Train for a mud run

Photo of person jumping over fire.

Beer. Loud music. Dirty grown-ups in silly costumes. Don’t let the festive race grounds fool you. While mud runs/obstacle races can be a lot of fun, they can also be challenging and potentially dangerous. Proper training can ensure you make it to the after party quickly and safely. After all, when was the last time you were chased by a horde of zombies, leaped over fire or scaled a 20-foot wall? 

While a solid training schedule is key to any race, the guidelines suggested here are aimed at the beginner/intermediate athlete taking on mud/obstacle race distances of approximately 5K or less. For tips on training for extreme races or longer distances, visit

Training schedule

Day Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Monday Cardio Strength Stretch/Balance Strength Stretch/balance Strength
Tuesday Strength Cardio Strength Cardio Cardio
Wednesday Stretch/Balance Stretch/Balance Cardio Stretch/balance Strength Cardio
Thursday Cardio Strength Strength Cardio Cardio Strength
Friday Strength Cardio Strength Strength Stretch/balance
Saturday Endurance Endurance Endurance Race day?
Sunday Endurance Endurance


The plan
Cardio days
: Although promotional images for mud and themed races focus on the obstacles (mostly because they look more edgy than people running), these events are centered around running a race. One of the best ways to train is to do intervals (timed sequences of higher intensity running/walking) as part of your cardio. Think about the layout of the course: run, obstacle, run, obstacle… Notice a pattern? Your interval training will mimic the format of these types of races.

Beginners may start this program by walking for 20 to 30 minutes for days marked cardio on Week 1. When you are ready for more of a challenge, move up to performing four to six run/walk intervals during each cardio session. Start with 1 minute run/4 minute walk intervals for a week. Then each week, add on another minute of running and subtract a minute of walking until your reach intervals of 4 minute run/1 minute walk. More experienced runners can adapt to their fitness levels/current training schedule for other races.

Endurance days: Research the race ahead of time to see how much distance you will need to cover. Then make sure you can go the distance. Set that as your goal for days marked endurance the first few weeks of training. You can walk, jog or lightly run, but do not use the same speed and intensity as you expend during your intervals on cardio days. Around Week 4, set your distance about a quarter or half a mile more. This will make the distance on race day seem much less intimidating.

Strength: Strengthening your muscles is important for two reasons. First, it will help you overcome some of the obstacles that require you to climb, pull, push or lift. Second, it provides the muscular framework your body needs to avoid injuries while running. Need more reasons? Strength training will help you manage your weight (raises metabolism), increase bone density and build definition in your arms.

Make sure your strength training plan includes exercises for all parts of the body. If you have access to resistance machines, start with those that work your chest. Then progress to the back, shoulders, arms, legs and end with ab work.

Those of you working out at home, here is a sample plan:

Push ups, rows, supermans, alternating lateral/forward arm raises, bicep curls, tricep dips, lunges, squats, side squats, crunch with legs extended vertically, criss cross/bicycle crunch, reverse crunch. The American Council on Exercise has an extensive online library that shows step-by-step how to do each exercise.

Stretch/balance: Many of these races include some sort of balance component. A few of them even throw in height or water below you to make it even more challenging mentally. Prepare for this first by becoming aware of how your weight distributes along the sole of your feet as you stand in the shoes you will wear on race day. Barefoot, it tends to shift in sort of a triangle from the ball of the foot to the side of the foot to the hill. What is it like in your shoes? Next, move on to performing one leg standing positions. Then, either find something stable you can use as a balance beam or take some chalk and draw a line on the cement. Practice walking the line.

By adding stretching to your race training, it will allow greater freedom of movement as you tackle the obstacles, reduce your risk of injury, release muscle tension/soreness you may have built up from strength, cardio and endurance days and provides both physical and mental relaxation.

Try this simple yoga vinyasa: Stand with weight distributed evenly among both feet, inhale as you reach arms up high overhead (your head tips back looking up at the space between your hands and shoulders kept down), exhale as you fold forward (not roll down) hinging at the hips. Let your arms and neck hang free. Inhale, look out about five feet in front of you while straightening the back. Exhale, fold again. Inhale, place your hands on the ground and step backward with the right foot. You are now in a lunge position. Bring the left foot back now to plank. Exhale as you slowly lower to the floor keeping your elbows in toward the torso. You are now positioned flat supine (on your stomach with hands nestled beneath your shoulders). Inhale, lift the head, neck, shoulders and top of the chest while keeping your pelvis pressed into the ground. Exhale, return to floor. On the next inhale, curl your toes under. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling with about a 90-degree angle at your hip joint. Feet are slightly behind hips about two feet apart, hands are slightly forward from shoulders about two feet apart. This should feel really good for the backs of the legs. Stay here for about five breaths. On the next inhale, step forward with the right leg (this takes you back to a lunge position on the other side). Exhale, step the left foot forward in line with the right into a forward fold. Inhale, bend the knees slightly while lifting the arms out the side moving upward. Exhale, bring hands down into a prayer position standing in the same position as you started. Repeat five times.

Last minute tips:

  • When climbing walls, cargo nets and so forth, remember to maintain three points of contact with the structure and keep your focus upward. This will help keep you safe and make you feel more secure if you are afraid of heights or falling. Also, use both your arms and legs to climb while pushing your hips close/tight to whatever you are climbing.
  • Use your legs to push you along the ground as you army crawl under low obstacles. Don’t rely solely on your arms/elbows. And keep your butt down, especially if there is live or barbed wire hanging above you.
  • Approach every obstacle as if it is slippery. Most likely you will be wet, muddy or foamy and whatever you are about to climb up/down will be too.
  • Fire obstacles look scary. This should be an incentive to jump as high as you can over them. Chances are you are pretty wet at this point too, so it is unlikely you would catch fire anyway.
  • Keep your shoes tied tightly. They can easily come off in the mud or water obstacles.
  • Be smart about your clothing. Sure the hot pink tutus and superhero costumes are hilarious, but they can get hot, cause drag in water/deep mud obstacles and easily get snagged/caught when army crawling under barbed wire. 

Now go enjoy the after party. You deserved it!


Fit, Fed and Faithful

Kimberly A. Laux, MA, is a freelance writer for several print and online publications and a group fitness instructor certified through the American Council on Exercise. She currently teaches in the Communication & Visual Arts Department at the University of Michigan in Flint.

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