Spartan Obstacles: technique is all you need

In this article, we are going to introduce some of the Spartan Race most difficult and tricky obstacles and learn useful techniques to conquer them. Most competitors may think that strength is the key and that strong men are advantaged when going through the obstacles. However, in this article we are going to see that technique is (almost) all you need, and that no matter your level of fitness, no obstacle can really stop you.

Spartans! What is your profession?

Leonidas

Rope climbing

Rope climbing is an obstacle where technique counts much more than strength. First use both your hands to grab the rope as high as you can, then jump bringing your legs as high as you can, and grab the bottom of the rope with the S-wrap method. The S-wrap method requires trapping the rope between your feet and taking the pressure off your arms. Extend your legs so as to gain altitude and repeat the process. The only moment where a good grip is required is when you release the grip of your feet to raise your legs and grab a higher section. In order to save stamina make sure you practice executing the S-wrap correctly and quickly. In most races the height of the rope varies from 12 to 16 feet (3.5 to 5 meters) and has a diameters of approximately 1.5-2.5 inches (4-6cm).

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Towell pull ups: pull-ups holding a towell with your hands.
  • Rope pull ups: pull-ups holding a rope with your hands.

💡 Tips:

  • At each iteration use your arms and legs to grab the rope as high as you can
  • When raising your legs, bring your knees as close as possible to your chest

Videos

Hercules Hoist

Hercules Hoist is one of those obstacles that apparently may sound hard, practically it is even harder than what you thought, but the right technique will let you pass through this obstacle much easier than you would have expected. First, firmly grab the rope as high as you can, then push one or both your legs against the upper part of the fence and fall down. With this first movement alone you might have already raised the weight of more than one meter out of the 5-6 meters you have to lift. Next, simply iterate over that movement: stand up and use your legs to pull yourself down until the weight doesn’t reach the top. At that point don’t release immediately the weight and let it fall abruptly to the ground, otherwise, you will still get your 30 burpees penalty. Instead, step with one foot over the rope to reduce the pressure on your arms and save grip and energy, and slowly release the rope to let weight gently touch the ground. Note that the weight is about 40kg and 30kg for men and women, and it could feel heavier in case of rain.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Rope pull downs: pull-downs using a rope as grip, you can practice with both one or two hands.

💡 Tips:

  • If you should feel tired while releasing the weight, step with your foot on the rope and take a small break to let your arms rest.
  • While lifting the weight, your legs should do most of the work.

Videos:

Twister

This obstacle is composed of several bars with a twisting set of rotating handles length-wise. The whole bar will rotate about 20 degrees down each time you grab successive handles. So the main difficulty is that when you grab the next handle, it will always be slightly above the current one. There are three ways to pass through this obstacle: forward, lateral, and backward. I personally prefer to pass it backward since it is fast and the inclination of your body will make it easier to grab more distant handles. When you are about to complete one bar, you are allowed to grab to the section between your current bar and the next one. By doing so, you will avoid performing a longer step to grab the first handle of the next bar.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Pull ups: you can try different grips as well.
  • One-hand hanging: as optional you can add some weigth.

💡 Tips:

  • When you are about to complete one bar, you can grab to the section between your current bar and the next one.

Videos:

Z-wall

Z-Wall is a horizontal Z-shaped wall composed of three edges with rectangular blocks of wood on the surface placed at different orientations. Your goal is to use these blocks to step and grab on while moving horizontally across and around corners to hit the bell without touching the upper part of the wall or the ground. In this obstacle, fingers strength plays a fundamental role, but technique simplifies things too. When you are approaching the edges of the wall, try to grab the blocks from their edges instead than from the front to make the grip a little easier. Moreover, try to keep your body as close as possible to the wall to gain stability and always maintain three points of contact with the obstacle.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Climbing: this will strength your fingers and improve your overall grip.
  • Finger pull-ups: pull-ups with 4 to 2 fingers per hand.

💡 Tips:

  • Always maintain three points of contact with the obstacle.
  • The concave edge is more difficult to pass than the convex one. You can choose a wall where the concave edge comes first and keep the easier edge at the end when you may feel more tired.

Video:

Atlas Carry

You have to pick a heavy stone from the ground and carry it for about 5 meters, and then carry it back to its original position for a total of 10 meters. Not to mention, the hardest part of the obstacle is lifting the stone from the ground. Firstly, stand in front of the stone with one knee on the ground: you will use one leg and your arms to lift the stone and the other leg to stand up. Put your hands as close as possible under the stone and roll it towards your knee while at the same time trying to stand up. While walking carrying the stone you can use the upper part your legs to sustain part of the weight and with your arms press the stone toward your abdominals. The Atlas stone is about 52kg heavy for men and 34kg for women.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Weighted squat: train to stand up carrying heavy weigths.
  • Bicipts & Foreharms: to better keep the stone firmly near your body.

💡 Tips:

  • Take a rest before the obstacle.
  • Use your legs more than your arms.

Videos:

Ape Hanger

Ape hanger is a particularly tricky obstacle that consists of two parts: climbing a rope followed by two sections of monkey bars, with the goal to climb over the underlying water and touch the bell. The first section of monkey bars tends upward while the second half goes downward. Before to begin, make sure your hands are dry enough since you will have to jump in order to grab the rope and climb up until grabbing the monkey bars. Common sense tells us that grabbing a rope while jumping is much more challenging than climbing it normally, thus make sure to use your legs to firmly hold it. Given that the first half tends upward, I find it easier to go through the monkey bars laterally rather than forward. This technique reduces the chance of slipping accidentally; a situation which is very common in this obstacle. Regarding the second half, gravity helps and the level of difficulty is surely lower, but still don’t lower your guard: if you don’t feel safe, keep going in a lateral way until the bell.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Jump and Grab: train to grab a rope while jumping and climb 1-2 meters. Important to train the beginning part of the obstacle.
  • Pull-ups: you can do pull-ups normally, or even better trying different object to grab and pull yourself up to train your grip.

💡 Tips:

  • Take a rest before the obstacle and make sure your hands are dry.
  • Use your legs to grab the rope after jumping.
  • Jumping and climbing the rope up untill the monkey bars is the most difficult part.

Videos:

Olympus

Olympus is an inclined wall with 3 different kinds of blocks, placed at different heights, you can hold on: a chain, a hole in the wall, and a red prop similar to the ones you can find in climbing gyms. What I suggest is to find the type of block that is more suitable for you and never change through the obstacle. No matter what is your choice, all require a good grip. The one that provides the most grip is probably the hole since you can put your fingers inside while grabbing it. You should try and maintain a stable motion pattern and momentum so to save stamina and swing your body toward the next block.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Climbing: this will strength your fingers and improve your overall grip.
  • Pull-ups: it will make your foreharms stronger, essential with all three types of block.

💡 Tips:

  • Choose only one type of blocks and never change. You can try all of three in the Open Group.
  • Use momentum to swing your body faster toward the next block.

Videos:

Spearthrow

This is one of the most difficult obstacles of all the Spartan Race. It consists of throwing a spear and hitting a target that is at least 6-9 meters forward. To consider it as passed, the spear has to remain stuck in the target without touching the ground. First of all, once you arrive at the Spearthrow station, take a rest, let your heartbeat slow down, and find a spear that is in good condition: it is easy to catch, and the target is on a plane surface. Once you feel ready, grab the spear with your full hand a little behind the balance point. Positioning the majority of the weight in front of your hand will allow for energy to transfer into forward motion more efficiently. Secondly, aim the target and point a little higher with respect to where you want to hit. Throwing the spear a little over the target will give the spear an arc trajectory and increase your distance. During the throwing movement, pull your arm and shoulder forward without allowing your aim to move off target. Of course, a lot of practice is needed to master this obstacle but, in the end, as you accumulate experience you will avoid the 30 burpees with a higher frequency.

💪 Useful exercises:

  • Throwing: even if you don’t own a spear, you can train throwing a javelin to hit a desired target. Adjust the distance accoding the weight of your javelin.

💡 Tips:

  • Practice your throwing mechanics at the end of after a run, or 30 burpees so to get accustomed to the race conditions.
  • If you have the possibility, train this obstacle a few times before the race or in a Open Group.

Videos:

Final notes

The precious tips provided above are fruits of years of accumulated experience through countless trials and errors by a Spartan Elite runner, who is also the author of this blog. Of course, reading this article is not enough to master these obstacles. You first need to do specific exercises to train each obstacle individually and then put yourself into real practice in a real race: doing monkey bars might be easy in the gym where nobody puts pressure on you and you can rest how long you want before trying it. However, in a race you will find yourself in the harshest possible conditions: you may have just run 20km in the mud, your heart rate is already hitting over 200, and you can’t predict how you will come out from the previous obstacles: the skin of your hands could be consumed and torn, you might have blisters, cramps, wounds, soreness, or extreme fatigue. However, it is very likely that you could experience all of these conditions together. In this case, a good technique and willpower will be your ultimate weapon, and you will find it because you are a Spartan and you don’t know defeat.

AROOOOO!!!

Spartans
Gerard Butler's '300' workout

References

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  • AROOOOO!!!

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