Functional training and mud runs are both big trends in the fitness world right now, but are they mutually exclusive? I recently took on the Major Series Mud Run with Blacks and whenever I wasn’t submerged in water or knee deep in mud, I was thinking how difficult obstacle courses and mud runs are to train for, not least because you don’t know what’s coming in them – it’s unlikely my washing machine could handle what it had to do after the Major Series on a weekly basis!
However, there’s something you can add into your mud run arsenal to make sure you’re prepared. Functional training can prepare your body for whatever life throws at you, whether that’s running for and jumping on a bus, or a mud run. Instead of just training one muscle group for growth and/or strength, like a bicep curl, functional training works the entire body with compound moves that improve strength, power, and mobility. This could include anything from your conventional squats and deadlifts to plyometrics like box jumps and even more technical moves like a pistol squat.
Read on to find out how my own functional training benefited me when I tackled the gruelling Major Series Mud Run.
Explosive Power and Agility
Following a gym programme to the letter will make you strong, for sure – you’ll see your bench press numbers go up and your muscles grow – but these moves won’t create the explosive power you need to jump high or turn on a sixpence. Moves like power cleans and box jumps, both of which I do regularly in CrossFit, work on the fast-twitch muscle fibres and mind-muscle connection which helped me spring up into the Mud Run’s burning house window, above, which was about 6ft off the floor!
Alright, maybe this isn’t something that needs to be done on the daily, but this is important if your body ever needed to react quickly, whether that’s in your sport or something that happens out on the street, like getting across a road quickly when a car is coming fast.
Balance and Core Strength
Training on weight machines that do the stability work for you is never really going to help with your balance. They just work the big muscle groups, without firing up the tiny stabiliser muscles that surround the big ones, and the core doesn’t come into play much either. When you’re doing freestanding exercises – whether bodyweight or with added resistance – your body has to work harder to stay stable, with the core doing a lot of the work for you.
Why do you need balance? On a mud run this could be climbing a difficult obstacle or having to walk over a tiny bridge but we’re talking real life here. Ever tripped, been on a busy tube, or had to carry something awkward? How about standing on one leg to pull your sock up out of your shoe?! (Happens to me all the damn time) Having a strong core and stabiliser muscles will assist in keeping you balanced here, and I think by now we’ve figured where we get those from: functional fitness. Try one-legged deadlifts with a kettlebell, or even just hopping in a circle to start with!
Confidence and a Can-Do Attitude
Mud runs and obstacle courses can be both physically and mentally challenging, offering up some things you’ve never done before. There could even be some alarm bells going off in your head, telling you that this is probably something you shouldn’t be doing! This happened to me a couple of times during the Major Series, not least when I was faced with some pretty deep water… Did I ever tell you guys that one of my biggest fears is open water?! Well. Yeah. There you go. And there was loads of it.
I panicked a bit, of course, but I got in, after reasoning with myself that lots of other people were in there so couldn’t be too much of a problem. I don’t think I could have done it, though, without the confidence in myself and my abilities that functional training has brought me, plus the attitude that I have to finish everything I started got me into the water and to the finish line!
I’ve said before that I don’t do a great deal of running anymore (though lately I have been getting better!) but functional training helps to keep you cardiovascularly fit, too. And so it should – depending on what side of the dietary evolution fence you sit on humans were made to hunt and/or gather, but whichever way we wouldn’t have been doing just one type of movement, and all the moving around would have kept our hearts and lungs healthy, too.
Functional fitness means I managed to get around the 5K obstacle course without any bother – but it did take me nearly an hour and a half, so I don’t think the Major Series is not for the faint of heart..!
Bonus Mud Run Tip: Get Good Trail Shoes!
Every other obstacle race I’ve done before has just been in my oldest pair of running shoes at the time, and that’s always been alright with me – I never believed trail shoes made any difference. This time, though, I wore a pair of Adidas trail shoes and I was easily running along mud-slick trails others were sliding along and walking down mud-slick banks other people were going down on their butts! I could never go back now: I’m a trail shoe convert.
I get all of the above from CrossFit, but if that’s not something you’re into, you can easily add a couple of bodyweight functional moves into your workout once or twice a week. Try box jumps, switching jump lunges, inch worms and burpees to start seeing the functional fitness benefits, both in day-to-day life and in your training!