Training For Obstacle Races With Champion Max King

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Obstacle Race Training With Max King

Don’t feel bad—you’re competitive. Sure, it may seem like everyone else wants to do obstacle races just for fun, but to you, winning is the fun part! If you’re not content to go for completion the next time you run a Warrior Dash, Spartan Run, or other obstacle race, you’ll want to prepare for the event. And what better way than to train like the best?

To get some tips from a pro, I reached out to Max King, a Salomon-sponsored professional runner who won the 2014 and 2015 Warrior Dash World Championships, taking home a cool $30,000 grand prize. King first earned his stripes as an elite competitor on the track, specializing in the 3000m steeplechase, so moving to obstacle racing was a natural choice. In addition to his track background, King is an ultramarathon world champion at 100 km and has won the world championships in mountain running as well.

Max King emphasizes being fit as a distance runner first of all—you need to be ready to run a fast 5k before you’re ready to run 5k and tackle obstacles at the same time.

“The run training doesn’t change very much, but I will add in more specific obstacle workouts of run intervals with obstacle-specific exercises between them,” King says. He also recommends doing body weight exercises like pull-ups and rope climbs for grip strength. Though you might think that jacked muscle-men would reign supreme when it comes to covering the obstacles, King says it’s actually more about leg and grip strength.

Fire Leaping at Warrior Dash. Photo: Flickr NateTheApe21

“You really don’t need as much upper body strength work as you would think,” he says. “Many of the obstacles are dependent on leg strength like climbing a rope; core strength, which you need to be a strong runner anyway; and specifically grip strength to hang on to monkey bars, ropes, and bucket carries.”

The real key to running a great obstacle race, according to King, is interval workouts which include obstacle-like strength exercises. Once you’re comfortable running three to four miles at an easy to moderate pace, try doing this interval session:

  • Easy warm-up
  • 2min hard run + pull-ups to fatigue
  • 2min hard run + 60sec of push-ups
  • 2min hard run + 60sec of burpees
  • 2min hard run + 60sec of monkey bar climbing
  • 2min hard run + 60sec of walking lunges
  • 2min hard run + 60sec of mountain climbers
  • Easy cool-down

Mud bath during Warrior Dash. Photo: Flickr The U.S Army

This kind of interval workout combines aerobic and anaerobic running with the specific strength you need to be able to compete in an obstacle run. Once you can manage this 6×2 min interval workout, you can try 6×2.5 min, 6×3 min, or 8×2 min, adding in additional body weight exercises to up the challenge. Only do this kind of workout once or twice a week—the rest of your run training can be normal, obstacle-free running. In addition, it’s worth going to the gym or a local park to work on some obstacle-specific exercises like vaulting over barriers and rope climbing. Hill running, stair climbing, and other general strength work are a good idea too.

The great thing about preparing for an obstacle race is that these workouts are fantastic for your overall fitness and health too! A strong upper and lower body, a firm grip, and great aerobic endurance is a winning combo, whether you’re a world champion obstacle racer like Max King or just trying to impress your friends.


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John Davis

John Davis is a runner, writer, and coach based in the United States. A graduate of Carleton College, he has been writing about running, health, and fitness for over four years. His own website, Running Writings, gives insight into scientifically-based treatments for running injuries and the training programs of top distance runners. His first book, Modern Training and Physiology, was published in 2013. Website: Twitter: @JDruns


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