The popularity of challenging fitness competitions such as mud runs continues to grow. But before you jump in, make sure that your training regimen addresses the specific demands found in these events. It's great to work out, but it's even better to work out in a practical and efficient way. Here are some exercises that will get you headed in the right direction:

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Few guys are lucky -- or crazy -- enough to do one Ironman (a 2.4-mile swim + 112-mile bike + 26.2-mile run) in a lifetime, let alone more than one in a year. So no one believed that James Lawrence, 36, a Lindon, Utah-based triathlon coach and personal trainer, would make it through his goal of finishing 30 Ironman-distance races in 2012 (a world record) without hitting some sort of road bump -- injury, illness, travel issues -- along the way. Except, that is, for Lawrence and his family. (And if you think that's inspiring, check out this story about an Ironman who faced an even bigger obstacle.)

"The current world record was 20, so I didn’t want to go and do 22 just to beat it -- I wanted to set the bar high and challenge myself,” says Lawrence. “Plus, if you schedule 22 events and something goes wrong, maybe you only end up hitting 19 or 20.”

So he did 30. And not only did Lawrence finish all of his races injury-free, but he also won two of them (the first and 24th), took second place in five others, and traveled to 11 countries (once to Europe, then Idaho, and back to Europe in a 3-week span) in the process. The most impressive stats of all: Lawrence swam over 450 miles, biked more than 16,000 miles, and ran about 3,000 miles to reach his goal. (Serious runners think hill training is the best way to gain distance. Find out which method we’d endorse even more strongly.)

No small feat, especially for a guy who didn't really learn to swim until he was 28 years old. It was 2005, when a friend challenged him to complete a sprint triathlon, that Lawrence fell in love with the sport. Then in 2009, while working for his father-in-law's non-profit, In Our Own Quiet Way -- which ensures access to clean water for Kenyans -- Lawrence decided to challenge himself in an attempt to raise money and awareness for the cause: He rode out 22 half-Ironman races in 30 weeks in 2010, earning a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records.

But without any sponsors to pay for the races, Lawrence upped the ante. He and his wife, Sunny, sold their house, moved into a smaller home, paid off all of their credit cards, and downsized to one car to help finance the adventure. Most of his flights were booked using donated frequent flier miles, and he stayed at welcoming strangers’ homes, rather than hotels, to save money. "It's amazing how gracious the triathlon community is out there," says Lawrence.

"My wife used to complain that she couldn't identify me in my triathlons, so I jokingly said that I was going to wear a cowboy hat in one of my 2011 races to make it easier for her to spot me,” Lawrence says. “Everybody was cheering for me and rooting for this character. The support was amazing, and it just kind of stuck.” Dubbed the Iron Cowboy, Lawrence wears a different cowboy hat during the run portion of every race. His five kids picked out the hats -- but that’s not all the members of the Lawrence clan do to lend their support.

During a race in Texas, Lawrence's muscles cramped, and he collapsed with about 9 miles left in the run. He had just gotten back from South Africa, after 39 hours of travel. “One of my daughters called me and says, ‘Dad, you’ve got to finish. It’s the world record. Can you walk?’ I said, ‘No, I can't.' She said, 'Dad, can you crawl?’ I said, ‘No, I can’t.' She said, ‘Dad, can you cartwheel?’ I ended up walking the last 9 miles and cartwheeling for the last 100 meters to cross the finish," says Lawrence. "From that point on, I knew I was going to cross every finish line, no matter what."

Lawrence has no doubt that someone soon will try to swim, bike, and run their way through 40 events in one year. "I hope to inspire someone to push that envelope, and I will be cheering on anyone who wants to try,” he says. "No goal is too big."

We won't blame you for starting with a goal of one triathlon. Our beginner’s guide to triathlon training will help you take the first step, kick, and pedal.

Saddle Up for Your Next Race
Here are three tips for finishing your upcoming triathlons or marathons feeling strong and injury-free.

Make it a family affair. Your family has to make big sacrifices to help you get to the finish line, so be sure to include them as much as possible in the process, says Lawrence. “You have to be creative and turn it into a family affair and not a selfish, me-me affair,” he says. “On my longer runs, my kids ride their bikes along with me and provide water support. They come with me to the pool for swim workouts, too.”

Pack your own physical therapist. Lawrence doesn't leave home without a Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller and Massage Ball ( He also uses a Globus Electrical Muscle Stimulation device ( on his quads, hamstrings, and calves when he flies.

Giddy-up. "Cowboy hats are actually quite practical for running -- they keep the sun off your face and neck, and when you pour water over your head, it goes right through,” says Lawrence. “I found that the most comfortable styles were the ones you buy for $5 at a party store. They’re lightweight, breathable, and they’ve got a built-in sweatband liner."

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Chicks dig fit guys. But what do they love most about them? Women prefer men whose shoulders are 1.6 times the size of their waists, according to an Archives of Sexual Behavior study. Start sculpting a great set of shoulders and a slimmer waist with this weekend's fitness challenge created by Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S. You'll begin with a three exercises that target your front, middle, and rear deltoids. This is the roundish-looking muscle that caps the top of your upper arm and the one you show off in a sleeveless shirt. Then you'll blast your gut by jumping rope. Perform this challenge every weekend until the start of summer, and you'll chisel the ultimate, lady-killing V-shape.

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Here's how to do it: Perform the exercises in the order shown. Repeat.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Grab a pair of 15-pound dumbbells and let them hang at arm's length next to your sides, with your palms facing each other. Without changing the bend in your elbows, raise your arms straight out to your sides until they're at shoulder level. Then lower the weights back to the starting point. That's 1 repetition. Do 10.

Dumbbell Front Raise
Let the weights hang at arm's length next to your sides. Raise your arms straight in front of your until they're parallel to the floor and perpendicular to your torso. Then lower the weights back to the starting point. Perform 10 reps.

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise
Bend forward at your hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbells hang straight down from your shoulders, your palms having each other. Without moving your torso, raise your arms straight out to your sides until they're in line with your body. Then return the weights back to the starting point. That's 1 rep. Do 10.

Jump Rope
With each jump, your weight should be on the balls of your feet and your knees slightly bent. Don't jump more than an inch. Keep your body upright, eyes front, and elbows close, and make small circles with your wrists. The goal is to maintain a fast rhythm. Complete 30 jumps.

Ready to try it? Watch the video above to see Durkin perform the challenge. He completed the circuit twice in two minutes and 48 seconds. What was your time? Tell us in the comments below.

And if you're ready for total-body transformation, you have to check out SPEED SHRED, the first-ever DVD fitness program from Men's Health. With 18 workouts -- and hundreds of cutting-edge exercises -- this plan will change the way you train forever. All to get you lean, ripped, and shredded!

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Here's something we definitely don't recommend trying at home.

Eric Spoto, a powerlifter who trains in Las Vegas, broke the bench press world record with a 722-pound lift at Super Training Gym in Sacramento, California. He topped Scot Mendleson's record of 715 pounds, according to records on

Spoto had two attempts before succeeding at the 722-pound mark on his third, an accomplishment met by terrifying cheers from men who seem to be as large as him.

Last year, Spoto spoke to Raw Bench Madness about his training and explained his secret to success lies in weighted dips. "You can get the same feel as bench, use crazy weights and no need for spotter. I try to have my elbows flare same as bench not tucked all the way and not out directly to the side," he said.

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The fastest way to accelerate fat loss and get your heart pumping is to stand in one spot. You just need to plant your feet, grab some heavy battling ropes, and prepare to rain sweat. "Rope training is an easy-to-master, no-impact workout that raises your heart rate quickly," says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., author of The IMPACT! Body Plan. Just because it's simple, though, doesn't mean it's easy. The constant motion of the ropes will blast your core and upper body. Plus, ropes generate more sustained power than running. That means you'll get an unbelievable metabolic and conditioning workout without taking a step.

Ready to try it? Watch the video below to see how to make parallel slams with the battling ropes. Then, complete 75 slams as fast as possible.

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Durkin completed 75 slams in 1 minute and 3 seconds. Next, Durkin had his NFL clients attempt the challenge. Chicago Bears cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Josh Johnson each finished the challenge in blistering 48 seconds. What was your time? Let us know in the comments below.

Need another way to ignite your metabolism, raise your fitness level, and break the boredom of your cardio finales? Try one of these Best Fat-Frying Finishers.

Related Story: Intense Four-Move, Equipment-Free Workout

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Zumba is taking a backseat to this new fitness trend.

Whether you are looking for a hot new urban-training technique that can prepare you for your latest intense competition or just want to have a little more fun with your exercise routines, trapeze training can be for you.

Trapeze training offers a variety of different workouts for all levels. If you are brand new to exercise or even if you have been on a trapeze before, you can benefit from these classes.

More and more people, aside from circus performers and gymnasts, are beginning to take part in a ton of outdoor trapeze training activities. But even some of the best performers leave their trapeze workouts feeling sore.

Zumba, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing and all of those other fad exercise classes are mainly about focusing on your lower body. While that is great, most don't pay enough attention to your core and upper body.

Trapeze training exercises really focus on these parts of the body. A strong core is essential for some of the more advanced trapeze exercises but with proper practice, you will develop an extremely strong core, giving you the option to go a bit more advanced.

Although the core and upper body are the main focus of this type of training, your back, glutes and thighs are activated constantly. This is one reason trapeze training is such a great workout. It focuses on multiple muscle groups at the same time. This gives you a great calorie burn and a total body workout in a short amount of time.

Mental Training:

Aside from the physical aspect of trapeze training, you will also give your brain a good workout. Exercise is just as mental as it is physical. A lot of the exercises and movements done require coordination and focus.

You will be climbing, twisting, and jumping and although that takes physical strength, your mind is what tells you to do these movements. Technique is everything during trapeze training. Having your brain focus on the task at hand is great for your mental health.

One more upside to trapeze training is facing your fears. This may not apply to everyone but a lot of people are nervous to trying new exercises, especially ones that require you flying through the air! Breaking out of your shell in any aspect of life is great for your physical and mental health. Put your fears aside and get yourself on that trapeze.

There are more than 100 trapeze training schools in the United States, including outdoor venues.

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Some ab exercises are effective but there is no getting around the fact that they are repetitive. This routine mixes it up enough to help get your mind off the pain and burn that comes with abs workouts. By concentrating on the sequence, you will end up distracting yourself for the better.

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Abs, Dual Fit

You don't need a gym membership to sculpt your best body. In fact, you don't even need weights. Gaining strength and blasting fat is about challenging your muscles and revving your metabolism, and that's exactly what Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., author of The IMPACT! Body Plan, does with this four-move equipment-free weekend challenge. "You'll be amazed how hard you can work without a gym," says Durkin. Plus, there's no excuse for skipping this challenge, since you can do it anywhere.

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Here’s how it works: Grab a stopwatch and perform these four exercises as a circuit, doing one after another with no rest.

Walking Lunge
Stand tall and brace your core. Step forward with your left leg and slowly lower your body until your front knee is bent at least 90 degrees. Your rear knee should nearly touch the floor. Pause, then raise up and bring your back foot forward so that you move forward a step with every rep. Alternate the leg you step forward with each time. Do 40 repetitions.

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