The complete guide to Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder
(Image credit: Unknown)

Maybe you’re bored of pounding out 10Ks and marathons on flat roads. Maybe you’ve seen photos on Facebook of finish-line friends in orange headbands looking like they’re having a better time than you can remember having. Or maybe you just like the idea of a free beer. These are all fine reasons for signing up to do a Tough Mudder, a team-oriented event with unique atmosphere of camaraderie and exhilarating masochism, built from an obstacle course designed to push you to your physical and mental limits. You want in? Here’s a look at what you need to know before you get started.

You don't want to do it alone

According to Tough Mudder’s John Fidoe, 90% of people who sign up do so as part of a team. Why? Partly because, unlike traditional running events, Tough Mudder is about helping others to overcome a challenge rather than zeroing in on a PB. ‘It’s not about your time,’ Fidoe says. ‘It’s about your fellow Mudders.’ But it’s also because a bit of help comes in very handy when you need a boost over an inverted wall twice your size, a word of encouragement before sliding through a ring of fire, or just someone to pick you up out of the mud (again). Office teams are popular, and if you’re struggling for numbers the official forums are full of lost Mudders looking for a home.

You're going to get muddy

You knew this, right? At least you did if you’ve looked at the obstacle line-up for 2015, which includes crawling, wading and falling into various pits and pools of mud, muddy water, and even muddier water. This means it’s worth doing some acclimatisation training, especially if you expect low temperatures on event day, or at the very least dousing yourself pre-race so the issue’s settled nice and early.

Wear the right gear

What you wear can help you deal with all that mud and water. Obstacle race and outdoor trainer Michael Cohen advises wearing thin, quick-drying neoprene rather than material that’ll get heavier as you get wetter, and it’s a good idea to sort out gloves and some trail running shoes (or, if you’re on a budget, trainers you’re either happy to say goodbye to or think could survive the washing machine). You can expect to be crawling through tunnels or over concrete so elbow and knee protectors can be a good idea, if you’ve any interest in keeping your skin on.


(Image credit: Unknown)

Train your whole body

Tough Mudder isn’t especially dangerous, but it does work your body in ways that, say, a marathon never will, thanks to its combinations of climbing, crawling and carrying. To reduce injuries and get around faster, Cohen recommends training that’s focused on the upper body and quads – the two areas obstacles burn the quickest – and plenty of balance and stability work. ‘The beauty of obstacle racing is you start to develop your body in a very different way,’ Cohen says. Our 8 week Tough Mudder training plan will help you get around in one piece - but don't forget to work on your mental game too.

Learn how to fall

Even with the right shoes, the right training and the right team-mates, Cohen insists that ‘everyone, at some point, will fall’. And if your aim is to get back up again it’s a good idea to learn how to do it properly – up the arm and across the shoulders rather than down the spine. Basically, practise breakfalls, which ‘reduce the incidence of spinal injury and stops your head coming into contact with the ground’. Head. Ground. Bad. Practise. OK?

Don’t forget the cardio

While making sure you’re mentally prepared to be frozen and electrocuted and physically ready to haul yourself up towering walls and mudbanks, don’t forget that running between the headline obstacles is still a thing. Tough Mudder courses are between 16 and 20 kilometres long, and though walking isn’t unusual or frowned upon, making sure your legs can carry you to the finish is a very sensible idea.

Prep for specific obstacles

If there’s something in the obstacle line-up you know you’re going to struggle with – a climb, a lift, a jump, whatever – then gear your training towards it to get yourself ready both physically and mentally. After all, everything is less daunting once you’ve given it a go. If you’re not sure what you’ll struggle with then perhaps take Cohen’s advice for all-round readiness: climb a rope. ‘It does your forearms, biceps, triceps, lats, trapezius, deltoids. It’s a brilliant, brilliant exercise.’ Oh – and remember not to worry too much. The point is to finish, so if there’s something you really can’t do – skip it. Don't forget to check out our Tough Mudder obstacle tips to find out the best way to approach some of the more intimidating challenges.

Find out more about XperiaZ3 from Sony and its benefits for your Tough Mudder preparations. 

Max Anderton

Max was the head of digital content for Men's Fitness which worked alongside Coach between 2015 and 2019.