20 reps

Target Muscle(s): Chest, Legs

Start in a standing position, squat down, and kick your legs out into full push-up position. Do 1 push up, jump forward into a low squat position, and explosively jump upwards into the air.

Return to the ground, squat down, kick your feet out, and repeat the rest of the movement for 20 total reps — each burpee should be one fluid motion.



2. Pull-Ups/Assisted Pull-Ups

Pull Ups

How to:

Video Demo — Pull Ups


Protocol: 3 sets, 15 reps or failure

Target Muscle(s): Back (Lats), Biceps

Do 15 pull ups, or as many as you can to failure.

If you’re unable to do at least 6 regular pull ups initially, start with assisted pull ups on a machine and work your way up.



3. Bent-Over Barbell Rows

Bent-Over Barbell Rows

How to:

Video Demo — Bent-Over-Barbell Rows


Protocol: 3 sets, 12 reps

Target Muscle(s): Back, Biceps

Complete 12 barbell bent-over rows. For each rep maintain a tight core and a flat back, with your torso firmly at a 45º angle.

Pull the bar into the upper portion of your abs, squeeze your upper back for .5s, and lower all the way down to full extension.



4. Deadlifts


How to:

Video Demo — Deadlifts


Protocol: 3 sets, 12 reps

Target Muscle(s): Back, Legs, Core

For each rep start in a low squat position and grab the bar with an overhand grip (A). Push through your heels, ascend upward, and raise your torso until you’re in a full stand (B) — maintain a tight core and straight back throughout the motion.

Slowly lower under control by dropping your torso and hips down until the bar touches the floor (A). Repeat for 12 reps.



5. Dumbbell Snatch

Dumbbell Snatch

How to:

Video Demo — Dumbbell Snatch


Protocol: 2 sets, 12 reps/arm

Target Muscle(s): Shoulders, Core

Start in a low, wide squat position with a dumbbell in between your feet (1). With your chest puffed out, abs tight, and lower back pinched, powerfully contract your glutes and pull the dumbbell overhead (3) with your shoulder.

Under control, lower the weight back to the ground, stick out your butt, and immediately complete the next rep. Complete 12 with the right arm and repeat for the left.



6. Dumbbell Renegade Rows

Dumbbell Renegade Rows

How to:

Video Demo — Dumbbell Renegade Rows


Protocol: 2 sets, 12 reps/arm

Target Muscle(s): Back, Biceps, Core

Assume push up position with two dumbbells (neutral grip, A). While keeping your core tight and back flat (45º angle), powerfully row your right arm up until it’s slightly above your torso (B). Don’t rotate your body.

Hold the contraction for 1s, return to the floor, and repeat for the opposite arm. Alternate for 12 reps per arm.



7. Barbell Clean & Press

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How to:

Video Demo — Barbell Clean & Press


Protocol: 2 sets, 12 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders, Core

Stand tall with a loaded barbell on your thighs (1). Tighten your core, dip down slightly, and powerfully pull the barbell up on top of your collarbone (2). Dip your legs slightly and explosively press the barbell overhead (3).

Hold for 1s, slowly lower the bar back to your collarbone (2), then down to your thighs (1), and repeat for a set of 12. Complete each clean & press in on fluid motion.



8. Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldowns

How to:

Video Demo — Lat Pulldowns


Protocol: 2 sets, 12 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Back (Lats)

Hold the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width and pull the bar down to the top of your chest (in front of the neck) — maintain a straight back and tight core throughout, and resist any urge to swing your body or use momentum.

Squeeze the contraction for 1s, release slowly to the top, and repeat for 12 total reps.



9. SUPERSET — Dips & Pushups

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How to:

Video Demo — Dips


Protocol: 1 set, to failure for both

Primary Muscle(s): Chest, Triceps

Complete 1 set of dips to failure — lean forward slightly to emphasize the chest. Lower until your arms are just below parallel. If regular dips are too difficult, replace them with bench dips.

Immediately follow it up with a set of push-ups, to failure.


Page: Workout A (Upper) | Workout B (Lower) | Workout C (Abs) & Recap

Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto

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  • Kim Milo Baruka Haugen

    how long are rest times between sets and exercises?

    • Because it’s mainly compound movements, try to keep rest right around 1-2 minutes i/b sets. You’ll need a little bit longer than with a traditional workout plan.

  • Dave Keirstead

    I have my first Tough Mudder coming up in May in VT and have been doing a slightly modified version of this workout for about a month. So far I’m up five pounds of muscle from 175-180 and have made new PR’s on 2 and 3 mile runs. It’s actually the reason I found this site in the first place, thanks!

    • Hell yeah, Dave, killer work!!! That’s insanely impressive. Congrats on the progress — keep it up.

      Keep me posted on how things are going. TM’s are incredible you’ll have a blast.

  • LucyRads

    I have my first TM in 6 weeks in Auckland, New Zealand. I’m pretty scared, but relish the challenge! I think (read, hope) I have the cardio endurance, as I run often, it’s the upper body strength I’m worried about! I have upped my game and these exercises will help greatly! Thanks!

    • Hey Lucy — Don’t be scared, get excited! Lower body and endurance are by far the most important (physical) factors. As long as you can do a few pull-ups, you should be fine. And even if you have problems, there’s always a racer there to help out. It’s incredible what adrenaline and camaraderie can do — you’ll be so jacked up that the race with fly.

      I’d definitely recommend getting a) trail running shoes and b) little energy gummy chews (like GU or Clif Blox). They’ll help immensely with the mud and endurance, respectively.


  • ShawnoftheMud

    Bryan – I’m 52 and just did my second Mudder last week in the Poconos. I wanted to thank you for posting this excellent 3-part training series, which I used religiously to get ready. Last year I did Philadelphia, which was over the most brutally hilly and punishing terrain imaginable (Jaindl Farms). This year’s Pocono Raceway course was flat — much easier — but I was in killer shape, too. I do have one question for you. Both years, the one obstacle I failed at was the Funky Monkey. Dropped right off after about 2 or 3 rungs. I thought I had plenty of upper body strength so not sure what the issue is. What can I add to my training to help me conquer it? Thanks again.

    • That’s absolutely amazing! Congrats on conquering both of them — I’m so happy you did the plan and saw awesome results.

      The one trick that I use — that ALWAYS seems to work — is to bend your arms and keep them at a 90 degree angle. That requires forearm + bicep strength and stamina, but it’s really effective.

      If you dead hang you’ll slip right off.

      • ShawnoftheMud

        I’ll give that a shot at Mudder #3. Thanks for the info and inspiration.

        • Always happy to help. The Funky Monkey is tricky because it’s a lot of technique + finesse, as opposed to brute strength.

          Keep killing it!

  • Joe

    Hi Bryan,

    What sort of distance/pace should I be aiming at for the distance cardio?

    • I’m not so much concerned about pace/distance, but more about intensity and your legs holding up. If you’re using a bike, elliptical, rowing machine, stair master arc trainer, etc. — or some combination of machines — work in intervals and gradually increase the resistance. Using a higher resistance will help condition your legs for the hills and terrain (but it’ll conversely shrink the distance you actually move, which isn’t important).

      If you’re running, make sure you can run at least 5 miles pre-Tough Mudder. The interval training and high-intensity lifting is incredibly effective at boosting CV-fitness, plus your adrenaline will carry you quite a bit. Adding an incline is also a smart idea.

  • Dario

    Hi Bryan – do you have any suggestions about the diet to follow? Thanks!

    • Keep it high protein. Drink a TON of water. Make sure to get ample carbs before AND after your workouts (along with protein). Lots of veggies and fruit. Definitely include a solid dose of healthy fats (avocado, flax, nuts, nut butter, fish + fish oil, chia, coconut oil, etc.).

      This is an INTENSE plan, so you should be eating more than normal to support performance. Clean, of course.

  • Zach

    Hey Brian,

    You just run right through them? Don’t superset anything (except pushups/dips)? How much rest time in between each one?

    • Yep, that’s exactly it. Run straight through and superset the final pushup/dip burnout set.

      Keep rest right around 1 minute between sets.

  • Pranav

    Brian – Do you think this plan will also work for World’s toughest mudder (I believe minimum is 25 miles with obstacles). It’s in vegas in november. Can you please share your thoughts!.

    Thank You

    • As far as strength training and resistance training goes, this plan should be plenty to carry you through the obstacles.

      The distance becomes a bigger issue, though. I’d run a distance running + endurance plan in parallel. That really comes down to a standard ramp-up running protocol used for things like marathons and ultra events.

  • Pete

    I’d like to train more than 3 times per week how would you suggest splitting the work out for 4 or 5 days?

    • There’s no set schedule, just run workouts A>B>C in order.

      I’d recommend doing A, B, C—take 1-2 off days depending on how you’re doing—and then restart the cycle again.

      That could look like:

      Monday: A
      Tuesday: B
      Wednesday: C
      Thursday: OFF
      Friday: OFF
      Saturday: A
      Sunday: B

      …and so on.

  • Chris

    I know this is an old article, but I’m about to do my first TM in about 4 months and I want to be in the percentage that finishes the race. I have one quick question. Do the cardio portions need to be done right after the lifting or can they be done separate? If possible I’d rather run during my lunch hour and then lift when I get home. Thanks for the article and for your guidance.