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:

Train Like a Pro: Beni Gifford

Beni-Gifford-NBC-Spartan-Ultimate-Team-Challenge

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.

Beni-Gifford-Terrain-Racing-Finish-in-Flagstaff

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.

Beni-Gifford-Running

PART ONE
2-MINUTE RUN / 1-MINUTE SLED DRAG INTERVALS

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.

Beni-Gifford-Savage-Rig-Dallas

PART TWO
BURPEES – 10/100 SUPERSET

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:

Because of Kraker and Diaz, Caldwell Runs

Sometimes the world of OCR can touch the lives of those who are not part of that world.  This is the continuing story of my son Aaron and his journey towards a better world for himself and others.  You may recall that Aaron is autistic.  He has a dream to be a part of something big.  Just like us.  That’s what I love about OCR.  Everyone is welcome.  Everyone gets a shot.

Last year I started training Aaron in OCR.  I invited him up on the mountain at Palmerton where he saw it all with his own eyes and heart.  This year he is halfway to OCR.  He runs cross country on his high school team.  His progress is nothing short of phenomenal given the obstacles of autism he has to overcome.

He learned a lot from me on how to endure, overcome pain, and work hard.  He can still do all his pullups and pushups.  Now he is learning to run.  Thanks to Natural Running coach Richard Diaz, I take everything I learn from him and apply it not only to myself, but especially to my son.  Since he is a new runner without bad habits, I get to see him grasp and quickly apply critical running techniques like posture, lean, and foot strike.  I watch him, correct him, video tape him, and critique him.  He’s a sponge.  Thank you Richard.  One day Aaron will attend your clinic and I know you will not only be pleased, you’ll also help him shave another minute off his time.  Aaron might not know it, but because of you, he is a runner.  He has a big dream to compete in the 2020 Olympics.

Yesterday I met up with Brakken Kraker.  He just tore up the Citizen’s Bank Park Spartan Stadium Sprint with a blistering pace just over 24 minutes.  After talking for a few minutes, it became easily apparent why he didn’t even break a sweat.

Besides being a super nice guy and super fast, we have a few things in common.  I was curious why he ran CBP instead of Wintergreen.  He told me he was an 800m runner in college, so he loves the speed.  He said he would take a sprint like this over a mountain any time.  I told him my son Aaron also runs the 800 in winter and spring track and currently runs cross country at high school.  Then I mentioned that Aaron is autistic.  That really made Brakken’s eyes light up.  Turns out he is a special ed teacher.  So he kindly offered to help Aaron in any way he could.  That just made my day.

Aaron - 2nd from Left

Aaron – 2nd from Left

What I also did not know is that while I was having this conversation, my buddy behind me snapped a photo of me and Brakken.  He IM’d it to me and I immediately forwarded it to my son.  That was a real treat.

Brakken Kraker meets the OCRMudmaster

Brakken Kraker meets the OCRMudmaster

Perhaps one day Aaron will join me on the course.  Right now he is not allowed.  Coach’s rule.  But he is getting plenty of run time on the open course, single track, hills, and flats.  He’s learning his technique from the best OCR running coach Richard Diaz.  He’s learning his body weight training skills from the OCRMudmaster.  And soon, he’ll put it all together from the top elite OCR athlete, Brakken Kraker.  This grateful dad thanks you all.

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.

Faye-Stenning-Medal-Picture

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.

Faye-Stenning-and-Josh-Stryde
PART ONE
TREADMILL HILL CLIMB WITH MEDICINE BALL (10-15 minutes)

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!

Josh-Stryde-Loaded-Incline

PART TWO
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.

Faye-Stenning-Sled-Drags

PART THREE
MAX HOLD: SINGLE-ARM DEAD HANG

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.

Faye-Stenning-Monterey-Rig

PART FOUR
FOUR SUPER SETS

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.

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.

How to Prepare for an Endurance Event

I’m not going to claim to be an expert, however I have participated in plenty of endurance events such as multiple BFX events, Spartan Hurricane Heat, Spartan Agoge Class 002, multiple road races and an ultramarathon. If you are interested in testing the waters or pushing your mind and body to the limits, you want to be as prepared as you possibly can for anything that might happen. Here are a few of my basic tips on how to prepare for an endurance event:

  1. Always follow the gear list. Then double check it. It may sound stupid, and you may think “I don’t need that item,” but you will. For instance, on my most recent Spartan Race HH12HR event, some of my gear list required 3 balls any size, a condom, a sharpie, a bucket with no handle, a headlamp, 1 gallon of water and a bag/ruck sack with 20lbs for females and 30lbs for males. If you don’t have everything you need, you may not finish. You have no idea what the item will be used for. You may or may not use all the required items during the event, but at least you will be prepared. Also always have duct tape, even if it’s not on the list. You can use duct tape to strap on all kinds of things to your bag or body to keep your hands free. Trust me, duct tape is a life saver.
    HH12 gear list
  2. Create a mantra. Ok, I know this sounds corny, but when you are exhausted and think you can’t continue another step it comes in handy. Being mentally strong is a big part of the battle during endurance events. You will be physically exhausted, but more times than not, it’s not the physical exhaustion that causes people to quit or DNF. It is the negativity that creeps into your mind that will make you feel like you can’t continue another step. Just know that whatever pain you are in, it’s only temporary and you can do it. I personally keep it simple. I just keep repeating to myself, “Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Just keep moving.”
  3. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. If I have an event on Saturday, I start hydrating on Monday or Wednesday at the latest. Cut back on caffeine, because it is a diuretic. My 7 hour drive to Nashville from South Carolina took 9 hours, because I stopped every hour on the hour to pee. Peeing every 10 seconds like a 9 month pregnant chick sucks on a long drive, but, if I hadn’t been hydrated I may have not finished. That wasn’t fun, but I was adequately hydrated for my event the next day. Not drinking enough fluid before a race, can lead to fatigue and muscle cramps. I personally experienced this a few weeks ago at the Asheville Spartan Super, I was so dehydrated that my run turned into a crawl. Fatigue from dehydration is no joke. For reference, if your urine is clear or pale you are well hydrated for race day. For you beer lovers this means, if your urine looks like a pale ale or IPA, you need to drink more water.

    IMG_0893 (1) My 7th pee stop on a 7 hour drive :/

  4. Switch up your training. I’m guilty of gravitating towards the weight section of the gym way too much. I’m not claiming to be a great endurance athlete, but I do know plenty of them. They alternate weights, with trail/hill running, HIIT (high intensity interval training), plyometrics and more. They don’t focus on one type of training, because in endurance events you can be doing anything from heavy carries up hills, sprints to regular PT (i.e. burpees, bear crawls and squats). Endurance athletes must be well rounded. And if it’s a Spartan endurance event, absolutely be prepared to go for long distances under heavy loads.
  5. Eat healthy for you. Now, I’m not going to say carbs are bad or good, or that you should only do a certain type of diet. We all can’t be amazing #wafflehouseelite athletes. Different diets work for different people, but you should try to eat foods in moderation. A well balanced diet that includes protein and carbohydrates to replace the glucose that is burned during  activity is important. Try to eat more natural foods versus processed foods. You can’t out train a bad diet. So eating pizzas, cake, and cheeseburgers aren’t going to make you feel that  amazing while running 10 miles. Common sense people.

    mind over matter

  6. Train your brain. This may go hand in hand with mantras, but honestly endurance events are just as mentally challenging as they are physical. Train your mind to avoid the negative. When you start to think negative thoughts like, “I can’t do this anymore” or “I’m too tired to go on” you need to change your thoughts. Focus on one thing at a time. Focus on that one task or obstacle, not how much more you have to do because it will overwhelm you. Think about how much you have already completed versus how much time you have left. Why quit when you have finished 10 out of 12 hours? 2 hours is nothing compared to all the hard things you already put yourself through! When times are really rough, vision yourself at the finish line getting your finishers medal or patch. Visualization is one of the best techniques that even Olympians have used to help them focus. Finally, just believe in yourself. If you had the guts to sign up for an endurance event in the first place, you must have had some faith in yourself that you could finish. So take that faith, work hard and make it happen.

Good luck and I hope to see you at a future endurance event! Next stop for me is the Spartan Agoge in China!!

HH12 Nashville