Train Like a Pro: Beni Gifford


If the name Beni Gifford sounds familiar, it should. Gifford led his team (The Comeback Kids) to victory on NBC’s premiere season of Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge. He was also the captain of Team Dallas on Battlefrog’s League Championship, which aired on ESPN. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll now be able to watch him on CMT as he competes on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge.


Off the small screen, Gifford has won fourteen races, with twenty-one podium finishes overall in just two years. That includes an undefeated record when competing in the Terrain Racing series.

Below you’ll find a workout that Gifford uses to train his body and mind to continue to perform, even after fatigue sets in and his muscles become tired. It helps with situations where your heart rate is high or your legs become heavy.



Run for two minutes at an aerobic base effort. You should be able to carry on a conversation at this pace. Once the two minutes is up, do a one-minute sled drag at the same effort level. Alternate between the two until you reach thirty minutes. Once complete, perform an aerobic pace run for up to thirty minutes. You can adjust the time based on your level of fitness, but aim to hit at least ten minutes.

Pro Note: Part one is about getting your legs pumped and strained (sled pull) and going right back into a run. This teaches you to run with heavy legs.

Writer’s Tip: If you don’t have a sled to drag, go to your local hardware store and buy several feet of rope that is at least ¾”-1” thick (usually about $1-2 per foot). Then punch holes in a flattened cardboard box and thread the rope through. Stack as much weight as you can handle onto the cardboard box for your own homemade sled. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look pretty. It’s more about function over aesthetics, here.



Do a set of ten burpees at 90% effort, followed by 10/100 pull up/dead hang. Complete six total rounds. To perform the 10/100, start a timer and, with palms facing forward, immediately do one pull up. Then lower yourself into a dead hang. After ten seconds of dead hang, do another pull up. Repeat this until you hit 10 pull ups and 100 seconds or failure, whichever comes first. You must remain on the bar the entire time. The 10/100 is considered by OCR coach, Yancy Culp, as the Gold Standard for grip endurance and strength.

Pro Tip: Keep your transitions as short as possible from the burpees into the 10/100. This will help with your ability to tackle obstacles successfully without having to spend valuable seconds slowing your heart rate down before attacking.  If you can’t meet the Gold Standard at first, don’t worry. You now have an easy goal to track so you can match the best in OCR.

Writer’s Tip: For the 10/100, use an interval timer app so you don’t have to keep your eyes on a stopwatch. These apps allow you to customize so that an alarm sounds every ten seconds, giving you the signal to do apull-upp.

Writer’s Note: Thanks to Beni for providing this workout. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo Credit: NBC, Terrain Racing, Beni Gifford and Savage Race

Check out past Train Like a Pro articles:

Train Like a Pro: Faye Stenning & Josh Stryde

Faye Stenning ran her first Spartan Race in 2013. Two years later, she placed ninth at the 2015 Spartan World Championships. This year, Stenning joined the Reebok Spartan Pro Team and continued her success by finishing second or better in each of the five Spartan U.S. Championship Series races. Her 1197 points in the inaugural series was good enough for second and only three points behind winner, Lindsay Webster.


Though Stenning does have a background in track and cross country, success like this comes from a number of areas, including a great training regimen. The following workout is one that she designed with boyfriend Josh Stryde. Stryde, himself, is part of the Western Canadian Spartan Elite Team. He’s also the Calgary Place World Health Regional Nutrition Director.

The workout comes in four parts. Try to rest as little as possible throughout since you don’t get much, if any, during a race. Stenning and Stryde perform this weekly.

Pro Tip: Stay positive throughout and work your way up each time. Don’t use the workout too close to race day. As you’ll see, if you do it right, you’ll be too drained to perform at your best. Give yourself at least a week if you have an upcoming race.


Set a treadmill to an incline that will make you uncomfortable. Try increasing the level each time you do the workout. If you become comfortable with the incline, you know it’s time to bump it up. Every minute, get off the treadmill and do five burpees. Keep the timer running when you do your burpees. Most treadmills shut off after 30 seconds, so try to perform the burpees in that time frame. Hold the medicine ball however you feel comfortable. Stenning loads it onto her shoulder, while Stryde alternates between shoulder and front, to simulate a bucket carry. Stenning normally does 12 minutes at an incline of 15 and speed of 4.0, using a 40-pound medicine ball.

Writer’s Tip: If you don’t have a medicine ball, find something other than dumbbells to carry. Anything that would give you the option to carry it on your shoulder or in front of your body. I used an open bag of grass seed weighing about 35-pounds that I had in my garage. If you do that, just make sure it’s sealed up!


EMOM/Every Minute on the Minute (15-30 minutes)

Alternate between the following three each minute.

  • Hook a TRX strap up to the end of a weight sled. Run forward, dragging the sled behind you. Go as far as you can for one minute. If you don’t have a strap to attach, push the sled instead. Stenning and Stryde use four 45-pound plates on the sled.
  • Hop on a fan/air bike and go as hard as you can (bike or row) for one minute. If you don’t have access to a fan bike, use a stationary bike and pedal as fast as possible on as high of a resistance as you can stand.
  • Do between 5-15 toes to bar, depending on your core and grip strength. Grab a pull up bar with an overhand grip, roughly shoulder width apart. Engage your core and lift your toes up to the bar. If you’re unable to do toes to bar, do knees to elbows or knee raises instead.

Pro Purpose: This part of the workout hits your entire body. The sled drag gives your lower body strength and power, which helps for hill climbs. The bike portion is great for general aerobic conditioning and the toes to bar gives your core and grip both strength and endurance training.

Pro Tip: Try adding a couple minutes to this part each time you do the workout.

Writer’s Tip:If you don’t have access to a sled, you can take a larger weight plate (45-pound should work) and put it on the ground, flat part down, and push the plate. Add a dumbbell for extra weight.  Another option is to put a treadmill on an incline and turn it off. Then, hold onto the sides and run for the minute.



Grab a bar with one arm and hang for as long as you can, then switch arms. Your only rest is doing the opposite arm. Do three sets per arm.

Pro Purpose: This improves grip strength, while also getting you used to being supported on one arm. This will help on obstacles like rigs and monkey bars.

Writer’s Tip: If you aren’t strong enough to do single-arm, throw a towel over one end of the bar and grab it with the opposite hand. Focus on mainly using whichever side is holding the bar, and only use the other to lightly hold the towel, giving yourself some support. This doesn’t give your arms much rest, but will allow you to work your way up to using one arm.



Do the first exercise, then move right onto the second.

  • Hold a weight plate with a pinch grip in each hand and walk, like you would for a farmer’s carry. Your distance is determined by how long you’re able to hold the plates before putting them down. Aim to hit the same distance each set. Also, try only squeezing with your fingertips. Stenning considers it cheating if you’re using the edge of the plate to hook your fingers around.
  • Do 15 reps of barbell bent-over row.

Pro Purpose: Doing these at the end of your workout will help to burn out your grip.

Writer’s Tip: To avoid cheating, use two plates per hand and press them together so that the flat sides face out. This removes the temptation to hook your fingers around the edges.

Writer’s Note: Thank you to Josh and Faye for sharing this workout. You can follow Faye on both Instagram and Facebook. Follow Josh on Instagram

Photo Credit: Faye Stenning’s Facebook Page, Faye Stenning, Spartan Race

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.


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.


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.


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.

Obstacle Course Training – How to Conquer Monkey Bars

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With the interest in obstacle course racing at an all time high, more and more people are signing up for races and beginning to train for what at first glance appears to be an impossible feat. The truth is that with the proper training approach anything is possible. One of the more daunting obstacles for newcomers are the Monkey Bars. We all did them as children during recess, but unless you are a rock climber or have been consistently keeping up with your pull ups you most likely haven’t used all of the muscles you may need in quite some time. Below I have listed some helpful tips and exercises that will get you ready for Tough Mudder’s ‘Funky Monkey’, Savage Race’s ‘Sawtooth’, or any other monkey bars an obstacle race or mud run might throw at you.

1. Pull Ups: This one is obvious, but also the most important. Form will be the key to making these count. More often than not folks doing pull ups will not fully extend their arms after the initial dead hang and only lower themselves down halfway. Make sure you go all the way down to a dead hang each time and then pull yourself back up. If you have trouble doing this then keep training and give yourself some time between reps. If you need pull up assistance, you can purchase Pull Up Bands that will reduce the weight you are pulling up so that your body can strengthen itself. Once you progress far enough, you can begin to do unassisted pull ups.

Depending on the type of pull up bar you have access to there are variations that can help simulate the obstacle. If your bar has multiple grips you can alternate grips on each rep of your pull up. For example, start with both palms facing out on your first rep and when you lower your weight back down switch one hand to face in. You will do another rep with one hand facing out and the other in. From each dead hang switch your grip to another hold. This works best if you incorporate a wide grip as well as an inside grip. This will help you prepare for the trip up and down the monkey bars as it improves your grip strength and allows you to practice moving your hands from one bar to another.

2. Playground Monkey Bars:
The best way to get your body ready for monkey bars is with…… yep, you guessed it! with Monkey Bars! The only downside to playground monkey bars is that these days they are not very long and typically are separated by an unavoidable step. This means you may not have as much length as you would like to practice on. Additionally, they will not be able to prepare you for the incline and decline of the ‘Funky Monkey.‘ That being said, the more you can get out to a playground the better off you will be. The first time you try them you will most likely do poorly as you won’t be used to them and the bars will start to callous your hands. It is amazing how much more we were able to do as children…. You will want to start by transferring each hand to each bar. Skipping bars can save time, but will require more strength and control. If you can use one hand on each bar that is great, but if you have trouble just stick with both hands on each bar. Once you get comfortable on the bars make sure to use your feet like you are pedaling a bike so you generate some momentum. This will help you get across smoothly and can take some stress off of your muscles. Another downside to local playground monkey bars? If you don’t have a kid you may end up being the awkward adult hanging out on a kids playground…..

3. Soccer Goal Swings
Another great way to practice for the monkey bars is to try what I call ‘Soccer Goal Swings.’  This is more of a lateral movement, but it allows you to exercise different parts of your shoulders that you might otherwise miss while also allowing you to practice swinging yourself and using your momentum to help carry your body weight. In addition, Tough Mudder’s Funky Monkey 2.0 features a horizontal bar traverse on the 2nd half of the obstacle, making this exercise a must!


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To begin this exercise, you will want to find a local soccer goal and dead hang from the crossbar with your arms shoulder width apart. Begin swinging your body from right to left and when you feel comfortable enough, lift your left hand and move it further left on the crossbar. As your left hand grasps you will quickly reach your right hand over so your hands are again shoulder width apart. You will repeat this until you reach the end of the crossbar. Once you finish you will repeat the exercise going from left to right.

Once you feel comfortable completing this exercise from a dead hang, you will eventually progress to locking out your arms at a 90 degree angle. The movement remains the same, but by locking out you engage more of your arm muscles and reduce the fatigue on your hands. This exercise can also come in handy when running a course with a Multi Rig with horizontal bar or Savage Race’s Pipe Dreams,  which is a horizontal bar for you to laterally cross a water ditch.


4. Hang Board Exercises

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If you are really serious about training and think you will be doing this for awhile, I recommend getting your hands on a Metolius Climbing Simulator 3D. Long story short, this board will really help improve your grip strength as well as your back and shoulder strength. It is a simulator and practice board for rock climbers and it adds a new dimension to anyone’s workout.
From Metolius’ Site:

  • The master is CNC milled for perfect symmetry
  • The holds are arranged along a broad arc that tapers outward and downward for
    better ergonomics and reduced injuries
  • Tapers from top to bottom in both dimensions for better forearm clearance
  • Fine texture
  • Massive variety of holds
  • Includes comprehensive instructions, training guide and all mounting hardware

The board can fit over your doorway (be sure to measure first) or in my case I mounted mine on the joists of my garage. It costs 79.95 and unless you have plywood for mounting you will want to invest 19.95 on their backboard mount. Adding up to just under $100, I consider that money well spent.

1.  Momentum is your friend. Use your body weight to help you, not hurt you. By acting as if you are riding a bike with your legs when you transfer from bar to bar you keep your weight constantly transferring, which helps to move you along. It also takes the stress off of your grip, because with momentum you won’t be hanging on one bar for too long.  Make sure you practice this on local monkey bars before your event.

2. Grip strength is key. If you dedicate yourself to improving your pull ups your grip strength should come along also. By adding a hang board into your workout, you can better isolate this area and speed up the process.

3. Just keep moving! The longer you hang in one place the quicker your strength will disappear, so keep it moving. If you end up falling, you will know what you need to improve on for next time.

For some additional  OCR-you-don’t-need-a-gym-membership tips and tricks, check out the article I wrote last year about training at your local park.

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Bonus Pic!!! Remember when Tough Mudder used to make Funky Monkey out of wood?!