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Considering Spartan? Build your upper body strength

Considering Spartan? Build your upper body strength

by Robert Rounsavall 

I started CrossFit a couple of years ago and was getting stronger. I wanted to test myself at the Spartan Sprint, which is 3 to 5 miles with 20-plus obstacles.  I suspected it would involve lots of climbing and that I needed to develop my upper-body strength. So I worked in rope climbs at my CrossFit gym.  

Here's one of my favorite rope-climb workouts: 

  • 10-minute warm-up with Aerobike, jump rope, light rowing 
  • 30 rope climbs EMOM (CrossFit jargon for every minute on the minute)
  • 10-minute cool down with foam roller 

I noticed my upper-body strength was improving as I built up speed on the rope climbs. Running is what I normally focus on so it wasn't a problem at all.  However, I didn't work enough on the dreaded burpees. If you fail to complete an obstacle in Spartan races, you have to perform 30 burpees.  That can tack on a ton of time and burn you out. 

I didn't sign up for the competitive wave of the Sprint because it was my first race. Although it's not as strict, it started later in the day, almost at noon and Miami gets pretty hot.  OK, REALLY hot!  I still managed to get through most of the obstacles without a problem, even the one-shot spear throw to a hay bale target.  

Spear throw, check. Rope climbs, check. Most other obstacles, check, check, check! 

My rope-climbing training paid off, but I wasn’t ready for a couple of the obstacles.  I had to do my first set of burpees because of the monkey bars, which involves swinging from a ring, grabbing a rope, grabbing a bar and climbing across 20 or 30 feet to the other side.  

The Twister also gave me trouble. It’s similar to monkey bars, but you hold onto a bar that twists as you traverse it.  I watched the how-to video on the Spartan website, which advises bending your arms at a 90-degree angle. But it took me off guard, and I couldn't get across in one shot. Yes, more burpees.  

Here are a few tips if you’re considering a Spartan race: 

  • Sign up now! You’ll have a ton of fun, no matter what. 
  • Work on strength, especially upper body and grip. 
  • Watch the Spartan how-to videos and train as much as you can for the obstacles. 

I had such a blast that I’m gunning for the Trifecta next year. The Trifecta is an award for completing the Sprint, the Super (8-plus miles with 25-plus obstacles) and the Beast (13-plus miles with 30-plus obstacles).  

If I conquer that, the Ultra Beast — 26-plus miles with 60-plus obstacles — might be in my future.  See you out on the courses!