Training for the F3 Heavy Heavy and other extreme endurance events from someone who has been there and done that

  • Workout Date - 04/06/2017
  • Q In Charge - Winnebago
  • The PAX - Why not you?
  • AO -

Below is an outline of training for the F3 Heavy Heavy which will be April 6-8 2017 in Wilmington. The author is John Steele who is likely the most patched GRT ever, who has completed the first HH and the first HHH. If you are interested in participating follow the link below for details.

Mark Guenther (Winnebago)asked me to provide some workout training tips for people getting ready for the HH next April. Having done a few events, I have developed some thoughts about how to prepare for ‘longer’ GR events, aka those lasting longer than 24 hours. Because what works for a regular Challenge does not work as well for events stretching over days. If you see someone limping back to their car, feet all tore up, groaning in pain, etc after a Challenge or a Heavy, they may have finished that event, but they are not able to continue. Many people stop after the H in an HTL because they prepared for the HTL by doing heavier weights, longer rucks, basically more of what prepared them for the Heavy. But an HH is not simply a harder Heavy, it’s an entirely different event.

1. The most important thing to work on, regardless of the event you are doing is so simple, and yet so annoying: Lose weight. If you want to deep dive this issue, read ‘Racing Weight’ by Matt Fitzgerald. But the summary is simple, the #1 way to improve endurance, and perform better at a GR event is to weigh less. If you lose 30 pounds and have a 30 lb plate in your ruck, you are (basically) breaking even. Less knee pain, less lower leg problems (shin splints, Plantar Fasciitis), less everything that is bad. The only down side is that once you get below 15% body fat (20% for women), you will notice that you get colder easier, but that is a trade off I gladly accept. World class endurance people literally starve themselves leading up to an event. Not too many fat dudes win the Boston Marathon.

2. GR is an endurance event, not a CrossFit style event or a Spartan Race. So what. Well, the difference does not play out as much in a 3 hour Spartan Sprint or 12 hour Challenge. But it sure does when you start talking about 48 or 72 hours of body stress. So I believe that Olympic lifts are awesome. For events lasting a few minutes. And when your not tired, and when your form is awesome. But all that is useless when your trying to carry a log on your shoulder while super tired. Your training should get your HR up into the zone that your heart will be at during a GR event. And keep it there for a while.

3. Cardio. Cardio. Cardio. Weight lifting is good to do, but cardio is much more important. Rucking is great, but more than twice a week is detrimental I believe. And ruck running is dangerous if you do not know what you are doing. Your stride needs to be shorter and you have to pay attention to your posture. The technique is not the same as running, as demonstrated by all the lower leg and knee pain people have after a long ruck run. I prefer fast ruck walking. It strengthens muscles like your Soleus and Gastrocnemius, which are the unheralded tiny muscles on the front of your leg that prevent shin splints and other overuse problems. I prefer my training to be less impact if I can help it, especially since I know I will not worry about that during the event. And ruck walking at a 15 minute pace can be maintained indefinitely (with practice) and get your body ready for the increased abuse of an event.

4. Body weight. Do push ups. Then do a lot more. Body weight exercises are so much safer, and better on your body. They also are almost always Plyometric. Cave men did not have Nautilus machines. They picked up logs and deer, threw them on their shoulders and walked for distances (sound familiar?). Isometric exercises (like arm curls) are good in that they build up a particular muscle, and makes your max strength better. But I recommend not more than a few times a week. Now I know what I am suggesting runs counter to some advice. I just suggest understanding what you are shooting for. If you want to be really big and look like a bouncer, your work out will be very different than getting ready for a HH. Or should be. No one cares if you can lift twice as much as everyone else for 15 seconds, they need a teammate that can carry that sandbag for 15 minutes.

4a. Stretching. Enough said. Oh, active stretching is best.

5. Mental. No one feels tip top after a HH or HHH. But sucking it up and recuperating afterwards only works for shorter events. Cadre like to say there are three phases of longer events. Physical, Mental, and lastly Spiritual. We are all familiar with physical. Then, when your body is crying out, and you start saying motivating yourself with ‘DFQ’, and ‘toughing it out’ your in the Mental stage. Few people find that last gear. The best way I can think of it is that you just DO. Someone once said that at the third stage, you are just too dumb to quit. People stronger than me dropped during the 2nd Heavy because heavy weight training and telling yourself not to quit will not work for a longer event. Not to get all metaphysical, but you have to spend quiet time visualizing what you are about to do. How will you deal with wanting to quit when the friend next to you quits? How do you respond when your mind starts rationalizing a “quinjury”. I try to visualize myself in various situations to the point where I will feel my heart rate increase, and my muscles will start twitching. I want to ‘walk through’ these situations with my body ahead of time. Like having a conversation with yourself. “Hey, I am going to feel out of breath and maybe start feeling a little panicky when I have a 120 lb sandbag on my shoulders and no one is coming up to relieve me. What am I going to do, and how am I going to handle it so I do not mentally destroy myself? Most people quit longer events because they ‘mentally hyperventilate’, they let their mind actually convince the body that they need to stop the physical exertion. It’s a protection mechanism to keep our exertion below 80% so that we reduce the risk of injury. It’s why 15 minutes after someone quits an event, they will often feel like they could have kept going and often tell me they wish they had not dropped. Their muscles didn’t suddenly recover in that short time, it was their mind that stopped freaking out. If your mind is not right, you can make up for it by lifting more, reading your morale patch, and ‘toughing it out’ at a Challenge. But not an HH.

6. The best way to prepare for GR events is to do GR events. If the first event you do over 6 hours is the HH, you are making life harder on yourself. I know there are money and time considerations, just know that simulations cannot impart the same stressors that a real GR event will. And of course, you get to test your ability to meet the standard for whatever PT test is given.

7. Limit or eliminate bad behaviors that interfere with working out. Drinking and smoking are simply evil to your body. I rarely drink anymore, just because it kills my workouts. Not trying to preach, but have to bring this up. I know I’m like a broken record, but you want to have your body in a continuous state of being conditioned, and you can’t do it with a hangover.

There are good regimented programs like Pathfinder out there. And if you need structure, I recommend checking them out. Ultimately, you want to get to a point where you body is saying things like ‘lay off the legs a bit today, maybe stick to core and chest’, and so on, thus creating your own custom structure. The point is I do as much as I can (keeping in mind the principles above).

That being said, below is a typical week of working out for me. It is important to adjust this based on two factors, Activity level and Age. If you do a lot of GR events each month like I do, then you will want to consider limiting the duration of “in between” workouts like I do. If you do not do many crucible events (GR Challenge/Heavy, Spartan 12HR, World’s Toughest Mudder, etc) then you can do harder daily workouts. Also, I have to appreciate the age of my knee joints and ever increasing recovery times. 20 year olds do not. I know a few people my age that pretend otherwise but they get hurt a lot. And nothing screws with training more than injuries.

a. 5 days a week – 60 minutes of cardio in the morning. Longer is not better. Just up the intensity. Whatever it takes so that you feel like throwing up. Mix it up. One day, I will focus on rowing machine, the next I will use treadmill. Next day is burpee drills. I will use HITT principles and keep the speed as high as I can while being safe. I do like machines for cardio because it allows me to better measure myself. Think of Orange Theory here. Burning 700 calories is a good min. goal. I usually shoot for 1000. But work your way up.

b. 3 days a week – core/hip flexors. Think Hello Dollys, flutter kicks, sit ups, planks. Etc. How much? As much as your stomach lets you. It is very difficult to pull a muscle doing these. There is no realistic limit as long as you listen to your body. I would start with 3 sets of 50 4-count flutter kicks as a minimum. If you cannot do 50 without stopping, you are not ready for the HH. You don’t need long breaks, and try sometimes to space them out over the day, you will be able to do a lot more.

c. 2 days a week- Run 5 miles. Time yourself. Over 50 minutes? Oh oh. Keep at it. But rather than run more often, run harder during those two times you do run. I am skipping a lot of background reasoning here, but trust me when I say that a shorter max effort is better than a longer 80% effort (ironically, the opposite of weight lifting for endurance).

IF I am not doing a GR event that weekend, I replace one of the runs with a weighted ruck march, 12 miles if possible. 12 minute pace is the goal (13 minute if your short). 15 min or better will work. Any faster is detrimental to your feet.

d. 2 days a week-Gym/weight lifting (once if I am doing an event that weekend). I try to do all the major muscles above my waist on the same day (this reinforces my emphasis on plyometrics and stops me from going too heavy). I try to do at least one exercise that requires me to use my wrists and elbows. Besides incorporating small ‘helper’ muscles that are sometimes skipped in isometric excersizes, it also lets me stretch tendons and ligaments. I know proper form requires solid wrists, but this is an example of tweaking an excersize to ‘train’ the connective tissues around my joints (and that ‘age’ faster due to reduced blood flow). For example, use a rope for triceps push down. But then, drop the pulley to the ground and do a bicep curl. I would do 4 sets of 15 each. You will find you want to drop a little weight at first when switching to biceps as it is hard on the wrist. Because of the limited gym appearances, I always do chest when I’m there. Nothing fancy. Just keep good form and do 4 sets, 3 excersizes. I always suggest less stable movements over stable. For example, I use barbells for my bench press rather than a bar because it requires my synergist and fixator muscles to work (they help stabilize movements, greatly reducing risk of injury). A note about lifting. I rarely need a spotter because I do not really want to be dealing with massive weights given the number of reps. Another thing, I have good GR friends that are big CrossFitters and lift heavy. My approach is based on my desire to gear my workouts to endurance events only and I intentionally sacrifice the benefits of heavy lifting/small sets. As for legs, If you do the other parts of the workout, you will not need to work out legs in the gym (maybe calfs if you are imbalanced). I rarely use machines to train my legs. Yes, they do not look like tree trunks. But I have also never had a leg injury (other than repetitive stress issues which are different). Friends like Jeff Butterworth lift heavy and are huge, and still able to move fast. But most people cannot excel in both. 3 or 4 sets of 15 reps is my goal, depending on the size of the muscle. (bigger muscles get 4 sets). If you get DOMS and have trouble straightening out your arm two days after your workout, you went too far. Better to be able to work out more frequently than go nuts and interfere with your other conditioning.

Your thinking thats it!?! Nope. The above workouts are probably 50% of my physical output. Every day, throughout the day, I do body weight exercises and stretching. Some days, I make up a goal such as 300 pushups, or 300 burpees, or whatever. And I just keep doing them throughout the day. If you have 60 seconds while your waiting for someone, drop and do 50 pushups. Soon, you will instinctively just think of something to do whenever you have time. “That couch over there would be perfect to hold down my feet for some sit ups”. Why do this? Because it’s random and your body never knows what to expect. By erratically doing lots of bodyweight exercises (AND stretching) throughout the day, I keep myself subconsciously in the same frame of mind that my body is in during a longer event. In other words, training at 9 a.m. every morning at the weight rack will not train your MIND to smoothly drop and do pushups at 3 a.m. in the rain.

These are somewhat disjointed thoughts that I quickly wrote up. These are ideas that I have found work for me. Others may find things that work better for them. Frankly, I do not trust workout plans/advice that are ‘one-size-fits-all’ as they never do. Once you get to a certain point, your body will tell you when to back off. Only you can be the master of your own body, so following another person’s plan (beyond the common sense basics) is ok for beginners, but try to learn what works best for your body. I try to train as hard as I can safely, which is different from week to week. What else? Buy a couple dumb bells or kettle bells and keep them around. Wear comfortable shoes that support your feet as much as possible. Try every goofy exercise you hear of and see how it works for you. Lastly, focus on what is around you when your working out. Tuning out and turning inward is NOT GR, and thus you will not be training for success. Listening to music while working out is ok for some situations (and is more fun), but I think it interferes with your situational awareness, it distracts you from your mental prep, and is not what the HH will be like. At least 30% of the workout listed above should be done with wet clothes on. If your feet are never wet except at GR events, you are wrong. Plus you might discover like I did that some shoes are great for my feet when dry but horrible when wet. Ditto for sand/mud/dirt. You have to train at different times of the day. Much of the HH is at night. Your body should know what its like to do runs or PT at night. Yoga is awesome for bodies doing this much work. Just hard to find time for everything. Genetics plays a huge role, so some people may find that more sets in the weight room, more jogging, or less rucking gets their body in the best shape for endurance events. And this may be due to our genes, our particular likes, or the climate where you live. But try to find that sweet spot that works for you because you will stick with it, and, more importantly, you can continuously adjust it as you learn tips and new things that better prep you.

I hope there is something useful in this for some people and I look forward to seeing everyone in April! As always, IMHO.

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