How Functional Training (+ Good Trail Shoes!) Can Get You Round A Mud Run

April 11, 2016

functional fitness

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.

functional training

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.

functional training

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!

functional fitness

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!

functional training

Overall Fitness

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..!

functional training

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.

Adidas Agravic Boost Gore-Tex trail shoes and North Face Borealis backpack, both c/o Blacks. And no, the shoes were definitely not that clean by the end

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!

4 comments so far.

4 responses to “How Functional Training (+ Good Trail Shoes!) Can Get You Round A Mud Run”

  1. Ali says:

    This looks like so much fun!

    I’ve been wanting to get out running a lot more lately as it’s a great addition to Crossfit – maybe we should start a run club?

  2. Scallywag says:

    Great post! I’m doing the major series Scotland in June and I’ve added some functional strength work too 🙂

    Really cool photos of you!

  3. Lottie says:

    Mud run’s and fun runs are fantastic! A great way to train up your fitness and put it to the test in a fun and exhilarating way! Very important that you train hard before hand though, like you say! It is easy to laugh these events off and convince yourself that you’ll be fine on little training, but they are challenging and should not be taken lightly!

  4. silvie says:

    wonderful thoughts…indeed can do attitude is the key…

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Sarah fitness blog Manchester


Welcome to That Squat Bot! I'm Sarah, a Personal Trainer based in Manchester, UK.

I love strength and functional training, but I also love trying different types of movement and using my fitness outside of the gym. I'm vegan who loves avocados and vegetables as much as I love a great veggie burger. I'm also a massive Marvel nerd!

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