Train Like A Pro: Ryan Atkins

Podium-At-Palmerton-2016

Few athletes dominate their sports the way Ryan Atkins has dominated OCR in recent years. He has emerged victorious at World’s Toughest Mudder four years running, most recently completing 105 miles with partner Jon Albon, and Atkins also finished on top in the first ever Spartan U.S. Championship Series.

At the Spartan World Championships, he has finished in second place three years in a row, missing first place by just 00:27 in 2016. The fourth main event in the sport, OCR World Championships, hasn’t slowed him down either. He won the 3k short course this year and finished second in the 15k Classic.

Ryan-Atkins-and-Suunto-in-the-snow

If you follow him on social media, you may not be surprised at all of the accolades. Atkins is an avid climber, runner, mountain biker and skier, not to mention proud Alaskan Malamute owner. A typical winter day for him includes a morning ski, fatbike ride and even a snowshoe hike or run for up to three hours. That’s usually followed by an afternoon climb or workout.

Below is one of those afternoon workouts, with climbing included. Atkins will generally warm up with four or five easy bouldering routes. 

Ryan-Atkins-in-Yosemite

Do part one followed by part two and repeat four times.

PART ONE

BOULDERING 

Boulder near your limit for approximately 20 minutes. If you are unable to find a place to climb, perform the following six exercises as a circuit, doing 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat four times:

Dead hang – Plank – Pinch-plate carries – Kettlebell swings – Pull-ups – Wall sit

Pro Tip: Try to avoid using chalk to make previously easy routes seem harder, or to simulate wet hands in a race. After you have warmed up, go hard for the bouldering session. You’ll want to rest about one minute between difficult routes.

Writer’s Note: I don’t normally have easy access to a rock wall or mountain, so I opted to do the 30/30 circuit. I also used my homemade hang board, at times, to feel a little more like I was actually climbing. To mimic bouldering, I placed a chair a bit behind the board so that my toes were the only part of my feet touching. I then worked back and forth on the board, sometimes moving my feet from the left side to right side of the chair. Because I added this in, I did the circuit three times as not to over-exhaust my muscles and increase injury risk. 

Ryan-Atkins-Palmerton-Crawl

PART TWO

WEIGHT ROOM CIRCUIT

  • Wall Balls (20 reps): Stand in front of a wall and assume a squat position. When you come up, throw a medicine ball up in the air towards a target above you on the wall. As you catch the ball, return to the squat position. Atkins uses a 35-lb medicine ball.
  • Mountain Climbers (40 reps): Get into a pushup position. Bring one knee towards your chest and tap your toe on the ground. As that foot returns to its original position, bring the opposite foot up and tap that toe. That is one rep. Be sure your butt does not stick up. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
  • Side Planks (2 minutes per side): Lay on the ground facing sideways, with your hand, forearm and elbow on the ground. Your elbow should be under your shoulder. The only other part of your body touching the ground will be your bottom foot. Raise your body up so that you form a straight line and hold that position. Your free hand can either be on your hip or in the air. Focus on not allowing your hip to dip down toward the ground. 
    • Writer’s Tip: Use a yoga mat to make it more comfortable for your supporting arm.
  • Toes To Bar (8 reps): Grab a bar with an overhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and bring your toes to the bar. Be sure to perform each rep slow and controlled. Your body shouldn’t swing at all when you come into the lower position.
  • Weighted BOSU Ball Lunge Squat (20 reps per leg): With a BOSU ball under each leg, stand in a lunge position. Hold weights at each side or at your shoulders. Lower until your back knee almost touches the ground, making sure your front knee doesn’t pass over the toes. Return to the starting position. Atkins uses 20 lbs. 
    • Writer’s Tip: If you struggle too much to have a BOSU under each foot, start off with one and work your way up. 
  • Weighted Goblet Squat (20 reps): Hold a kettlebell or one end of a dumbbell at your chest, with your palms facing in. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Squat down, retaining a straight back, and return up to the start position. Atkins uses 30 lbs.
  • Calf Raises (30 reps per leg): Stand on one leg, either flat on the ground or on a step with only the toes and ball of the foot touching. Raise your heel up, then lower it back into the starting position. 

Pro Purpose: Part two is a great way to allow your arms to recover from climbing. It also gives you some good leg and core strength training.

Pro Tip: Pace yourself during the strength section. The main purpose is to rest your arms and build functional, injury-free fitness.

Ryan-Atkins-Log-Hop

Writer’s Note: Thank you to Ryan for sharing this workout. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. For more workouts from Ryan, check out his Obstacle Course Training (a joint venture with Jon Albon and Matt Murphy): they are offering 20% off for the holidays.

Photo Credit: Ryan Atkins, Spartan Race, the author

Check out past Train Like A Pro articles:

Savage Race Maryland – Fall 2016

Back in 2014, I, like many who want to give OCR a try, ran a Warrior Dash. Once I crossed the finish line, I knew I had to kick it up a notch. After taking 2015 to adjust to life with our son, I was ready to take the next step in 2016. Not only did I run my first Spartan (Palmerton), but also my first BattleFrog. I had planned to do another BattleFrog this season but, as we all know, they are no more. Luckily after doing some research, I found that Savage Race had an event on the same day I planned to run the BattleFrog. After scoping out their website and seeing the obstacles, I knew I had to try it. I was not disappointed.

I had received several emails leading up to the race with my bib number, wave confirmation, course map and waivers. Because of this, check-in was pretty quick. I didn’t notice much of a line for the later heats either. The festival area was on the smaller side, consisting of a merchandise tent, a stage, photo area, food and porta potties. The hoses and changing tents were actually outside the festival area near the general parking area. Because of this, I didn’t see a need to use the bag check, so that saved me $5.00. 

Savage-Race-Maryland-Starting-Line

The SavagePRO heat, which is their competitive heat, began at 9:00 a.m. Since the course was just over two hours away, I was glad to hear I didn’t have to get there by 7:30 a.m. like a few other races do. About fifteen minutes before the start, the corral was open for racers to enter. Five or ten minutes before, we got a run down of the rules. Savage has an entire page on their website with the competitive rules, but the pre-race meeting cleared a few more things up. After some pre-race chants, the National Anthem, and a bit of blue smoke, we were off.

This was the first I had ever run in a competitive heat, so I was excited to get first crack at the obstacles. The course map Savage sent out was very accurate. The only obstacle I don’t remember seeing was Barn Doors. I did see a video with it, though, so maybe I’m just forgetting. Like many other races, the first couple miles had few obstacles. I always like this because it gives the quicker runners a chance to spread out a little. And most of the first few obstacles consisted of either going under or over something.

Savage-Race-Maryland-course-map

The first challenge came around the end of mile two, when one of Savage’s new obstacles came into view: On The Fence. I thought I knew what to expect when trying to conquer this unique obstacle, but after the first couple miles my shoes were already a bit muddy, so I couldn’t always get a good footing on the fence. That made it more taxing on my grip. After finishing the obstacle, I decided to file it under the “harder than it looks” category. On I went.

After Squeeze Play, which had racers crawl through mud under large barrels, I came upon Savage’s only weighted carry, Lumberjack Lane. As I approached, several racers in front of me were carrying two pieces of wood. The volunteers made it clear that only one was needed, but I let my ego get the best of me and picked up two anyway. I remember regretting that decision afterwards.

As I completed mile three, one of Savage’s featured obstacles was next: Davy Jones’ Locker. The course designers were nice enough to put this right before Sawtooth, another featured obstacle. Sawtooth is one of the most unique monkey bar obstacles in OCR so I wanted to make sure my hands were dry. After a little grass-rubbing, I climbed up and down with little issue. This was a confidence booster.

This confidence helped me get through the next couple obstacles, Big Cheese and Venus Guy Trap, pretty quickly. Savage makes sure your confidence doesn’t last long, though, because then I reached Kiss My Walls. Fitting name, as it consists of small climbing holds across a long wall. I had done some traverse obstacles similar to this, so I didn’t think much of it as I approached. After falling off about halfway through my first attempt, I had another member of the “harder than it looks” club.

Remember that ego I had mentioned before? Well, it wasn’t letting me give up that little blue band that SavagePRO racers lose if they don’t complete an obstacle. Finally, on the third attempt I rang the bell and moved on.

After finishing mile four, I had to deal with Great Wall, an eight-foot wall, and Slippery Incline, which was surprisingly dry. I have a feeling this changed as rain moved in later in the day and more racers traipsed their muddy shoes up the obstacle. Next up was another new one for 2016, Pole Cat. This time, racers must navigate sideways along two parallel bars, one higher than the other. At the halfway point, you switch so that if your hands were higher, they’re now lower and visa versa. This one wasn’t too difficult and the damp bar actually made sliding my feet easier.

Savage-Race-Maryland-Pole-Cat

The final mile began with a wake up call. Shriveled Richard requires racers to submerge in, what I can only assume is the coldest water ever recorded on the planet. As I continued on, trying to shake out my arms and keep the legs churning so nothing cramped, I was met with a Big Ass Cargo Net, then Back Scratcher. The first is pretty self-explanatory, while the second consisted of going over a shorter wall, then under some barbed wire.

Grip strength then became a common theme. Another one of Savage’s unique obstacles is Wheel World. It requires racers to navigate across water by grabbing five rotating wheels above them. I had watched Savage’s video breakdown of the obstacle, along with their Facebook Live videos of past SavagePRO racers conquering it so I came prepared. I would definitely recommend watching those videos if you want to get across quickly.

Savage-Race-Maryland-Wheel-World

In between Wedgie, a twist on the incline wall, and Blaze, Savage’s fire obstacle, was one of their biggest hits: Colossus. I heard as the rain rolled in later in the day, this one became ridiculously difficult. Luckily I avoided the rain, but still needed a couple knots of the rope to make it up this giant warped wall. The slide back down was a nice flashback to childhood. As I climbed out of the water, I realized my hands were now wet again as I approached more grip tests. Thanks again course designer.

Just before the finish line was the Savage Rig followed immediately by Tree Hugger. The rig, like Kiss My Walls, took me until my third try. Good old ego wasn’t giving up that band, so I was prepared to try thirty if I had to. Rigs are always tough, so there was a sizable group of SavagePRO runners giving it multiple attempts. Unlike a couple other obstacles, the rig looked difficult and I knew it would, so it’s not a member of that club.

Savage-Race-Maryland-Savage-Rig

Tree Hugger, on the other hand, is the VP of Operations in the “harder than it looks” club. I could be wrong, but it looked twice as long as Tree Hugger at other races I’ve seen. Maybe it just felt that way because of how taxing it is on your body. Luckily I made it through on the first try. If I didn’t I would’ve needed a few minutes to rest before giving it another go.

Side Note: The second place female would’ve finished first, but she forgot to ring the bell at the end of Tree Hugger, so if you’re in the competitive heat, pay attention to all obstacle instructions!

Savage-Race-Maryland-Tree-Hugger

Overall, the fall Savage Race in Maryland was very well managed and provided, like they say, the best obstacles and the perfect distance (6 miles / 25 obstacles). The rain held out for most of the SavagePRO heat, but later heats got some extra water for their race! Savage is a great way to take the next step in OCR if you’re looking for a challenge. I definitely plan on racing again when they come to my area in Pennsylvania in June of 2017!

Photo Credit: Savage Race and the author

How I Built My Own Hangboard

I’m a competitive person, by nature. So when I completed my first Spartan as well as first (also last) BattleFrog within two weeks of each other, I learned quickly what my strengths and weaknesses were. One common theme was grip strength.

Because so many obstacles put your grip to the test (rigs, monkey bars, heavy carries, etc), fatigue can become an issue. Going into both races, I had trained grip strength pretty heavily by doing various towel pull-ups, weighted carries, and dead hangs. After them, I still wanted to improve.

Barre-Multi-Rig

A friend of mine, who had done BattleFrog Xtreme, gave me an idea. If you’re unfamiliar, BFX had racers complete as many 8k laps as possible. Each lap for this particular race included a jug carry, monkey bars and two rigs, which is where I struggled. He had completed both rigs in the elite lane all three laps he ran. When he could see how impressed I was, he mentioned that he was a rock climber.

I had known that climbing improved grip strength, but this had me sold. Unfortunately, I don’t have easy access to a mountain or rock wall and buying a hangboard/fingerboard can be a bit pricey. So I decided to do the next best thing: make my own hangboard.

DIY-Hangboard

Because I’m not the most handy person in the world, I began doing some research. After taking some advice from various online sources, I dove head-first into building a board that would fit my mounting location. I didn’t need the board to be pretty. Function here is the most important aspect. The space available to attach the board was about one foot tall and three feet wide. As I said before, I’m not contractor. This setup has worked for me but, depending on your situation, you may want to do things a bit differently.

What I used:

  • Plywood (½” thick) – My local hardware store sold it in 2’x4’ sections, so I cut it in half and doubled it up to make a 1” thick piece for more stability.
  • Several 2″ x 4″ pieces – I used these to mount the plywood to, but also as my holds. Most hardware stores have scrap piles sold up to 70% off.
  • Wood screws – To hold the two pieces of plywood together so that I could drill, which will come later. If you go with a 1” thick piece, you may not need these.
  • Bolts/washers/nuts – For the holds, I used ½” thick and 3” long hex head bolts matched with the proper washer and nut. Hex head lag bolts (½” thick / 5” long), with washer, were used to mount the board above my door frame.
  • Tools – This includes a drill, drill bits, torque wrench, socket set, wrench, and whatever you normally use to cut wood.

Scrap-2x4s-for-Hangboard

How I used it:

  • I cut two lengths of 2×4 at one foot to attach to the back of the plywood, serving as a gap between the plywood and mounting surface. This helped because, when changing holds, I needed space behind the plywood to use my wrench so that the nut could be either tightened or loosened. This makes the board completely adjustable!
  • I then cut the plywood into my two 1’x3’ pieces. I used the wood screws to attach these pieces to the previously cut 2x4s. This kept the two pieces of plywood together so that I could drill the holes.
  • I used my ½” drill bit to put holes about 2” apart in the plywood. You can use whatever distance you’d like, but just make sure that if you cut a longer hold, you measure the holes to match.Drilling-the-holes-for-holds
  • Using the remaining 2x4s I had purchased, I measured and cut various lengths for holds. Some were 3” wide, others 4” and a few as long as 8-10”. I used a spade bit to drill down into the wood slightly so that the hex head was recessed. I also did this to the corners of the plywood for when I was ready to mount. Be sure to make it large enough for your socket. I then used my ½” drill bit again to make a hole in the 2×4 pieces. In the larger ones, I put two. Once the holes were drilled, I sanded down each edge to prevent splinters.
  • (This part may require a friend) I had my dad hold the board on the mounting location so that I could pre-drill the holes for the lag bolts. Since the hex head lag bolt still needs wood to grab onto as it goes in, I pre-drilled the holes a few sizes smaller than the bolt.
  • Once all the holes were drilled, I used a torque wrench to insert one lag bolt into each corner. A washer was used so that the hex head didn’t dig into the wood.
  • After the board was mounted, it was time to attach the holds! To attach the hold, I simply lined up the hole in the 2×4 with the plywood, inserted the bolt through the front and attached the washer and nut on the back. Holding the nut with an adjustable wrench, I used the proper socket size to tighten via the front hex head.

How-to-attach-the-holdAnd there you have it! With only a few items from the local hardware store, I was able to build my own hangboard. Now I have been able to add a variety of deadhangs, pull-ups and even hold transitions to my training.