• How To Incline Train For A Spartan Ultra...Without A Mountain

Spartan Race Ultra Beast 2019

Article Compiled By: Fierce Gear OCR



Whatup #FierceFam!

We are well into the 2019 OCR season, and many of you have been racking up those finisher medals. With each race weekend and event you learn more about how to improve your obstacle proficiency or get closer to figuring out how to tweak your training just right to improve your weak spots. But for many of you there's a major challenge still looming on the horizon...one that can strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned obstacle course race veteran.


...Yup...we're talking about the Spartan Race Killington Ultra.


This race throws a lot at you: from the unpredictable/rapidly-changing weather that a Vermont autumn can bring, to the unique "Tarzan Swing" obstacle (image below).

**(PS: Want to learn how to make your own short ropes so you can practice for the Tarzan Swing obstacle? Check out our blog post here.)

...But one of the training questions we see the MOST centers around one of the race elements this venue is most notorious for: that killer Killington incline. One traditional section of the course affectionately known as the "Death March" is over 1 mile uphill and includes over 1,000 feet of elevation gain (exact stats vary), and in 2018 an additional section - widely believed to be even MORE difficult -  called the "Ultra Loop" was added (it is estimated to be approximately 2 miles, and many parts are so steep that racers are forced onto all fours.)

So, you're gonna want to be prepared. We know that one of the OCR community's hottest topics of discussions is what everyone ELSE is doing for training, especially those who frequent the podium. Do they all have a 1-2 mile climb somewhere nearby to use for training? If not, what do THEY do to incline train? How are THEY preparing for the incline at Killington? Is it even possible to truly become prepared for such grueling ascents (and descents) without training on an actual mountain?

We put together a collection of workouts specifically focused on incline training, contributed by top sources in the OCR world. We asked top mountain race athletes what THEY like to do to train for incline, and checked in with some of the industry's respected OCR coaches. What follows is an insight into some favorite incline WODs from podium finishers and pro athletes, along with trainers specializing in obstacle course racing, and even some advice from Spartan Race itself.

And don't worry: no mountain required!


1. The OCR Trainer (Megan Beck, MS, ATC, CSCS, SGX)

Megan has developed a method of OCR training that combines strength training, obstacle training, and aerobic power to achieve a balance of fitness ideal for obstacle course racing. Her training optimizes athlete performance by blending movement and function with obstacle technique and specificity.


For incline improvement she recommends incorporating both strength and treadmill work, as seen in the two (separate) workouts below. 

The OCR Trainer's Treadmill WOD Recommendation:

Warm Up 10 minutes
6% 80 seconds
0% 30 seconds
8% 70 seconds
0% 40 seconds
10% 60 seconds
0% 50 seconds
12% 50 seconds
0% 60 seconds
14% 40 seconds
0% 70 seoncds
15% 30 seconds
0% 80 seconds
13% 40 seconds
0% 70 seconds
11% 50 seconds
0% 60 seconds
9% 60 seconds
0% 50 seconds
7% 70 seconds
0% 40 seconds
5% 80 seconds
Cool Down 5-10 minutes


The OCR Trainer's Strength WOD Recommendation:

A. Heavy Deadlift x5 (80% of max effort)
B. Single Leg Box Jumps x8 (mid-height, i.e., middle height of what is comfortable for you)
C. Step-Ups x8 (mid-height, 65% of max effort)
D. Eccentric Hamstring Curls x12 (bodyweight)

Repeat circuit 4x

Check out the OCR Trainer YouTube Channel for examples of how to perform many of these exercises, along with tons of obstacle tutorials.



2. Lauren Longfield (multiple podium finisher in endurance/mountain events)

"I think there are two very important training components for performing well at mountain races. I believe incline training is the most important whether that is done on hills or on a treadmill with an incline to get your legs, calves, Achilles, and lungs ready to handle climbing a mountain. In addition, strength training is important to get your climbing legs strong and resilient. Strength training makes your  bones and ligaments stronger which is also great in preventing injury. Performing movements like weighted lunges and step-ups also do a great job of simulating hill training. If you break into a power hike on a steep incline you want to be able to move fast and be strong. Throwing on a weight vest and getting on the stair master is also a great exercise to improve your power hiking." 


A treadmill WOD that Lauren loves is:

A. 10 minutes at 15% incline
B. 5 minutes at 10% incline
C. 5 minutes at 5% incline

Repeat 3x

Note: Choose a speed that you can handle and as the weeks go by, try and increase your speed at each incline level. This workout is a killer!


A strength WOD Lauren does for incline training includes some combination of:

A. Dumbbell Lunges (walking and standing)
B. Squats (split-leg, front, back, sumo, dumbbell)
C. Weighted Step-Ups
D. Sumo Deadlifts
E. Squat Jumps
F. Box Jumps
G. Sled Pushes



3. Neil Murphy (sourced from his Ultra Beast Preparation Guide found on the Regiment Running blog)

"It took me three years and two DNFs to finish the Ultra Beast. Here is what you can learn from me."


"Most people lose their lead by going up and down the sharp elevation grades too slow. So what kind of exercises can help condition your legs to take on this kind of abuse?"

A. Lunges were an integral part of my team's training.
B. Tire Drag: Loop a chain or bungee cord through a tire and attach it to your rucksack/weight belt and do your runs with the tire dragging behind you. The lower-calf leg soreness that you’ll feel from this exercise is nearly identical to what we felt after doing the Ultra.
C. Stair Climbers: The VT "Death March" was exactly the equivalent of one of the 30-60 minute stair climber sessions that I would do three times a month. I did three 45 minute stair stepper sessions at 70 steps/minute with a 15-20 minute stationary bike ride in between going at 15-20mph. Do this and the terrain at just about every UB out there will be easy, but you got to do this months in advance to get used to it.

For more detail, and more of Neil's Ultra prep tips, check out the full article here



4. Spartan Race (sourced from their blog)

In an article titled "Hill & Mountain Racing 101" published on their blog, Spartan Race's head of fitness education Jeff Godin Ph.D., CSCS recommends NOT running up hills, unless you are incredibly physically fit. If you do decide to run up a hill he advises to keep your strides short based on your level of fitness, but he stresses that steeper hills are better suited for power hiking due to the level of exertion they require the athlete to use.

He also reminds athletes to use their arms to help propel them forward, saying, “Keep your torso as upright as possible and swing your arms from hip to nip...avoid crossing the body.”

“Lack upper body strength? You’ll pay for it on the 12-foot wall. Lack balance? You’ll pay for it on the balance beam. Lack hill-climbing endurance? You will pay for it all day long.” --Jeff Godin Ph.D., CSCS, Spartan’s head of fitness education


Uphill Work:

A. 3 X 8+8 Weighted Walking Lunges + Power Skips, 25 yards
B. 3 X 8+8 Weighted Step-Ups + Ladder Drill
C. 3 X 8 Weighted Heel Raise + Plyo Dot Drill

Downhill Work:

A. 3 X 6 Tempo Squats (5 seconds down, one second up) + 25 yards Heel Walk
B. 3 X 6 Squat Jump and Stick + 25 yards Toe Walk
C. 3 X 8 Long Jump and Stick + Seated Toe Lifts


Godin warns athletes not to skimp on the downhill work, because the natural braking our body does while going downhill is a huge contributing factor to that epic soreness you feel in the days after an Ultra. Godin's tips for running downhill: "When running downhill, lean forward from your hip, use your arms for balance, take small steps and land flat-footed. Avoid heel striking when possible, but on a steep decline you might not be able to help it.”

For more detail, and to read the full article, check it out on the Spartan site here.

Or, check out Spartan's Mountain Series Training Plan here.



5. Kelly Sullivan (Spartan Race Pro Team Member & Mountain Race Aficionado)

Kelly contributes one of her favorite workouts for incline training, written by Spartan Race World Champion and OCR athlete trainer Robert Killian.



"Part of the versatility and effectiveness of this workout comes from the ability to scale it back and forth as needed."


Variation A: 6 mile run, broken into:
Run 5.5 miles
Last half mile: lunges

Variation B: 6 mile run, broken into:
Run 4.5 miles
Lunges for 1/2 mile

Run 1 mile

Kelly loves this workout because, "It's a way to work muscles used in climbing without actual elevation, and incorporating the run at the end (as seen in Variation B) simulates what you would be experiencing in a race."




So there you have it! Your inside scoop on incline training for the Spartan Killington Ultra, or any other mountain race that might get thrown your way. If we come across additional workouts from other top athletes and OCR coaches, we will be sure to add them here and let you know!

Have YOU been doing any incline-specific training? If so, how do these workouts compare to your own?

If you decide to give any of them a try, tag us on social media and let us know how it goes. We would love to hear from you! Happy Training!




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