Tough Mudder Rolls Out its Studio Fitness Concept: Tough Mudder Bootcamp

Tough Mudder has rolled out a new extension of its brand, moving beyond the seven different races and challenges-not-races it mounts to include a new concept in gyms: Tough Mudder Bootcamp.

How did Tough Mudder decide to extend its brand in this direction? As you might expect from a company founded by business school graduates, the inspiration came from running the numbers. TMHQ asked the question: why do more than 10% of people who sign up for a Tough Mudder fail to show up on the day of the event? Surveys revealed that the people who failed to show up did so because they believed they had not trained enough; the no-shows were predominantly people who signed up in January and February, prime season for New Years get-in-shape resolutions, and also people who had not signed up with a team.

Teamwork has become the battlecry for Tough Mudder, one that is analyzed at length in CEO Will Dean’s upcoming book It Takes a Tribe, to be published this fall. Research shows that people who work out with a group are seven times as likely to achieve their fitness goals. Teamwork also pervades the Bootcamp concept. TMHQ’s MBAs looked at the fitness industry, and they were not impressed. Dean himself observed what was wrong on a trip to his in-laws in the Midwest; he had signed up for a week of access to a big box gym, and he saw that while 10% of the people there were getting something out of their gym time, the rest were miserable. The big box gyms were failing their customers.

In order to help people get into the shape they needed to complete a Tough Mudder, TMHQ has developed Tough Mudder Bootcamp, a franchise gym that will be coming to a town near you. Tough Mudder Bootcamp uses high intensity interval training classes to get its customers into shape and to keep them fit. Studies show that HIIT is an effective and efficient way to deliver cardiovascular and strength gains. If you are familiar with the Tabata method (a series of exercises done at intervals such as 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off), you get the idea. There is also some overlap with CrossFit, in that the exercises rely on a limited amount of equipment and highlight body weight movement and functional fitness, as well as an emphasis on camaraderie. TM‘s goal is to eliminate the intimidation factor of CrossFit and replace it with teamwork.

Classes are programmed and designed by Tough Mudder fitness guru Eric Botsford, whom you may recognize as TM mascot and MC E-Rock.  After a quick warm up, participants are sent to one of six stations where they partner up and take turns alternating specific complementary movements. For example, one partner would do reps of throwing a medicine ball at a high target (wall ball, to the CrossFitters), while the other holds a superman stretch. After two minutes, pairs move to the next station for a different set of movements, and so on until two rounds of six stations are completed. The entire workout lasts 45 minutes, which is plenty to work up a sweat and get everyone out of breath. Between the exercises, many encouraging high fives are exchanged.

E-Rock watches your form

How does Tough Mudder apply its secret sauce to the world of fitness? Tough Mudder’s brand and corporate attitude emphasize teamwork and, yes, fun. A Tough Mudder is supposed to be fun: not easy, but enjoyable. In the same way, the classes at Tough Mudder Bootcamp emphasize working with other members of the class, and the tone is supportive. No coach is going to chastise you by shouting “drop and give me 20!”

Wall Balls in the front, Supermen on the floor

Tough Mudder also brings some other goodies to the table: data, data and more data. One selling point that potential franchisees should covet is the contact information of everyone who has ever done a Tough Mudder. These are all potential customers, who all have keen brand awareness. Tough Mudder’s marketing juggernaut is putting its weight behind this project, and its resources are at the disposal of franchise owners.

Having described what Tough Mudder Bootcamp is, I should also point out what it is not. It is not an obstacle course gym. There will be no warped walls, no dangling electric wires, and you will not see anything that resembles the world class obstacles that Tough Mudder brings to its events. That said, the exercises will have applicability to success at an obstacle course event as well as to everyday life. Of course, Bootcamp will still keep Tough Mudder events in mind: there will be periodic benchmark testing for members, and the results of those tests will yield results measured in Tough Mudder dimensions, i.e. “you are now fit enough to conquer a Half Mudder/Tough Mudder/ Toughest Mudder, etc.”

Tough Mudder Bootcamp is also not a boutique gym concept. In big cities, there are many smaller spaces that offer specialty classes at $30 or more a class. Tough Mudder Bootcamp aspires to charge roughly half of that. They also do not plan on trying to dominate the big cities, hoping instead to move into second tier markets at first (as Dean puts it, “cities where ClassPass doesn’t work”).  Indeed, it may be some time before you see a Tough Mudder Bootcamp opening up near you. Tough Mudder has a reputation of not rolling out new concepts before they are completely ready; this policy has saved it from making the mistakes other obstacle course racing companies made, to their peril. In 2017 Tough Mudder wants to open ten gyms, and it hopes to get 150 off the ground in 2018 and 350 in 2019.

Tough Mudder is looking for franchise owners. Those who are looking for the prospectus should contact Tough Mudder directly, but the headlines are that they want individuals who can finance the approximately $200,000.00 to $300,000.00 it would take to build out a space ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet. They are also looking for partners in launching their new business line, so they want people that they would like “to have dinner with”, as Dean’s team puts it.

Will Tough Mudder Bootcamp be a success? I had the pleasure of watching the concept develop and took part in several classes. I am also a fan of HIIT workouts, having tried many gyms that offer them thanks to ClassPass (I live in a city where ClassPass does work, I guess), before settling on a gym that specializes in such workouts. While I am not an exercise physiologist, from my perspective I can say that HIIT works: I get my heartrate up quickly and I am stronger because of these classes. I can also vouch for the camaraderie that can be fostered in this environment. An added bonus: these workouts are just as good for people just getting into shape as they are for the already-buff. Tough Mudder is certainly on to something.

Since Tough Mudder tests everything (I mean everything, down to the distance of the rings on the obstacles) they brought in people to a mock-up of the gym concept at their Brooklyn headquarters. They invited people who had tackled World’s Toughest Mudder, regular Legionnaires such as myself, and people who had never participated (“prospects”, in TMHQ-speak). We completed a prototype workout and, sweaty and breathless, then provided feedback. This data all got crunched until the final product emerged. Tough Mudder as a company has mastered the science of mounting mass participation events. I think that in three or four years, we will find that their roll-out has brought a Tough Mudder Bootcamp’s bright orange studio space to a neighborhood near you.

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Christopher Stephens

Christopher is an attorney, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, a marathoner, an open water swimmer, and a recovering Jeopardy contestant. A native New Yorker, he trains in the rugged wilderness of Central Park and can sometimes be found swimming in the Hudson. He also bakes pies. Delicious pies.
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