Tough Mudder Training: 5 Key Components To A Safe And Effective Plan

When training for anything – not just a 12 mile, 19 military grade obstacle course – you want to make sure your plan progresses so that you peak at event time.  Not before, and certainly not afterward.

Having said that, everyone’s plan will look different.  When prepping our team for New Jersey’s Tri State Tough Mudder back in November we had to take a few things into account:

First, we all weren’t on the same conditioning level  Some of us were athletes and trainers, others were more sedentary.  And even though some of the team was more active, they were conditioned specifically for their activity of choice, which happened to NOT be the Tough Mudder.

Secondly, most of the team came into this thing with a ton of baggage.  We’d need to iron out those kinks.  As a team, we’re only as strong as our weakest link.

Finally, we had a very small window of time with which to move through a progressive training program.  I was the last one of our team to register for the event, leaving us with about 7 weeks to get prepared.  So, programming would have to be refined.

If you want to create the best training plan you can for your Tough Mudder preparations, be sure to infuse it with the following key components.

1.  Foundation. Build your plan on a solid foundation.  One that’s made of concrete, not sand.  Here you’re going to shore up the prerequisite strength and work capacity deficits needed for the event.  To prep this you’ll need an idea of which obstacles are going to be built into your locations event, as well as the total mileage.  Tabatas just might give you enough of a gas tank to go 12 miles without ever running, but your joints need to know what 12 miles feels like before the day of the event.

2.  Get Activity Specific. Most people I talked to at the event never moved past the foundational stage.  Most never left the gym.  And for many, it showed.  You’ve got to get event specific.  Pressing and pulling may be a great way to build your foundation, but you’ll need to get out there and crawl, climb and swing to really get a feel for the event.  Mimic the obstacles as best as you can.  In the end, it’s not about adding more reps to your bench, but adding more distance to your crawl.

3.  Train For The Elements. Mental toughness plays a huge factor in this thing.  If your event is going to be blazing hot, train in heavy gear.  If the event will be freezing cold (as was ours), strip down to your scivies.  Get wet, get muddy and get used to rugged terrain.  A dry 12 miles is very different from a wet and soppy 12 miles.  A good portion of this event is trained on uneven and unstable surfaces.  Your training should reflect this.

4.  Plan For Things To Go Wrong. Make sure your body is well versed in movement by creating a safety valve.  Mobility, movement sophistication and joint integrity are huge factors in how safely you finish the event.  The event is planned so that things will go wrong:  buttered monkey bars, anyone?  If you’re body is locked up and can’t move through it’s full range of motion, or if your nervous system is dumbed down and doesn’t know how to adapt when the unexpected happens, you increase the odds of jacking yourself up.  Rest assured.

5.  Build In Recovery. Having a solid recovery plan built into your training program will allow you to train harder and more often.  It will allow you to optimally benefit from your high intensity sessions.  It will also allow you to mitigate any potential problems from training bad technique or training too often.  Not having a recovery plan built in will set you up to crash and burn at some point down the road.  And hopefully, that point won’t be event day.  A solid recovery plan will also allow you to actually get out of bed the morning following the Mudder.

To get a deeper glimpse into my train of though for my team’s training, check out my Jack In A Box Squat article and tutorial here.

If you’ve got any questions regarding training for the event, drop a comment below.

Also, stay tuned for my next Mudder article where I go over why you should not use the tough Mudder prep program on their site if you want to train optimally for the event.

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8 Responses to Tough Mudder Training: 5 Key Components To A Safe And Effective Plan

  1. Nancy March 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I am signed up for the Tough Mudder event in Allentown, PA this coming April. I am participating with a large team of 18 people, and I am the only female. I only have 5 weeks to prepare as best I can for the event, and really do not want to be the weak link that holds the rest of the team back. I have been doing 30 min on the versaclimber and at least 30 min at a 15 incline on the treadmill along with strength training. I live in upstate NY and the ground is covered with snow and ice and we have no open hilly trails so my outdoor options are pretty limited. Is there anything that you recommend that I can do in order to be in the best shape possible to complete this event?

    Thanks so much!


  2. John Belkewitch March 1, 2011 at 3:28 pm #


    Trail training is obviously ideal for event specific preparedness. Rain finally cleared our snow and ice out after 2 months of being sequestered indoors so I understand your dilemma there.

    You’ll want to start moving your treadmill/climber work from timed sessions to distance sessions; working towards building up to your events total mileage . Same goes for your strength training – you’ll want to begin to move your sessions from set/rep/weight driven to distance driven.

    The Tough Mudder isn’t about competition or time for most people. It’s about FINISHING. To do this you must be able to GO THE DISTANCE. Different people use various methods to build up their gas tank for the event, however, your body still needs to know what it feels like to pound 12 miles of rugged terrain, especially under adverse elements. Otherwise, things can get a bit uncomfortable (even painful) during and after the event.

    Certainly, prior conditioning level plays into this. I’m not sure of your current training specifics, so post them below if you’d like. However, I am working on a new blog entry with a sample training program. So, keep an eye out for that.

  3. mike April 16, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I enjoyed reading all about it. I am doing the So Cal Tough Mudder on May28th so am at the 6 week left mark of my training. This has been inspirational to read to say the least. Sounds like I need alot more distance running though! WIll take any advice I can get. I do circuits at the beach which include army crawling, carrying heavy bags and dragging them and things of that nature including alot of trail running. I’ll take any training advice I can get right now! Thanks

  4. John Belkewitch April 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm #


    Thanks for checking in.

    It sounds like you’re on the right track as far as your training is going. Many people miss out on distance work when training for the Mudder.

    Hopefully, I have a new post up this week with some alternate training options.

  5. Austin Hecker July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I am doing tough mudder in 16 days. I ran 5-8 miles aday 2x a week did some weight work, pushups, and lap swimming for 1/4 mile. Finally I set my tredmill for hill running for 15minutes prior to my distance. Is this O.Kay

  6. John Belkewitch July 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm #


    My best advice for the next 16 days is to drop the weight and repetition work and do all distance work.

    Pick one day within the next 7 and see if you can push your running distance to 12-13 miles. Exchange weight/loaded work for object carries (either farmer, bear or shoulder). Exchange your push ups for crawling.

    Give yourself a good 4 or 5 days before the Mudder to rest up and eat well. If desired, you can do a light distance session to ramp up your nervous system.

  7. Luis October 26, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    Im doing the tough mudder on 11/19/11 badlands, IN. I have been consistent with training following a training program for a half marathon. I implemented/altered the program by implementing light weights with alot of rep. I have notice muscle build-up and feel heavier when running. After reading and watching the videos of your Plank Dynamic program. I am going to install the Plank program and remove weights. What is your suggestion, remove weights for Plank program, remove weights completely dont implement Plank program and work on running? What do you think!

    • John Belkewitch October 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm #


      Half marathon training will get you comfortable with the distance requirements for the Mudder, for sure. The Plank Dynamix Program will build up core integrity and sustained strength/endurance in your upper carriage.

      However, I’d still advice a few additions:

      1. Non-running distance work. Crawls, high bar scaling, carrying weighted objects, hurdles, hop overs and depth jumps. Work this in to your total distance work. You won’t be “repping” anything out in the Mudder, so I would move away from conventional resistance training as you near the event. You can click here to get an idea of some of the crawling work we used to prepare; you can also add the pull plank to your training to work towards more controlled crawling and get you ready for the boa constrictor obstacle.

      2. Trail work. Not sure what your current marathon training looks like now, but you’ll need to get your body used to running out in the bush. 13 miles on the road is very different from 13 miles off road. Make at least one of your running days a trail running day if possible, and add in some of the work from above to carry you the distance.

      3. Weather work. Get used to working wet and cold before the Mudder. Otherwise, you’ll need to make a major adjustment. Being wet, frozen will put you a bit more out of touch with your limbs. Dampened sensitivity plus sloppy ground is going to throw off your gait, which will throw off the impact to your structure. Won’t feel so good later on that evening when you thaw out, and the next morning after you’ve been immobile during sleep.

      Hope that helps. Hit me back with any other questions.

      And good luck with the Mudder! Let me know how you make out.

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