Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hypothermia when its warm outside

Yet another Tough Mudder training session, this time in the rain with some Fall-like weather. There were only four of us as some folks decided that rain meant they could stay inside on the couch and snuggle with their wives while waiting for their breakfast casserole to bake . . . I'm not bitter, I swear. I wasn't cold or hungry or anything like that. :)

 Actually, I'm just kidding. Our training session today was rather refreshing. Unlike the previous weeks of overwhelming heat and humidity that forced me to wring out my clothing and my braid with regularity so that I wasn't weighed down by my sweat collection, today was nice. It started out about 70 degrees with a light rain. We added some miles and obstacles this week bringing our grand total up to 7 miles and 14 obstacles. It was pretty tiring, but we got through it in just under 2.5 hours even though we raised the wall and added in a belly crawl. By the time we were finished, it was 60 degrees and there was a steady rain. We were soaked, but felt good.

 

I was comfortable throughout the whole training session. Well, not comfortable, but neither too hot nor too cold. However, once it was over, I sat still for about 15 minutes to cool down and try to reassure my body I wasn't really trying to kill it. Within that short time period, I got very cold and began to shiver. By the time I realized I should get out of those wet clothes and into a warm shower, I was very very cold. It took 20 minutes of steam to remove the goose bumps and even afterwards, I put on an outfit that might be better suited for the ski lodge or similar snowy environments.

This rather unpleasant experience reminded me of a passage I read in the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines about heat and cold illnesses. It stated that one can get hypothermia even under mild conditions. I don't think I had hypothermia by any stretch of the imagination, but I did get chilled rather quickly and if I didn't have a hot shower nearby, it could have gotten worse.

My whole point in writing this post is that hypothermia is no joke. Its one of the main reasons folks end up dropping out of the Tough Mudder and needs to be taken seriously, no matter what your sport. Cold bodies lose coordination and even if you aren't cold enough to quit, you may be cold enough to get seriously injured.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

100% RAW Mid-Atlantic Championships

This past weekend I took my son, daughter, and one of my weightlifters to the 100% RAW Mid-Atlantic Powerlifting championships.  And it was awesome.  Before I get into the events of the day, let me explain a little bit about this competition.  Powerlifting is a strength sport that focuses on a small selection of strength lifts.  The squat, bench press, and deadlift are the most typical lifts seen, but some federations include some others such as the strict curl.  There are over 40 different federations in powerlifting that have their own sets of rules, competition schedules, and records.  When I was looking for a federation to have my children compete under, my friend Ryan Hale, coach for the Wolverine Powerlifting club in Iowa, recommended 100% RAW.  This federation bans the use of specialized gear and drugs to assist competitors.  The only equipment allowed are belts and wrist wraps.  Additionally, this federation has an "11 and under" age group and allows competitors to compete in a single lift.   I am really only interested in having my children deadlift at this age so this was a huge bonus.  I took my daughter to a 100% RAW meet last January and was very impressed not only with how smoothly the meet was run, but how welcoming, friendly, and supportive the other lifters and coaches were to us and each other.

When I train my kids, we focus mainly on full body strength using mainly bodyweight and light resistance.  However, they are capable of lifting a lot of weight.  They routinely try and pick up and carry each other and their friends and they are always trying to lift up heavy objects in the yard.  I feel that when coached correctly, the deadlift can be a great loaded exercise for kids.  I also like to have my children work towards a goal because when they know that they are coming to train for a purpose, they are much more motivated.

Megan pulling 236.5 lbs.
My 16 year old weightlifter, Megan, and I had an unofficial deadlift competition going on last summer where we would periodically text one another with something like this, "215, in your face!" and then "224, HA!".  So, now that she's decided to focus mostly on pole vaulting, I thought she could benefit from maintaining some full body strength and encouraged her to put her money where her mouth is and enter the meet as well.

And so, I worked with them all over the summer and finally got a chance to test their progress this past weekend.

Coaching is a lot of fun, but can be really nerve racking.  It took me a few years as a weightlifting coach to be able to have a good sense of what my lifters were capable of at a competition. Competition makes everything seem lighter and so a lot of PRs are set.  However, if you are too ambitious and your lifters can't make their lifts, they may be very unsatisfied with what they did manage to make.  For example, if you know you can pull 225 and pulled that on your first attempt, its a hard decision to move on to the unknown.  What if you pull 235 and it was really easy and wished you'd tried for more?  What if you tried 245 and didn't make it and were stuck with 225 as your pull for that day?  Mix in the fragile egos of children and the wanting-to-please-your-children instinct of a parent and you've got a pretty tough job.  And like I said, I'm pretty good at telling my weightlifters what they can do, but powerlifting is a different sport altogether and I'm not confident in making guesses here just yet.

Elizabeth with 88 lbs.
To complicate matters, my daughter Elizabeth, who pulled 82.5 lbs last January at a bodyweight of 60, had a growth spurt this Spring and grew 3 inches without gaining any weight.  So, now she has these ridiculously long legs, tight hamstrings, and no mass advantage.  Getting her to lift was like starting from the drawing board.  Up until the meet, I wasn't sure if she would even be able to pull her last meet PR.  I suspected this was mostly mental, but wasn't sure.  Watching her little brother pull as much weight as she did not help matters either.  My son Francis, who throws his whole self into any athletic pursuit he tries, was over the moon with excitement and kept talking about how he was going to pull 100 lbs.

Francis with 121 lbs.
So, on to the meet.  I set Megan's opener at 97.5 kg (214.5 lbs).  It was her first PL meet and she needed to have an easy pull on her first attempt.  And it was, so I set her next one for 102.5 kg (225.5 lbs).  I struggled with Elizabeth's opener, but went ahead and set hers and Francis's at 35 kg (77 lbs).  They both made it with relative ease so I set their next attempts as 37.5 kg (82.5 lbs) for Elizabeth and 40 kg (88 lbs) for Francis.  They all made their second attempt.  Elizabeth's was slow, but with good form, Francis' flew up like he was going to clean it, and Megan's was smooth and relatively fast.  So, final attempts, I set Elizabeth's at 40 kg (88 lbs), Francis' at 45 kg (99 lbs), and Megan's at 107.5 (136.5 lbs).  Elizabeth struggled with this last one, but the crowd was on their feet cheering for her.  Her form was solid, but it took her a good 2-3 seconds to complete the pull.  At the top, she looked confused and later told me it felt really light once she stood up.  Francis' flew up again and I have to admit, I was really surprised.  This was 10 lbs more than he had ever attempted at home and he made it look light as a feather.  Megan pulled hers with ease and is already planning on taking the state record.

Happy kids, proud coach.
So, after Francis lifted, an interesting thing happened.  The announcer asked me if Francis would like to go for a fourth attempt.  This is usually allowed for record attempts, but no records are kept in the weight classes under 105 lbs for men.  However, the meet director said he could and so Francis went out to attempt a 55 kg (121 lbs) deadlift.  The reason we chose this weight is because the plates are bigger and so he would be pulling from less of a deficit, ie the bar would be higher up.

When Francis went to pull, it was apparent that he was fighting the bar and that he was going to win.  Again, the crowd was on their feet cheering for him and I don't think I've seen that kid happier in a long time.

So, all in all, a great day, everyone did better than they ever have and set some new PRs.  Best part, everyone lifted with good form and did the best they could that day.  My youngest son Patrick is very excited for the day when he gets to go to his first meet, but he's going to have to wait a while.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Have Fun, Get Strong!

At almost seven years old, Patrick fancies himself
a big strong guy.
To say I'm working on a couple of projects right now is an understatement.  I have a tendency to stretch myself a bit thin with my training and teaching projects, but only because I have so much fun doing this stuff.  One of my most recent projects is designing a strength program for one of the "specials" classes at my children's elementary school.  It will be challenging, but I'm really looking forward to seeing if I can get these kids excited about getting stronger and most importantly, having fun doing it.  I've been working on designing a sixteen week program for third and fourth graders and I'll post some of the programs as I figure out what works and what doesn't.

That aside, I've been training two of my kids and a few other students for a power lifting meet on September 22nd.  I think its a good thing to introduce strength training to kids as soon as it is safe and possible and I've learned a few things along the way.

Kids can lift relatively heavy, but attention to form is
paramount.
First things first, its not worth training kids if they aren't listening and trying their best to have good form.    Their bodies are constantly growing and changing and so they naturally revert back to floppy and twisted ways of moving.  I've seen children being trained in a number of environments:  One-on-one, group strength and conditioning, and team sports.  The one thing I'm constantly disappointed by is trainers and coaches who let children strength train with inconsistent and bad form.  In my mind, its a waste of time and can lead to injury down the road.  There is no reason one cannot teach children to move correctly, with good posture, through a full range of motion.  Doing so with consistency builds strength they can use as a foundation for all movement.

So, what are the strength benefits for children?  Building postural stability, strength, and endurance by strengthening the muscles that support the spine ensures that they can maintain appropriate posture for daily living, sports, and play.  Posture isn't just important for charm school, good posture allows one to maintain a consistent center of mass therefore moving with balance and coordination.  You can imagine how this can help to prevent falls and injuries that may occur as these postural muscles fatigue with activity.  Hip strength and mobility also helps to support the posture and drive lower and full body movements.  Core strength also supports the posture and helps to coordinate upper and lower body movements into full body movements.  The other essential part of good posture are the muscles of the chest and upper back.  Creating balanced strength and flexibility between these two areas prevents the all too familiar "slouching" that makes some of us cringe.  Lastly, strengthening the entire body serves as valuable "pre-hab", preparing muscles to accommodate forces from multiple directions and preventing injuries.  It doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't even have to take a lot of time, but its worth taking the time to do it right.

I have been known to dismiss my own children from lifting
practice.  If they can't pay attention, its just a waste of time.
So, that being said, I have learned a few things working with my kids and with larger groups of children with the Carolina Elite track and field club.  The first and most important thing is you must have their full attention.  This can be difficult, particularly with 11 and 12 year olds, but using the right cues such as "why don't you go sit with your mom and we'll talk about why you can't squat with her after practice" or "how many pushups would you like to do right now?" work pretty well.  I'm not particularly mean, but I don't allow the children I'm training to fool around and not listen.

Secondly, if you want everyone to do the exercise and do it correctly, keep it simple.  I typically don't have the children perform more than four exercises in a single strength training session.  If some children require more of a challenge, I can give them some weight, or if I don't have any equipment with me, we'll utilize pauses in the lifts such as holding a plank at the top of the pushup or hold an active position at the bottom of the squat.

A kettlebell deadlift that begins between the
instep (or the stars on Patrick's shoes) ensures
 that the lift is primarily driven from the
posterior chain  instead of the quads
and low back.
Lastly, you must make the exercise appropriate for the individual.  Generally speaking, children reach postural maturity by ages 7 or 8.  This is the age recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for beginning resistance training.  However, long before then, children are already getting stronger by running, jumping, climbing, and lifting up their friends.  When we formalize weight training, however, we need to start with technique and keep weight on the back burner.  Good form should be taught first before adding significant weight to any movement.   Take into account the child's limb length, height, weight, and leverages when choosing exercises.  I am a fan of deadlifts for kids, but if the child cannot keep their own center of gravity behind the bar, a kettlebell sumo deadlift is much better for teaching them to drive the movement with their hips and legs rather than their low back.

Teaching kids can be very rewarding and they deserve the attention to detail that we give our adult clients and athletes.  For their exercises to be effective, they need to be appropriate, consistent and performed with good form.  They also need to be relatively simple.  Kids can make a lot of progress with a short list of good exercises and that leaves them plenty of time to just have fun and play.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tough Mudder Training: 5 Weeks Out

We just finished our third conditioning workout for the Tough Mudder and it was tough to say the least.  Today we completed 11 obstacle stations repeating the Wall, Over/Under, and Crawling stations an additional time.  So overall, we started with a 1 mile run and then ran an additional 700 meters after every obstacle.  The obstacle stations were as follows:

Monkey Bars:  45-54 bars in a row without stopping.  Since we're using my kids playset, this required a lot of stopping and turning.  Additionally, we've banned the use of momentum and everyone had to grab each bar with both hands.  Its harder, but will help us get up the inclined monkey bars on the Tough Mudder Course.

The Wall is an unforgiving master.
The Wall:  We added another board to the top so its now at 7 feet.  Everyone, including all the women were able to get over the wall without assistance, getting a hold on the top is the only challenge.  Well, aside from the bruises and wood burns all over our calves and thighs.  Important point to make here, your body does toughen up to bruising over time.  Not only learning to climb these walls, but have our bodies get used to the abuse will make us more successful and less banged up on race day.  I'll be honest, this thing kind of scares me.

Agility:  This station is challenging in its execution, but is meant to improve our coordination for jumping and landing and improve our knee and hip strength in multiple directions.  Injury prevention is important and a lot of injuries happen simply from landing badly.  This week, we lined up three tires with some space between and jumped in and out of each tire both laterally and forward.  We then did the same moving through an agility ladder.  By the end of five rounds, I was definitely moving slower and running afterwards was horrible.  But, probably a lot like running through mud.

Over/Under:  This is one of the most annoying and exhausting obstacle types on the course.  It just wears you out.  To copy this at home, we simply built a fence and the goal is to climb over it and then climb under it.  We'll probably add another segment with a board about chest level for pressing up on and swinging our legs over.  At the Tough Mudder, this will take the form of a lot of logs at differing heights and who knows what else.  At the Warrior Dash, it was a series of fences, and then a series of dumpsters.  Which was way more exhausting than I was willing to admit.  Except that I had to because I had to walk between that obstacle and the next.

Bruises from my first attempt at the Wall.
Crawling:  We combined both bear crawls and knee crawls up the hill in the backyard.  Not only are we building postural endurance for crawling, we're toughening up our shins and knees as well.  Again, these will take a beating on the day of the challenge.  Not that I necessarily want callused knees, but they need some toughening up.

Balance:  We walked across 3 2x4's elevated on bricks holding kettlebells overhead.  The overhead weight essentially raises your center of gravity making balance much more challenging.  We'll probably change this up a bit in the coming weeks as I think I saw a balance challenge at one of the Mudders that required walking on the two-inch side of the board.

Prowler:  This thing is pure evil.  Just is.  It sits there on the grass looking all light and shiny, but then you start pushing it.  And, "hey, its not hard, I can push it a little faster."  This is the flawed thinking that gets us every time, down on our knees, trying not to throw up.  The prowler is a great conditioning tool, but be careful it doesn't seduce you into jogging up the yard only to end up in a gasping heap on the grass, trying to make the sky stop spinning.

Dirty cheater.
Rope Climb:  We're getting better at these.  Chalk and gloves weren't helping us, so being the dirty cheaters that we are, we got some Spider Tack.  This is basically a sticky resin that makes your hands sticky.  Strongmen use it for lifting atlas stones, Highland Games throwers use it when they throw the hammer.  It greatly enhances grip and we need all the help we can get.

Well, the good news is that my right thigh did not get as badly damaged this week, but since I climbed over the wall unassisted and had to roll my calf over the top, it is turning black as I type.  I believe my right thigh has toughened up a bit, I hope my calf follows suit.

Other than that, it was exhausting.  The cooler temperatures helped a lot, but fatigue is fatigue.  However, we worked for almost three hours.  Our goal for next week will be to complete the same course with a longer run at the beginning and do it in less time.  Sounds crazy, right?  Well, it probably is.  But, we'll be adding distance and obstacles each week until October 27th when we find out how tough we really are.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Circuit Training


To get strong, we lift weights. To lose fat we do cardio, right?

And who has time for all that?

So, about sixty years ago, circuits were invented.  It was shown that you could perform weight training exercises in a continuous circuit for 2-3 total sets and get both a cardiovascular and strength benefit.  But, how much benefit do you actually get?

The original circuits, done in the fifties and published in the book Circuit Training, by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Adamson, utilized such exercises as burpees, rope swings, clean and presses, barbell squats, wheelbarrow lifts, dips, pullups, and a few that I didn't recognize, but looked like fun like arm jumps across a ladder.  These circuits would vary in length from 10 to 25 minutes and although they were meant to strengthen, their main effect was cardiovascular.

For years, circuits have been used with calisthenics, light implements, and bodyweight only exercises. Circuit weight training is a familiar sight in commercial gyms and health centers around the country using the machines that isolate a body part and take balance, core strength, and natural movement completely out of the picture. 

About twenty years ago, bodybuilders started using supersets, or short circuits with much heavier weights meant to stimulate hypertrophy and strength while keeping the heart rate up. And then a number of popular fitness trends began to incorporate high intensity circuits with heavier weights that were supposed to make us stronger, bigger, and more conditioned.  However, until recently, it hadn't actually been proven.

 What do you mean it hadn't been proven?

Well, I mean no one had actually done any appropriate controlled study to see if the observed training effect was the result of the training or other factors.

A paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2008 by Alcarez, et al demonstrated that when comparing a mini-circuit of bench press, leg extension, and ankle extension using 6 rep max loads and 35 second rests to a 6 rep max load bench press with 3 minute passive rest between sets, there was no difference between the bench press efforts and bar velocity.  As an added bonus, the average heart rate was approximately 70% HRmax while performing the circuit. (Alcaraz, Sanches-Lorente and Blazevich 2008)

What did I just say?

Basically, they demonstrated that performing exercises instead of resting did not affect the individual’s ability to bench press a load known to induce strength and hypertrophy.  And, it provided a good cardiovascular stimulus. A consequent follow-up study by another group, Deminice, et al, looked at 3 different paired sets of exercises using a 10 rep max load.  This study  showed similar results and lower oxidative stress biomarkers than traditional weight training with longer rest intervals.  (Deiminice, et al. 2010)

Pretty impressive, eh?

So, this would imply that we could get all our work done in less time AND get stronger and bigger all at the same time.

But, that would be basing a whole lot of assumptions off of two papers with no long term results and the added bonus of having used machine based exercises. (I'm being sarcastic, this is not a bonus.)

To get the whole story, we have to take into account the whole picture.  Exercise physiologists have been saying (and they’re right) that to continue getting strong, especially for athletes, we need to train at or above 80% of our 1 rep max.  Willardson and Burkett did a study in 2008 as well, but they tested rest periods and intensity of the squat.  They found that resting less than two minutes diminished the intensity at which the participants could reach and that this minimum 80% could not be reached with less than two minutes rest. (Willardson and Burkett 2008)

I find this study a bit more useful because unlike the machine based tests, the squat utilizes more of the body’s muscles, including the core and is a more natural movement, ie one we use in athletics and everyday life.  The Willardson study did not test a circuit, but it did test a specific recovery period.

So, how do we use this information?

To use this information properly, one cannot assume anything not stated in any of these three studies.  However, the sky is the limit in how you can use this in your own workouts.  The idea behind circuit training is to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout so that you simultaneously get a strength and cardiovascular benefit.  If relative strength is an important factor in your workouts, maybe experiment using simple calisthenic or basic cardio exercises such as jumping jacks, jump rope, or rowing between sets to keep your heart rate up, but not stimulate those fast twitch muscles you are trying to rest.  Or use an exercises that use different mucle groups such as a pull-up and a squat or a deadlift and an overhead press.  Documenting your training and your results will tell you if what you are doing is working or not.

**You will not significantly increase limit strength with circuit workouts unless you are a complete novice for whom anything works for a little while.

In the end, it all comes down to specificity.  Untrained folks are much easier to train than trained folks.  What I mean by this is I can take a couch potato and have him stack cinder blocks for two hours every day and he will get stronger, have more endurance, and probably lose a little weight.  But as he becomes more fit, I have to get smarter with his workouts.  I could probably throw him into some bodyweight only circuits and have him work all of his joints through a full range of motion and that will continue to improve him for some time as well.  I would then need to perhaps introduce the heavier weight circuits and some additional assistance training.  Eventually, if he wanted to get really strong, we’d have to hit the weight room, lift heavy and rest between sets.  But, even then to keep progressing, I'd have to keep changing his routine so probably a mixture of all four techniques might be good for him.  (Although stacking cinder blocks could perhaps be replaced with something more useful or fun.)

Doing the same thing for too long will always result in plateaus, so mixing things up is good as well.  Using a mix of circuits, high intensity interval training, and traditional weight training in an undulating periodized program is a good way to keep things fresh and stimulating and will enable you to keep getting results. But, there must be a plan and an attention to detail because if you miss the plateau, you won’t know when to change. This is why a training log is your best tool in your personal fitness goals. Being able to recognize when you have stopped making progress is vital to your ability to keep moving forward, avoid overtraining, and avoid injury. Regularly test yourself on both strength and endurance to see if you are, in fact progressing, maintaining, or backsliding.

There is no “one way” to train.  If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re trying to sell you something.

References:

Alcaraz, Pedro, Jorge Sanches-Lorente, and Anthony Blazevich. "Physical Performance and Cardiovascular Responses to an Acute Bout of Heavy Resistance Circuit Training versus Traditional Strength Training." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008: 667-671.

Deiminice, Rafael, Tiago Sicchieri, Mirele Mialichi, Francine Miliani, Paula Ovidio, and Alceu Jordao. "Oxidative Stress Biomarker Responses to an Acute Sessio of Hypertrophy-Resistance Traditional Interval Training and Circuit Training." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010: 1-7.

Willardson, Jeffrey, and Lee Burkett. "The Effect of Different Rest Intervals Between Sets on Volume Components and Strength Gains." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008: 146-153.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Obstacle Course Race Conditioning

Whether you are training for a Warrior Dash or a Tough Mudder, it wise to condition yourself for the combined efforts of running and climbing.  Or crawling.  Or jumping.  Or whatever your race has in store for you.  Switching back and forth between endurance and strength efforts is a bit harder than doing either in isolation.  And a lot more tiring.  The good news is that it doesn't take a long time to adapt to this sort of conditioning so if you have your strength base in place and your endurance base in place, taking a few weeks to combine the two will ensure that your race day is much easier.

Our team avatar.  We're not this old and crotchety, but
getting there.
This past weekend, my Tough Mudder Team, the GeriAtrocities, had our first group conditioning session.  The Tough Mudder is unique in that it is not a race and encourages teamwork amongst the participants to get over the obstacles.  In fact, some of the obstacles are literally insurmountable without help from your fellow Mudders.  The goal of our training this weekend was not just to begin to condition ourselves for race, but to work together as a group in figuring out how we are going to approach each of our obstacles.  We have to take into account that we are all older than the average participant; we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, this is a long race with lots of obstacles, and fatigue may throw us some curve balls.

In a previous post, I reviewed what the obstacles are that we are most likely to encounter and characterized them by the dominant quality they would require to complete.  It went something like this:  this will suck because it will make your legs tired, this will suck because it will make your arms tired, this will suck because it will make your core tired, this will suck because its mean and scary . . .

Some obstacles are impossible without teamwork.
However, the skills/strengths needed for this race are pretty easy to identify.  Some are obstacle specific whereas some can be trained with more general strength and conditioning methods.  I have distilled our race training down into 8 different categories or stations.  Over the next eight weeks, we will be combining each of these stations with running intervals to get us used to the efforts required for both.  However, we will start with an approach that optimizes specific strength and skill development before transitioning to a pure conditioning effort.  If you've never climbed a wall before and your first attempt is a speed focused effort while exhausted from running, well, that's just dumb.  The progression for every new skill learned should be technique first (can you perform the task well), strength second (can you perform the task well consistently), and then power and/or speed (can you perform the task at the desired speed or intensity).  Trying to develop a new skill while also trying to do it as fast as possible doesn't work so well.  So, these first few weeks, the obstacle stations are strictly skill practice and strength work.  This will naturally transition into speed and conditioning work as we get more proficient.

So, what are the obstacle stations?  I designed eight stations that focus not only on obstacle course specific strength and skills, but injury prevention.  Hypothermia and injuries are the primary reason people drop out of these races.  No need to get injured if we can avoid it and there are some very simple things we can do to improve our chances.

Maxine had no troubles with the wall.
The first one is the Wall.  There's really nothing like climbing over a wall and the Tough Mudder course has a lot of them.  I'm not really sure how high they are, but they look to be at least ten feet in height.  Obviously, some of us will need a boost to get our arms to the top, and although pulling yourself up is part of the challenge, being able to pull a leg up and grab the top of the wall with your foot is the other challenge.  This requires a strong core, especially for repeated efforts.  The other challenge to the wall is getting down.  Who knows what will be on the other side.  Could be a mud slicked downhill slope, uneven ground, sticks and roots and rocks, you just don't know.  So, mounting the wall and then just nonchalantly jumping off is not advised.  You need to be able to hang for a second and see what you're going to land on.

You can't tell, but Suzanne hates the prowler.  I think we
all do.
The second station is the prowler.  We'll probably be repeating this one a lot.  The prowler is both a wonderful and horrible thing to play with.  This past weekend, we used it without any added weight, running if we could.  The prowler requires you to push with your entire body.  The effort is similar to what it will feel like climbing out of a mud trench or trying to get up a steep hill.  The "Everest" obstacle, a half pipe that you have to run up in hopes of catching hold of some helpful person's hand will require a burst of speed and power towards the end of the race.  Working with the prowler will help build this higher intensity endurance and strength both for general race endurance as well as the more strenuous parts of the course.

Not breaking or spraining an ankle is a good priority.  
The third station on Saturday was a combination of what will become two stations eventually,  Agility and Balance, which were done as a circuit.  Agility and balance are crucial to safety on the course.  Agility training is typically used as speed drills for sports, but the main goal is strengthening of the joints in multiple directions and good  kinesthetic awareness and proprioreception.   These last two big terms simply mean one's ability to sense where one's body is in space and respond quickly to one's environment.  For these we had a big tire and some pipes set up as an agility ladder.  The tire we used to jump onto and off of from both a forward and sideways direction.  The point was not to do this for conditioning or speed, but to jump and land solidly with good balance.  We also ran through the agility ladder both forward and sideways.   A good number of injuries occur simply from not securing a good landing or instability in the ankles, knees, or hips when stepping out of your plane of movement.  A little prevention goes a long way.

Can you move slowly and keep your balance?
The balance station was very short, but challenging as well.  One of the obstacles in the Tough Mudder is a very long, very narrow board over water that we have to walk across.  If you fall, no big deal, you're in the water and have to swim.  But, being wet and cold will exhaust you and there are plenty of other obstacles that result in falling or jumping into water.  If you can avoid it, might as well.  I also took the opportunity to combine some strength work for another obstacle, a big cargo net we have to walk under and continually push overhead to reach the other side.  So, the obstacle was simply to walk across a 2x4 raised off the ground while holding two kettlebells overhead.  Now, here was the challenge:  You couldn't go fast.  Each step had to be balanced, one foot in front of the other.  If you move quickly across a balance obstacle, you may make it to the other side, but you're not using balance, you're using momentum.  If you have to stop suddenly, or move slowly because others are in front of you, you're not going to get very far.  Additionally, balance requires a great deal of core strength.  Holding weight overhead requires a great deal of core strength and balance.  So, although the two obstacles this exercise will assist are completely different, the basic quality of core strength will enhance both balance and overhead strength.  Over the next few weeks, this station will get both longer and higher off the ground.

A station I have not yet built, but will be constructed this week is the Over/Under challenge.  This kind of obstacle is present in a lot of obstacle course races and it is deceptively exhausting.  It generally requires that you continually hoist yourself over an object such as a fence, a car, or a dumpster, and then get low enough to crawl under a fence, a log, or through a pipe.  Sometimes its just "over", sometimes its just "under, but when its both, you will get worn out easily.  These obstacles require a good bit of strength and flexibility, but a lot of conditioning as well.

Terry has accessorized his climbing outfit with
socks picked out by our six year old.  
The next station we went to was the rope climb.  There is only one 15 foot rope climb on the Tough Mudder course, but a lot of the obstacles require a good amount of grip strength so rope climbing will serve multiple masters as well.  Rope climbing requires upper body strength, grip strength, and a lot of technique.  All of our team members, even those who cannot do a single pull-up, were able to climb the rope because the range of motion is different from a pull-up and you can assist somewhat with your legs.  We also found that if we stabilized the rope for one another, it was much easier to climb.  We all practiced going up the rope a few times before bruises and rope burns made us decide to move on.  One of the things we will be discovering during this training will be what we need to wear on race day to minimize these types of injuries.

We finished up with the last two stations of bear crawls up the hill in the backyard and monkey bar practice.  Bear crawls, like the prowler, are great for hip and full body strength and conditioning.  They also help with mobility and we will eventually mix these with low belly crawls under rope.  The monkey bars are a Tough Mudder obstacle and require both upper body strength and grip strength, but also a bit of technique.

A close up of one of my bruises.  I have three large ones
from the wall and the climbing rope.  The color is
rather impressive.
It was 90 degrees and ridiculously humid on Saturday so by the time we were done with all the stations and running, we were all completely soaked, bruised, and a little dehydrated despite having gone through almost two gallons of water.  Dehydration and heat stroke are no joke so be careful when training in these kinds of conditions.  Not only should you stay hydrated, try and make sure you are consuming salt to keep your electrolytes normalized.  Believe it or not, pickles and pickle juice are excellent for this purpose.

So, overall, we didn't run that far, but we were out there working for about two hours.  The challenge itself will probably take us closer to three hours to complete, but we will gradually increase our running distances, the number of times we attempt each obstacle station, and the overall training time.  The most important part of this gradual approach is that we will have enough recovery to continue to allow us to train effectively between these weekly conditioning sessions.  The hard work has just begun, but it will pay off in eight weeks.