Biohacking the Spartan Sprint Race
On Saturday, June 24th, I ran a Spartan race.
Specifically, the Minnesota Sprint in Welch, MN. A Sprint Spartan is the shortest of the Spartan races.
I did this without training, without cardio, without a gym membership and without ever studying or trying obstacles included in the race.
There were about 30 obstacles. Many of them classified. Having never run one of these races, I figured I would just figure it out when I got there. Perhaps some obstacle study would have been beneficial. I did check out this article by Ben Greenfield on what to wear including tips on wrapping my ankles. I did wrap my ankles as suggested and I’m glad I did. We ran up and down a ski hill with lots of sketchy footing.
I ran in the elite division and placed 53rd overall (out of 134 elite Spartans), 48th of all the men, and 11th in my age group.
Compared to the Open Spartan competitors (these are not the elite), I would have beat most all of them.
I flew through most of the obstacles. Climbing, swinging and moving from ring to ring or climbing a rope is easy to me. There were sled pulls, sandbag hauls, a bucket brigade and more that challenged strength. All these were quite challenging, but my workout routine of functional fitness allowed me to move VERY quickly through all of them with little worry about missing an obstacle.
What is my exact routine and diet that allowed me to biohack my way to a decent Spartan Sprint Race finish among elite competitors? I’ll give details at the end of the post on a week of programming that’s typical for me. Let’s get into the basics.
- Play – Whenever I take my kids the park, I play on the monkey bars, climb the metal poles and do dips off the structures. When I used to belong to a gym, they had monkey bars, which is great, since they are tall enough I can hang from them without my feet touching the ground (not always the case with kids playgrounds). I would practice both launching myself from one bar to another bar 3 in front of me and also swinging from bar to bar along the length and back again. I did this about twice a month for 6 months. Just play around, jump on things. Swing on things. No big deal. Move your body.
- Kettlebells – I’ve gotten so bored with gyms. Not only are they toxic (the lighting, the air quality and often the too aggressive people), but they’re indoors and it gets old using the same equipment each week. Last year I took a kettlebell class for the first time from StrongFirst and loved it! I went out and bought a set of kettlebells. Since then I have been learning how to use them. My routine is typically to do a few swings, some snatches, and presses and that’s about it. I do it outdoors whenever it’s not winter in Minnesota (I know, the Russians must look down on me). Get a pair of these to build functional fitness in ways that is exciting, can be changed up daily and WORKS! Get some of these cool monster bells HERE.
- Rings – based on the recommendation of Tim Ferriss, I bought a set of Nayoya gymnastic rings for $35 off Amazon. These are super high-quality rings. I had them in the box for a year before I actually put them up and used them. I love the rings. My teacher, Ron Morris showed me some routines on these. Nothing crazy. A few dips twice a week, some pushups on the rings with my feet on the ground and sometimes some pull ups from the ground, using the rings to pull me up.
- Pull up bar. $20 or less off Amazon. I put it in the doorway of my bedroom. About twice a day I do a few pull-ups. Sometimes I include them in my workout of the day and will do about 5-7 at a time, adding up to 30-40 for the whole day. Twice a week at most.
- Barbell Deadlifts, Squats and Bench Press. I have a squat rack at home. While you don’t need one, I enjoy doing some barbell lifts. I deadlift 1-2 times a week with heavy weight. Usually, I do about 5 reps of warm-ups total and 3 lifts with heavy weight. Then I do some bench presses and squats. All usually for lower reps and heavier weight. I use the barbells 2-3 times a week and each session is about 20 minutes long.
Pre-Race Nutrition and Supplements
While supplements and nutrition won’t help you if you have no fitness, they can make a huge difference if you use the right stuff. I woke up at 4 am and made a Bulletproof Coffee with some protein powder in it.
On the drive down to the race, at 6 am (start time was 730am), I downed some grain free granola, some of my kids’ gluten free pumpkin pancakes and some almond butter. I then used a stack of supplements that really helped me out.
Qualia – for energy, focus, motivation, and cognitive excellence. (Get 10% off with Coupon ERISFIT)
Free L-Arginine – to provide nitric oxide to my blood and help dilate blood vessels.
750mg of Niacin – that flush of niacin actually works as a great pre-workout for me. My body warms up and feels great!
Ketones – I mixed in some ketone powder to water and drank it down for extra energy. I was hoping this would combine the carbs I had with breakfast with ketones to keep me going. If you’re not familiar with ketone supplements, check out this post by Steve at Man vs. Weight about exogenous ketones.
The combo worked. I felt great the entire race and had energy at the end.
What would have made the race even better?
- Specifically hills. Spartan races include lots of running up and down hills. I didn’t do any cardio and no running. I died on all the hills and had to walk ALL of them. It killed my time. The first part of the race was a run straight up a ski slope! Run some hills. Often.
- HIIT cardio. I used to do HIIT and haven’t for almost 8 months. Any kind of HIIT would have made a difference to keep me moving on the hills.
- Spear throw practice. Probably, not something I’m going to take up, but I had only ever thrown a spear once in my life. I missed the spear target and had to do 30 burpees. This cost me, but nearly everyone missed the spear throw and we only got one shot.
A Sample Weekly Workout I Used Leading into the Race
Deadlift 135lbs x10 times. Deadlift 225lbs 10 times.
32Kg Kettlebell swings x 10
16Kg Kettlebell Snatches 5 per arm
Floor press with 16kg kettlebells x10 using both arms
Kettlebell Row with 16kg. 8 with each arm.
Goblet squat with a 16kg kettlebell.
5 pull ups
5 dips on the rings
5 push ups
5 pistol squats each leg, holding onto a support
repeat 4 times (wear a weight vest with 20lbs in it for 2 of the sets)
no running, no cardio (this is something I will be adding 2 days a week as well as some HIIT)
As you can see, a comprehensive kettlebell and bodyweight training program can provide enough functional fitness and cardio to keep up with Elite Spartans. I wasn’t in the front, but I also didn’t get smoked and was very competitive.
If you want to train for Spartan races, I suggest kettlebell functional fitness training combined with body weight and some HIIT for the best all around Spartan Body.