Adventure races like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder like to keep participants on their toes -- because jumping into freezing water or crawling through electrified fencing just isn't enough.
To do this, course designers and organizers of these team or individual races are constantly mixing up their venues with new and challenging obstacles each year. We dug into the mud to discover the newest, most challenging obstacles you'll find in your favorite adventure races -- and some grueling classics -- so you won't be caught by surprise. We also enlisted the help of Chris Frankel, head of human performance at TRX Training, for some tips on how to prepare for the any impediments thrown -- in some cases literally -- your way.
Tough Mudder is also bringing the witnesses of your madness into the fray. Racers walk across a 25-foot balance beam while spectators swing gigantic bouncy balls at them to knock them off into the murky water below.
Train right: Follow a straight line on the ground or balance on a curb and perform walking lunges where you touch your trailing knee to the ground while keeping your front foot flat, advises Frankel. This will train mobility, balance, and deceleration, which will be crucial to helping you cross the beams. (So you think you’re ready? Go here for the Men’s Health mud-run training plan -- and prepare to get dirty.)
Warrior Dash: This series of 3- to 4-mile races boasts a high obstacle-per-mile ratio and a $100,000 prize purse for the World Championships. And now, they can also crow about one of the biggest obstacles around with Goliath. You climb a 20-foot A-frame cargo net, cross 12-foot-long 2x4s over water pits, then hop on a 36-foot slide that will propel you directly into the water below.
Train right: "Bear crawls are a great exercise to practice your balance and coordination in this movement pattern," says Frankel. "Crawling forward and backward, slow and fast, is a great exercise on its own and especially for obstacle course races with cargo net climbs." Frankel also recommends doing some interval runs before your crawls to get used to taking on more complex movements while fatigued. (Check out these awesome bodyweight exercises to perfect the bear crawl.)
The Men's Health Urbanathlon takes adventure racing into the city, trading mud for asphalt so you'll experience more city-based challenges. One of the most challenging involves running a mile of stairs in a major stadium -- like Citi Field in Queens, New York, or Soldier Field in Chicago. (That's right, a mile of stairs!)
Train right: "There's no better way to get good at climbing stairs than--surprise -- climbing stairs," says Frankel. "Some things to consider while hitting the stairs are staying light on your feet and getting comfortable and economical running uphill." You can practice these on the bleachers at a nearby high school or up the stairs of any multi-story building. Try this as a workout: Run up a set of steps as hard as you can for 2 to 3 minutes, walking down after reaching the top for recovery. Take a full break after those few minutes of hard climbing, then do 3 to 6 more sets depending on your fitness level. (Toe the line with a realistic race plan to run your best. Use these 3 Workouts That Help You Run Faster, to determine your pace and racing speed.)
Race O2X Summit Challenges: This new race series does away with man-made obstacles as race planners plot a route to the summit of mountains. For Sugarbush Mountain in Vermont, you run up nearly 3,000 vertical feet, crossing rivers, climbing rock faces, and vaulting downed trees along the way.
Train right: "Run training combining distance, hill work, interval, and tempo runs will be the foundation for building up aerobic capacity, anaerobic threshold, explosive power and agility," says Frankel. You'll also get a big bang for your buck by doing plyometric drills like standing broad jumps, which will help you bound over and along huge boulders. (VIDEO: Watch U.S. Bobsledder Steve Langton's jump 70 inches in the air with just a two-step lead.)
Tough Mudder: One of the original obstacle course races, Tough Mudder is unveiling some obstacles with a focus on inter-team cooperation like Pyramid Scheme. You scale a 12-foot wall set at a "well-lubricated" 45-degree angle that requires a human pyramid of at least 5 people. With most Tough Mudder Teams maxing out at three or four people, it'll likely require partnering up with.
Train right: "A combination of strength and posture will be important," says Frankel. Weighted carries, standing holds, and overhead presses using a sandbag, water bag, or slosh pipe to get yourself acquainted with movable weight can help train you." Also practice your active planks on the ground or by using a TRX Suspension Trainer to help you get a feel for sustaining strength, posture, and balance in an unstable environment.
Men's Health Urbanathlon: Racers must maneuver themselves past six walls in succession, constantly switching gears from climbing over one wall to possibly crawling under the next. Odd that's you'll get muddy hitting the ground on the crawl or need help climbing over the walls at this point in the race are very high.
Train right: "Both climbing and crawling require an anaerobic burst using combined upper andlower body muscles," says Frankel. A circuit of exercises like bear crawls, pullups, and goblet squats can help you condition for all of that movement. You can also go to a park with a standard picnic table and crawl under it then turn around and use your hands and feet to scamper over it several times, says Frankel. (Beat your workout plateaus with this 5-move Total-Body Muscle Assault.)
Tough Mudder: While keeping yourself at the top of the "dip" position, entrants cross a 25-foot section of parallel bars over water. The pole forms a "V" shape, so you have to control your body weight with gravity pulling you down or fighting against you as you get near the end.
Train right: Your triceps, shoulders, back, and chest will be working overtime here. "For general strength, get after the pushups in different hand positions (diamond, close, off-set)," says Frankel. "If you have access to parallel bars or a dip station, you can practice holding an extended position the core."
Tough Mudder: The last obstacle at many Tough Mudders requires a drop down a near-vertical 30-foot waterslide that shoots racers through a 3-foot-tall wall of fire at reported speeds of 25 to 35 miles per hour at the end of the ramp.
Train right: Frankel's advice? "Wear a lot of water-proof sunscreen."