I love competitive events. I love to run. I also love obstacles and challenges. Put those together and you have Spartan Race. I have ran my share of Spartan Race events and plan to continue to in the future. I thoroughly enjoy their events and also enjoy the goal they give me to train hard in preparation.
I've been asked me recently by a few people what I thought about the Spartan Race workouts of the day ("WODs") and if they are any good.
MY SHORT ANSWER
No, no, no I do NOT think they are good and in my professional opinion they are some of THE WORST program design of any recommended workout I have ever seen. I am not sure who is writing their programs, but just because a few challenging exercises are tossed together with a few distance run intervals does not make it an acceptably competent program. Honestly I personally feel the programs they are publishing publicly is quite irresponsible of them.
MY LONG ANSWER
Here is a recent Spartan Race WOD (workout of the day).
Allow me to break it down for you. In case you have not yet ran a Spartan Race, or are unfamiliar with their race distance lengths, here is the breakdown.
Spartan Sprint- 3+ MILES / 15+ OBSTACLES
Super Spartan- 8+ MILES / 20+ OBSTACLES
Spartan Beast- 12+ MILES / 25+ OBSTACLES
So in the above Spartan Race WOD, if you intend to train for and run the Spartan Sprint race you should perform this particular workout 1-2 times through. If you are intending to train for the Spartan Super race you should perform it 2-3x and if you are intending to train for the Spartan Beast race you should perform it 4-8x.
Seems legit right? The longer and tougher the Spartan Race event the more you have to train above and beyond it correct?
1) Someone who is training for the Spartan Sprint would then be performing up to 60 crunches, 30 hanging knee raises, 8 minutes of planks, and 4 miles during their workout. Not too bad right?
2) Spartan Super racers would need to perform 90 crunches, 45 hanging knee raises, 12 minutes of planks, and 6 miles.
3) Training for a Spartan Beast? Good luck because you will need to perform up to 240 crunches, 120 hangining knee raises, 32 minutes of planks, and run 16 miles. Oh and don't forget to stretch at the end BECAUSE you are going to need it!
Here is another one of their recent WODs.
Do you see those numbers?! At a minimum Spartan Sprint race level of 8 times through you would have to perform 80 pushups, 80 jumping lunges, 80 pullups, 80 burpees, 80 squats, and 240 crunches. Plus on top of that you would have to perform the 3,000 meters of sprints. That equals to just under 2 miles of sprinting.
If you are training for the Spartan Beast you will need to say some prayers in order to get through your 16 rounds of pure Spartan hell. WOW!! Good luck performing 160 pushups, 160 jumping lunges, 160 pullups (are you insane?!!), 160 burpees, 160 squats, and 480 crunches. Plus on top of that you would have to perform the 9,600 meters of sprints. That equals to just under 6 miles of sprinting. 6 miles of sprinting... ummm... not sure Usain Bolt does that much during his workouts!!
In my professional opinion, twice through this workout should be the Max and anything more than that is just over-training and plain stupid. Yes and then definitely do the cool-down stretching because you will certainly need all that you can get to help you cope with your next 2 months of soreness.
Spartan Race's logic seems to be to do much more than what's expected during their races, so that when you are actually there running the race, it will be easier. Makes sense right? Well... not exactly and it doesn't translate from training to event performance as you might think.
What they fail to see is every single one of their workouts suggest that each workout will compound upon the last. Sorry to say then the people who are blindly following their daily workouts believe they will improve. Think about the sorest you have ever been from any workout and then continue working out and still training like that each day. Your body will not have time to recover, to heal and catch up, and your immune system, nervous system, and hormones will greatly greatly be effected in a drastic way.
Fitness Experts or Fitness Farce?
Spartan Race's subscribers believe in them as "fitness experts", when they are most certainly not, simply because they can throw together some burpees, crunches, and a run fabricated into a WOD, posted on their Facebook, Instagram, website, and email blast list. These "workouts" will directly lead to over-training within the first week or two and then, if continued, the body will never catch up.
Authentic Program Design
Most all the other sport performance and fitness performance training programs suggest a much different program design than Spartan Race. I'm sure they will have you believe that they are attempting to storm the market with their elite level force to blast through races with superhuman-like participants. I think not! The human body responds to certain types of training and their's is an excessive extreme that will quickly hurt somebody and regress them rather than progress.
Think about it like this, when a runner trains for a marathon, how often do they ever run 26 miles or more during their training? Typically that's not at all. What they will do is they will get close with a 20 or 22 miler, but very rarely or never the full distance depending on the program design. During the training process the human body does not need to go the full distance because it will have been conditioned enough to run it at a faster pace with a shorter distance trained. If it is a good program even intervals, short distance with a higher intensity, will be part of the process.
This is the same exercise and training science for other sporting events where fitness is involved. When I train for Kettlebell Sport events we very rarely performed during training what we were going to be doing on the platform in competition. We built up to it and got close for the sake of conditioning and confidence. This is so that the body does not over-train, is able to recover, and to continue progressing directly due to the workout setting the body up for progressive recovery.
My Final Thoughts & Advice
Spartan Race doesn't seem to pick up on a sort of logical program design that is conducive to the way the human body responds to training, recovery, and progress. I personally do not advocate following any of their workouts until they do. Yes I personally will continue to participate at their events, bring my Spartan Life team to their events, promote their events at my Synergy Kettlebell Training gyms, talk about their events on social media because I thoroughly enjoy the events themselves; however I will not participate in or support their daily workouts whatsoever.