how to seriesHow To Perform Dips Presented By: 

Obstacle Race training requires more than just running ability. It requires a well balanced amount of upper body strength as well. Continuing to build up our repertoire of exercises that can be used in building the muscles necessary to complete obstacles, today we will learn the proper form for dips. By working on a variety of exercises we become stronger, and as we become stronger a majority of the obstacles will inherently become easier. Having trouble pushing yourself up and over the wall climbs? Do your arms get tired while crawling through the barbed wire? Performing dips is a fantastic way to develop your tricep muscles and help you to conquer these obstacles. How to Perform Dips Spartan Race

Whichever obstacle it is that gets the best of you, know that by working on building the strength to complete them is half the battle. The other half is practice. Incorporate dips into your everyday training and soon enough you’ll develop what we like to call “obstacle immunity.” Once you develop “obstacle immunity” any obstacle you face whether it be in a Spartan Race or in your everyday life, will become easier. Things will begin to just work and you’ll no longer fear the unknown. It’s not that they’ll just become easier, it’s more that you’ll become better at handling them. Work hard enough and you just might earn yourself a burpee free race. So get to work, do some dips, and we’ll see you at the finish line. Get after it Spartan! AROO!!!



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Each Tuesday I rise early to quietly prepare for my morning run, careful not to disturb the rest of my sleeping household. Once ready, instead of simply stepping outdoors and traveling through my own neighborhood to complete my training for the day, I instead hop into my Jeep and drive twenty minutes south to a beautiful waterfront park in St Petersburg, Florida. Tuesday is unique, as this particular day of the week compels me to wake much earlier than my typical training days, provides a commute which (even at the ungodly time in which I’m driving) seems to find a way to halt me at nearly every stop light along the way, and results in a run that is generally below my preferred training pace and mileage.  Yet, each and every Tuesday morning, I faithfully wake and journey south to complete this ritual.

Why do I do this? When the paragraph above is read, I’m sure it sounds less than desirable, and perhaps somewhat strange. But there is one main factor that keeps me coming back to this location each week, eagerly anticipating my morning run, and that is the fact that this is the day in which I get to run with my friends.  This aspect alone makes Tuesday a special day, one that I look forward to each week, and I’m sure anyone reading who has the pleasure of running with a friend, or group of friends, can attest to this fact as well.

Since I initially began running, and (to be completely honest) still to this day, I tend to be a bit of a loner when it comes to my own personal training.  I like the ability to push my own limits without feeling like I’m going to hold someone back, and also without the pressure to wait for someone who may be lagging behind.  I can train at a pace that suits me, and modify my workouts at a moment’s notice depending on how I’m feeling on that particular day.  I also cherish my alone time each morning, as my work and home life thrusts me headfirst into the non-stop hustle and bustle of constant interaction with so many people on a daily basis. Although I love my family, and truly enjoy my day job, life without my morning workout to aid in clearing my head would greatly increase the chances of leaving me with a tad less patience, and feeling much more stressed.

The buddy system! It works! Try it!

With that said, even though I do love my solo workout sessions, there’s still nothing quite like Tuesday morning.  It rejuvenates me, and provides me with a morning that combines my love of running with a few of my favorite ladies.  We’re able to catch up on life, talk about our current emotional triumphs or woes, and unload on each other the random thoughts that pass through our minds so early in the day.  We laugh, we encourage each other, we divulge our stresses, we share our hopes and our dreams; and the miles pass by effortlessly as we travel along the otherwise quiet streets in the wee morning hours.  Some Tuesday’s we run side-by-side in silence, simply enjoying each other’s company, and other times we chat endlessly; but in the end, no matter the tone of the morning, we are together, and we each cherish the special time spent running in unison.

The reason I feel compelled to share this personal information is due to a recent Spartan Race challenge that was brought to my attention.  This challenge made me ponder my own dedication to my weekly group run, and also the bond that we (women specifically) glean from training and racing together.

Each month Spartan Race puts forth a 30-day challenge for those who are willing to accept the task appointed.  From push-ups to planks, burpees to squats, each month a specific workout is elected, and each month thousands of people commit to taking on that task for 30 full days.  The month of May brought with it a slight variation, as Spartan Race challenged individuals not to take on a specific bodyweight exercise, but to commit to completing 30 workouts in a group setting instead.  Whether it would be with one friend, or a whole team of people, it was encouraged to join together and complete daily workouts together.

The Spartan website detailed this challenge by saying, “A team workout is any exercise that can be done two or more people. Ideally, it incorporates movements that require a partner to complete. But in most cases, it is exercise where the motivation of a friend helps complete the workout.”  This idea intrigues me, and although I do not make a point to train with others on a daily basis, I can absolutely understand why this is such a great idea!

I bet that if you took the average American today and asked them about their current fitness status, they would most likely tell you that they wished they had more time for exercise.  They may lament as to their desire for the drive to achieve results they can be proud of, and to finally lose the added pounds that have crept on over the years.  But finally, with a defeated sigh, they will likely tell you that there’s just no way that that will ever happen.  Although past fitness goals may have been made, and things may have started out great, slowly but surely motivation ran dry, the snooze button became easier to hit, and now, months (maybe years) later, they realize that the initial resolve to get into great shape has dissipated.

But take this same person lamenting over their failed attempts at weight loss and add in a friend, a confidant, and more importantly, someone to hold them accountable, and this can result in a game changing formula much more likely to bring about the success that they so desire.  By incorporating another person into your daily routine, they will not only help keep you committed to your training, but you will also be doing the same for them.  Together you will celebrate each other’s strength, work toward improving your weaknesses.  You will encourage, support, struggle, and eventually succeed together.

Spartan Race events also display this very same concept on a very grand scale, as each race is full of teams of all sizes.  While there are some who choose to run the course solo, most participants elect to band together with a team of friends to tackle the course head on.  I’ve seen so many instances of a person frozen on an obstacle, terrified to continue on, but by the encouragement of their teammates they’ve been able to muster the courage to complete the challenge.  They emerge triumphant, celebrating their accomplishment with those who helped give them the confidence to continue on.  It’s an amazing scene to behold, and it happens hundreds, perhaps thousands of times at each event.

Run with others! It’ll make motivation easier.

Running, working out, or racing with a friend will build memories that are lasting, and help to make an uncomfortable situation bearable, even enjoyable.  By joining forces with others with the same goal in mind, each person of the group will find it more difficult to back out of the commitment to train together, especially on mornings when hitting the snooze button sounds so much more appealing than rolling out of bed before the sun rises to get a workout in.  Friends hold each other accountable to their pledge by keeping each other moving forward, and by allowing for anyone to fall by the wayside.

If you’ve been struggling to find the motivation to keep up a consistent workout routine, I strongly encourage you to find a friend or two and ask them if they are willing to join you in your training.  Set a schedule and stick to it!  If no one is willing, there are typically many different style indoor and outdoor fitness classes available in most areas that you can join for a low cost.  In addition, many communities have local running groups that you can join for free or a very low cost as well (some even stop for a drink after their scheduled run!).  If all else fails, find a gym nearby and stop in to see if they offer any group activities, or have personal trainers available to help whip you into shape!  There are so many different resources available for someone looking for options to be held accountable; all you have to do is ask!

So my challenge to you as summer approaches, and the impending threat of the dreaded “bikini season” looms nearer, is to grab a friend, make a plan, and stick to it together! Already have a great workout routine in place?  My bet is that you know someone who’s struggling with theirs!  Invite them along to join you, even if only for a day or two a week, and I can guarantee it will help them stay more committed to their goals.

Being a part of the Spartan Race family brings along with it the obligation that we take care of all of our members across the globe.  We are all at different points in our fitness journey (some aren’t even off the couch yet!), and it is up to us to encourage and support each other, no matter our level of fitness, so we can hold each other accountable to the expectation of self-improvement.  It’s a big part of why I love Tuesday morning, and you can bet I won’t be giving up on that weekly run anytime soon.

Check out the Spartan 30 online and sign up for the current workout of the month.  Once signed up, get someone else to commit with you too!  My husband and I recently completed a 30 days of 30 push-ups, and we wouldn’t let each other forget our commitment!  Now grab some friends, create a team, and sign up for the next Spartan Race that’s coming your way!  A year fully of training and racing with friends will be a year enriched with great memories, and amazing results.

~Holly Joy Berkey

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Spartan Swimming 101

You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.
- Edwin Louis Cole

How much swimming are you incorporating into your training? Maybe it’s time to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new?

Whether you want to actively recover from your normal routine, or introduce yourself to the full-body workout that swimming can be, consider looking for a pool when at a gym or workout facility.

Regardless, of your motives, during a Spartan Race you might find a deep appreciation for your experience in the water.


by Erica Smith, Elite Open Water Swimmer and Coach

Swimmer here.  I’m here to break the unfortunate news to you that swimmers (as we call ourselves–those of us who have the distinction of having been competitive swimmers in high school and/or college), are holding you in judgment for the suit you wear, the goggles you wear, and the way you conduct yourself at the local YMCA or community pool. As soon as we see you coming, we’ll start sprinting butterfly or doing extra-splashy flip turns to discourage you from sharing our lane. It’s not just swimmers behaving badly–I swear runners have taunted me in similar ways when I venture out of my territory and onto land.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can work out in peace without being taunted or judged by swimmers. First off, don’t ever show up wearing a scuba mask or ancient-looking goggles. I like Blue Seventy goggles–all models make excellent open water goggles, and you can wear them to the pool. Don’t wear swim trunks or a triathlon suit–you’re going to have to get yourself a real swimsuit made for pool swimming. Now, emerge from the locker room and walk across deck with confidence. If the lap lanes have speed designations (Slow-Medium-Fast), make sure you don’t overestimate yourself. Using fins doesn’t count towards your perceived speed. It’s taboo among swimmers to wear fins for an entire workout, and everyone knows WHY you’d be doing that.

Once you choose the appropriate lane, there are a few basic but very important rules you must follow:

1. If you are joining a lane with one swimmer, you must alert that person to your presence before you begin swimming, and ask whether your new lanemate prefers to “circle swim” or “split the lane.” Using proper swimming lingo will earn you points. Circle swimming means that you will swim counterclockwise, always hugging the laneline to your right. Splitting the lane means that you and your lanemate will each choose one side of the lane, and you will hug the same laneline going up and down.

2. Never, ever, ever veer into the middle of the lane for any reason. Pay attention to where you are in the lane at all times. Now is not the time to practice eyes-closed navigation drills. No one wants to get a concussion during a swim workout.

3. If joining a lane with multiple swimmers who are already circle swimming, you need not alert anyone to your presence, but you must join the lane in a way that does not interrupt anyone else’s workout (see guidelines below). If you join a lane with two swimmers who are splitting the lane, you must ASK both swimmers whether they will circle swim to let you join, BEFORE you begin swimming in that lane.

4. Never push off the wall right in front of a swimmer who is approaching the wall to make a turn. This is exactly the same as if you were running on a narrow track, and a slower runner stepped in front of you and forced you to stop.

5. Never push off the wall RIGHT on the feet of the swimmer right ahead of you. Always wait at least five seconds or until the swimmer ahead is past the flags.

6. Never touch the feet of the swimmer in front of you for any reason. It’s your fault for either pushing off the wall too soon, or not choosing the right lane. If you are doing a faster workout, you’re going to have to stop at the wall, wait until there’s enough space in between the two of you, and then start again. No one is looking for a negotiation about accommodating your workout.

7. If you do accidentally make contact while swimming, pick your head up to apologize. Or wait to apologize at the wall, whenever both of you stop.

8. If you are stopped at the wall to rest, make sure that you stay off to the side so that the end of the lane is clear for other swimmers to make turns. If you are blocking the wall with your body, don’t be surprised if a swimmer flip turns and their feet fly mere centimeters from your face. You’re not supposed to be there.

9. Hand paddles can be helpful for learning proper catch position in freestyle, but you should avoid using them in a crowded lap swim lane because of the likelihood of contact with other swimmers. It IS possible to break fingers or cause bloody gashes through contact with hand paddles.

Following these guidelines should ensure that you have a pleasant and fruitful experience at your local pool. Your new swimmer friends will appreciate your efforts!


Erica Smith was a NCAA All-American swimmer and is now an open water swimmer, writer, and professional swim coach specializing in open water training and racing.  She can be contacted at



Spartan Coaching:  Spartans Run Hills – Part II

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, Director of Spartan Coaching

In my last blog I discussed the importance of hill training. Today I want to address the technique of running hills. Running efficiently during your Spartan race will be crucial to energy management. You only have so much gas in the tank, follow these guidelines and you will leave enough gas in the tank for a strong finish.

Uphill Running

Uphill running changes the dynamic of the interaction of the foot with the ground. Even the most hardcore heel-strikers cannot help but run on the ball of their foot on hills. In fact, on very steep terrain, it will be impossible.

-        Maintain a high cadence by taking small steps

-        Do no lean forward into the hill. Leaning forward will stress the hamstrings and lower back.

-        Lift and drive the knee up hill.

-        Use the elastic energy stored in your calf muscles and Achilles tendon to help propel you forward.

-        Minimize ground contact time, this will help keep the cadence quick and prevent the loss of the stored elastic energy.

-        Avoid large steps and trying to muscle your way up the hill.

-        If you are running a rocky trail, scan the trail ahead and choose the path of least resistance.  Avoid jumping from rock to rock, or jumping over rocks, that will require more energy.


Downhill Running

Here is where most people make mistakes. They bound downhill, taking large steps causing the quadriceps and hip flexors to absorb the energy of the ground reaction forces. Practice “letting go” and use gravity to propel the body forward rather than the muscles.

-        Keep the cadence high.

-        Take small steps and keep the feet in line with or behind the hips. If the feet land in front of the hips the legs will act like a brake.

-        Stay light on the balls of your feet.

-        If you find your foot striking the ground hard, then you are taking to large op steps

-        Take small quick steps; use your energy to pick the feet up and put them down, not to propel the body forward.

-        If you are running on rocky terrain, rock hoping can be fun and efficient as long as you remember to land with your foot under your hips not in front of them

-        Build courage. Running downhill fast is scary. But with practice you will master speed and control.

To master these techniques, it takes practice. Do your hill training and concentrate on form.  Leave the headphones at home, think about efficient movement, and eliminate other distractions. In time, you will master the hills; the movement will be natural and fluid and won’t require much thought.

Learn more about Spartan Coaching.

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Spartan Coaching:  Spartans Run Hills

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, Director of Spartan Coaching

The beauty of obstacle racing is that it exposes your weakest link. Lack upper body strength? You will pay for it on the 8 foot wall. Lack balance? You will pay for it on the log hops. Lack hill climbing endurance? You will pay for it all-day. Spartan Race is well known for its lung crushing climbs, and quad destroying descents. Listen to enough veterans and they’ll tell you about Tri-State, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Monterey, Utah… “the number of climbs is ridiculous”, as was once overheard.

The only way to beat the hill is to embrace it. Hill running increases oxygen consumption considerably. For example, an athlete running at an easy 10 min/mile pace has an estimated oxygen consumption of 36 mlO2/kg/min, where running the same speed on a 10% grade (a grade of 100% = 45 degree angle) increases oxygen consumption to 50 mlO2/kg/min. That’s almost a 40% increase in energy expenditure! Running on a flat surface, a runner only needs to produce energy for horizontal work. The extra energy needed to lift the body vertically against gravity accounts for this extra energy expenditure.

Running at an oxygen consumption of 50 mlO2/kg/min will be close to many athletes maximal oxygen consumption and certainly above the lactate threshold for all but the elite runners. This will result in an increase in muscle acidosis and increased rate of glycogen utilization. The end result is fatigue and possible glycogen depletion.

Although training will improve VO2 max and running efficiency, it will not be enough offset the increased metabolic demand of steep uphill running. The best solution is to adjust the pace or speed so the energy expenditure remains the same. For most, that will mean walking uphill at a much slower pace. This will prevent fatigue and spare glycogen and prevent bonking. Pace yourself on the hill climbs.

Spartans Run Hills
Walking or running uphill places unique stress on the locomotive muscles when compared to walking or running on flat ground. The change in slope puts the foot into severe dorsi flexion, stressing the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantar fascia. The trunk also leans forward, placing more stress on the hamstrings and back extensors. A couple of small hills won’t negatively impact these muscle groups, but in the longer events where there will be 3,000 – 5,000 ft of climbing, there can be major damage to these muscles, especially in athletes who have not prepared on hills.

What goes up must come down! Running downhill would seem to be easier, and we think that we should  be able to make up for lost time during the climb. But, don’t fool yourself, the average speed of running uphill and then downhill for 3 miles will always be slower than running 3 miles flat. Running downhill requires control. No matter how much we think we are “letting go”, there is a natural “braking” action by the anterior tibialis on the lower leg, and the quadriceps on the thigh. This braking action is caused by eccentric muscle contractions; the muscles are developing tension and lengthening at the same time. Eccentric muscle actions cause muscle damage and are the cause of post exercise muscle soreness. If your muscles aren’t prepared for downhill running, the muscle damage will be accelerated and will result in premature muscle soreness, decreased muscle power output, and fatigue.

The good news is that this can be prevented with proper training. Yes, embrace the hills. Find the biggest, baddest hills in your area and run intervals up and down them. Do this twice a week. This will cause significant soreness initially, but over time your muscles will adapt to the eccentric contractions, muscle damage is reduced, and you will be able to tolerate longer bouts of downhill running. Training uphill will also stress the gastrocnemius, plantar fascia, hamstrings, and back extensions in a way that they will be used during a Spartan Race, thus minimizing the damage to those tissues as well. The reality is that running uphill will always be metabolically demanding and fatiguing not matter how hard you train. However, training with hill intervals, will improve your maximal oxygen consumption, increase your tolerance to acidosis, and improve your ability to utilize fat as a fuel, thus improve your hill running performance. Hill sprints suck as bad as Burpees, probably even more so, but if you embrace the hill training your body will thank you at your next Super Spartan or Beast.

Exercise Physiology 101 – During any activity that lasts longer than 3 minutes we rely primarily on the aerobic energy system. Aerobic means that we produce energy with oxygen. The more intense the exercise, the higher the rate of oxygen utilization. Oxygen utilization is typically expressed as milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute (mlO2/kg/min). Oxygen consumption can also be expressed as energy expenditure or Calories per minute (kcal/min). The higher the rate of oxygen consumption, the higher the rate of energy expenditure. For example a 180 lb male running a 10 minute mile consumes 36 mlO2/kg/min or expends about 14.5 kcal/min. The same man running the same speed at 10% grade consumes 50 mlO2/kg/min or 20.5 kcal/min.


Jeff  received his Doctorate in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut and is certified by ACSM, NSCA, and ISSN.  He is currently Chair of the Departmental of Exercise and Sport Science at Fitchburg State University and the Director of Spartan Coaching.

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Want Better Sleep? Here’s 2 Easy ways to get it.
by Joe DiStefano, co-founder of Spartan Coaches

Sleep is everything when it comes to mental focus and physical preparedness. In fact, living with the mindset “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” may get you there quite a bit faster! According to one study that studied over 10,000 participants, there was noted a two fold increase in death from all causes in participants sleeping 5 hours per night or less compared to those sleeping 7-8 [1]. This may be correlated to the fact that sleep deprivation increases insulin sensitivity which increases risk for weight gain, diabetes and heart disease – some of our most prevalent modern day killers. Furthermore, even just subtle degrees of sleep deprivation overtime can be correlated with immune suppression, cognitive decline, and mental health problems, increasing the instance of seemingly unrelated problems ranging from the common cold, to car accidents and depression.

Again. The mindset “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” may get you there quite a bit faster!

Thankfully, to ensure the best possible night sleep there are a two really easy things we can do that are going to have an immediate impact on your sleep quality and exercise recovery. First, avoid all caffeine after 3pm. Yes, yes even you “Mr. Caffeine-Does-Not-Effect-My-Sleep” because it does. Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your system for over 6 hours! Regardless if you aren’t feeling jittery or full of energy, caffeine is still going to activate the sympathetic nervous system, also known as our “Flight or Fight” response [3]. Being in “Flight or Fight” is associated with increased glucose mobilization, increased blood pressure, and increased vigilance and alertness. All things you do not want if the goal is to sleep restfully.

Being unconscious and sleeping restfully are two different things.

Number two is to avoid using laptops, iPads, and cell phones for at least an hour or two (or three) before bedtime.[2] This may come as a surprise, because nearly all of us are guilty of it, but the intense blue light many of today’s most popular gadgets shine directly into your eyeballs confuses the brain, suppresses melatonin production, and disrupts the circadian rhythm we developed over hundreds of thousands of years of rising and falling with the sun.

A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, concluded that male drivers exposed to bright light and given 200mg of caffeine at 1:00am showed reduced instances of lane drifting and improved reaction time at 6am! Even when compared to the same subject under placebo conditions, or given just one or the other [4].

Avoiding both of these things will allow you to immeidately improve any symptoms you may be feeling related to poor sleep, whether you are aware your sleep is to blame or not. You’ll be amazed how much these easy things slow down your thoughts, allow you to forget about work, money, family, or relationships, and allow you to get what may be your best night’s sleep of the year.


Ferrie JE; Shipley MJ; Cappuccio FP; Brunner E; Miller MA; Kumari M; Marmot MG. A prospective study of change in sleep duration; associations with mortality in the whitehall II cohort. SLEEP 2007;30(12):1659-1666.

Figueiro MG, Wood B, Plitnick B, Rea MS. The impact of light from computer monitors on melatonin levels in college students. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2011;32(2):158-63. PubMed PMID: 21552190.

Nehlig, A; Daval, JL; Debry, G. “Caffeine and the central nervous system: Mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic, and psychostimulant effects”. Brain Res Rev. May-August 1992. 17 (2): 139-70. – See more at:

Hartley SL, Barbot F, Machou M, Lejaille M, Moreau B, Vaugier I, Lofaso F, Quera-Salva MA. Combined caffeine and bright light reduces dangerous driving in sleep-deprived healthy volunteers: A Pilot Cross-Over Randomised Controlled Trial. Neurophysiol Clin. 2013 Jun;43(3):161-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neucli.2013.04.001. Epub 2013 Apr 26. PubMed PMID: 23856172.

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Grit or Grits?

by Dr. Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, and director of Spartan Coaching


Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake.

- William James, American Philosopher and Psychologist


According to Webster’s dictionary ‘grit’ is defined as a hard, sharp granule, an abrasive particle. Webster’s also says that grits are a coarsely ground hulled grain, usually corn.

One is used to smooth out rough, uneven surfaces through persistence and repetition, the other is an overly processed porridge that is energy dense and nutrient poor. One is unyielding and resolute the other is smooth and gelatinous.  If you get a little grit in your sneaker you end up with bleeding blisters, get some cooked grits in your sneaker and you might enjoy it. In terms of hardness, they are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Among other things, Spartans are gritty. Through persistence of effort they accomplish their goals. Physical fitness and good health isn’t accomplished with a single, monumental effort. They are attained by consistent, focused, strenuous effort .  Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has conducted research on high achievers and has determined that the human attribute of grit predicts success better than any other personality trait such as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Duckworth says that grit is even a better predictor of success than intelligence (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly, 2007) .

Duckworth studied West Point candidates using multiple personality tests and intelligence scores and found that that freshman candidates that scored the highest on grit had a higher probability of surviving the first summer of training. Grit predicted success even better than West Point’s  Whole Candidate Score that is used to select candidates for enrollment (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly, 2007).  Duckworth also studied National Spelling Bee candidates and again grit was an important predictor for advancement into the final round. Duckworth noted that the grittier candidates put more time into studying vocabulary (harder workers) and performed better that some of their more intelligent peers (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly, 2007).

I can think of more than a handful of individuals that had great talent in their sport yet never attained the pinnacle of success in their career. Conversely, there were those that had modest talent, yet worked on their skills and honed their talent through daily vigorous practice, over a long period of time, and became extremely successful. The former had grits for breakfast and the latter had a big bowl of grit.

Grit isn’t a short term phenomena. A conscientious, persistent athlete can achieve short-term goals such as improved fitness and weight loss. But grit is much more than that. According to Duckwork “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.” (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly, 2007. p. 1087-1088)

Can a leopard change its spots? Can a human change their personality and become gritty? Generally personality is stable over time as indicated by research conducted at the University of California (Nave, Sherman, Funder, Hampson, and Goldberg, 2010).  But it is important to understand that our behaviors can be influenced by the environment. We may not be able to change our biology but we do have the capacity to change our behaviors.  We do have free will. In similar vein, someone may have a genetic predisposition to develop heart disease, but if that person makes the conscience choice to eat healthy, be physically active, and not smoke then the manifestation of heart disease is less likely.

For some becoming gritty may be an easy transition. For others it may require more conscious effort. Do you want more grit? Start here:

1)     Write out your plan for success – establish your baseline, set a goal, define a clear path towards that goal.

2)     Eliminate distracters – What are your barriers? Is it TV, internet, video games?

3)     Keep a journal – Journal your successes and failures. Contemplate them; monitor your feelings and emotions. Work on solutions.

4)     Share the plan – Share your plan with someone that is supportive yet can offer constructive criticism when needed. Hire a coach.

5)     Keep track of your successes – Remember the days when you would receive a gold star for exceptional performance in grade school? Give yourself a gold star for every success you have during the day.

6)     Last but not least, don’t give up. Success is a marathon…ultramarathon, not a sprint. There will be peaks and valleys. Expect failure, but don’t accept it. Learn from it and keep moving forward. You must remain passionate about your goals.

7)     All of this is work, hard work. Expect it, and embrace it. I looked for some research that supported the idea that success was the result of sleeping more, day dreaming, and quip facebook posts, but I couldn’t find any.

What is your next meal, grit or grits?



Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., and Kelly, D.  (2007).  Grit: Perserverance and passion    for long term-goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; (92), 1087-1101.

Nave, C., Sherman, R., Funder, D., Hampson, S., and Goldberg, L. (2010). On the contextual independence of personality: Teachers’ assessments predict directly observed behavior after four decades.  Social Psychology and Personality Science; (1), 327 – 334.

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The Top Three Body Weight Exercises for Female Obstacle Racers:  Part 2 of 3 – Reverse Bear Crawl  

by Joe DiStefano, co-founder of Spartan Coaching

Click here for Part I:  Bowler Squat

Because what woman doesn’t want a stronger upper body and tighter core!?

Regardless of your own gender, you may have noticed that when compared to men, women have several distinct differences in the ways their bodies are designed. The largest differences clearly relate to pregnancy and child birth and include a larger percentage of body mass being carried below the midsection and the increased Q-angles and anterior (forward leaning) pelvic tilt discussed in my previous post. Last time, we also discussed a propensity for females to do more things, like wearing high heels, which tend to exacerbate these genetic disadvantages even further. For these reasons, women typically need to focus a lot more on upper body strength and core stabilization and when it comes to training for a Spartan Race, cranking out sit ups and triceps pushdowns are not going to cut it.

Holding a stable, quadruped “Bear” position requires both upper body strength and core stabilization in itself, throw in moving backwards and a need for significantly more dynamic neuromuscular control and strength is added to the exercise. In addition, the Reverse Bear Crawl also works the type of contralataral coordination (moving the opposing leg and arm in a unison) necessary for more efficient running, confidently climbing cargo nets, and effortlessly crawling under barbed wire.

The Reverse Bear Crawl requires alternating “shoulder presses” over an active and reflexively stabilized core. During this exercise, the hips and core are continuously alternating between stabilizing one hip while mobilizing on the other, exactly the way they do in sprinting, hiking, throwing, or most other athletic maneuvers. This type of function and reflex is what we need most in obstacle racing and is something a habitual reliance on traditional standing, or [worse] a seated overhead shoulder press simply does not give you. I should mention that I am by no means saying “Old school” shoulder pressing does not have it’s place or is something we want to eliminate entirely, however, substituting or adding reverse bear crawls into a program that does not currently have them is going to add significant benefit to your “injury-proofing” and overall Spartan Race performance.

Finally, the Reverse Bear Crawl allows you to give your body a break from constant straight bar or dumbbell training, which is going to lower the risk of rotator cuff issues. The Reverse Bear Crawl is going to change the angle of the “press” to a more advantageous one relative to training proper scapular upward rotation, something many of us lack due to our widespread degrees of keyboard crunching postures. For more information on dysfunctional shoulders and assessing their risk for injury, check out my third installment of the “Top 5 Benefits of Alternative Locomotion” found here.

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Note to Self:  Remember to Train

by Tom Kennedy

This is why you sign up for, and do the Spartan WOD.

It is with great sadness that I was not able to video the Spartan race as planned, because I figured out immediately that the first obstacle was a mud pit, that would undoubtedly ruin the camera.  So, instead, I am writing this play by play account of the adventure.

First, I will give you my personal Pros and Cons of the event:

I had entry money.

My age, my refusal to exercise, a few pounds more than optimum, a history of orthopedic issues, and a general poor attitude.

Sadly, the line blurs between reality and my memory, and I couldn’t quite remember how much I hated any sort of exercise, especially running.  Now I remember. I decided to enter the race six months ago, giving me plenty of time to get
in shape for the event.  I must have gotten side tracked, because I can’t really remember being involved in any sort of a program that would get me prepared.

I might be willing to admit that my friend’s, Teresa’s advice of “You should probably get back on the treadmill” was possibly a better plan than mine, but at this point, we will really never know.  My plan became that I didn’t want to deplete my valuable energy stores or irritate any muscle cells until race day.

This proved to be an overestimation of my abilities, and an underestimation of the event.

The next time you hear me mention that I’m going to enter a Spartan race, just hit me in the nuts with a three iron.  My race experience rates somewhere between the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and The Bataan Death March.

I didn’t want to drink water because I thought that without water, I might actually die, instead of having to finish the course.

It started with our group of 200 “Spartans” heading to the mud pit.  Now, maybe I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Monsters Inside Me on TV, but I’m pretty sure that the absolutely foul smelling mud we were forced to plod through has left me with Impetigo at the best, or some brain-eating micro-organism at the worst.

After the mud, we were all in a tight group that narrowed down, until we were pretty much single file.  I was really moving!  I hadn’t jogged since 1997, but I guess that I thought I would just get right back into the swing of things.

Less than a quarter mile in, I was exhausted, and my middle back was aching.  Fortunately, we came to a rock climb that allowed me to rest a bit.  I don’t think that I ever reached jog speed again, but was in more of a fast walk mode, being mindful not to take my eyes off of the shoes or butt ahead of me.  I really have no idea what the course looked like, or where it went.  Just shoes and ass.

I got to one spot where we had to climb a rocky mountain face, and when I glanced to my right, I saw a Bighorn Sheep shaking his head “NO”.  He wasn’t even going to try it.  My lower back and C-spine held up really well for about the first seven minutes of the race, and then a dull ache remained throughout my odyssey.  It really didn’t hinder me much, and the two replaced knees, and the new hip held up perfectly.  They don’t want to bend as much, but there was no pain.  It might be that there was no pain because the brain can only think of one thought at a time, and my burning calves and thighs had my brains full attention.

I flew over walls, under logs, and through stuff.  I pulled chains, moved concrete stones, and picked up a bigass Caterpillar tire.  I helped people over walls and through cargo netting, and navigated more mud pits, barbed wire, and other nonsense.  Where I failed was whenever my arms had to go above shoulder level, I couldn’t get any strength out of my rotator cuffs.  Rope climb, monkey bars, traverse wall, were all my downfall, and I was told to do burpees.  Sadly, my shoulders won’t allow for burpees either, so I will owe about 120 burpees to the Spartan peeps sometime in the future.  Try and collect.

I had an “almost incident” when I couldn’t do a climb, and a snot nosed ”race monitor” started yelling at me that I had to do 30 burpees, and that if I didn’t do them, he would disqualify me.  I said, “Please don’t throw me in the brier patch”, and he just stared at me with a look of utter confusion.  Obviously, another product of the public school system.  When I left, he was fuming.

I obtained a hematoma on my shin, but I am very surprised there weren’t more serious injuries.  I was a little surprised that somebody hadn’t punched the formerly mentioned “snot nosed punk.”  Steep grades, up and down, with loose rocks and falling boulders…yes, I say boulders.  How many races does one run where he hears the words, “Look out, boulders coming down?”

So, you go up to the top of a steep ridge, and then another one after that, and then you are heading home.  I’m beat, but I can see the end is in sight.  Over another cargo net, climb a rope, and pick up sandbags for an up and down carry, and I’m finished!  As I’m dumping the sand bags, looking for the photographers, and television cameras, the closest race monitor yells out “halfway through, keep up the great job.”  Halfway through WTF, halfway through???  The next hill that I had to climb forced me to rest four times before I got to the top.  I think I fell asleep at one point. Then, I get encouragement from a morbidly obese runner chugging up the hill.  Really? Is this what my life has evolved to?  I staggered to the top of the ridge, and crept along it to the next obstacle.  Please bear in mind that for me, an obstacle was a safe haven where I could possibly catch my breath.  I loved the  obstacles!

Finally, with the finish line actually in sight this time, I made a big push, to look as if I had maintained that pace throughout the five miles.  I was very stud-like…still, no cameras or cheers…but stud-like, nonetheless!  I’m across the finish line, and they give me a cheesy medal, a Tee shirt, and a banana.  Then they took my shoes to give to someone in need of shoes.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them that these shoes were worn by someone who was passed by the entire cast of Biggest Losers.  I wouldn’t want to wear those shoes, even if I had to go barefoot.  This maybe putting a little more blame on the shoes than they deserved.

The first place guy finishes in just over fifty five minutes.  He was a fine tuned machine, and he pretty much breezed through the course along with a couple hundred more just like him.  Men and women both put on spectacular performances that should make their families proud.  Many of these athletes looked like they were willing to not work so they could stay in the gym and hone themselves for this kind of a sport.

I ask you…What is more impressive?  A person punishing themselves for fifty five minutes while covering this grueling race, or the person who punished himself to near exhaustion and perhaps, near death for…

wait For It…


I knew you would see it my way.  Who is the guy who really gave his all?
And I did it all without shi##ing myself.


Post Script:        

I will only do this again next year if I actually get in shape for it.  Teresa is taking bets on this sore subject, and has so far displayed a somewhat negative attitude as to my ability to get off my duff and really prepare.  The gauntlet has been thrown, and I have a year to get ready.  My goal this year was just to finish, but next year, if all of the stars are in perfect alignment, I plan on shaving at least six minutes from my time.  Looking for team mates, but don’t delay.  Opportunities like this don’t come along very often.


The Top 5 Benefits of Alternative Locomotion:  Part 5 – Be a Kid

by Joe Di Stefano co-founder of Spartan Coaching

Need some catching up?  Here’s Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV


At a recent Spartan SGX Coaching workshop, following one of Dr Jeff Godin’s lectures on analyzing the specific demands of Spartan Race’s most troublesome obstacles, a seminar attendee named Jackie, said something that struck a chord. Her point was one that Dr. J and I have heard before but for some reason this time,  I really pondered it.
Jackie, chuckling, said, “you wouldn’t believe how easy these obstacles would be for my five year old!”

Wild. Isn’t it?

But how could that be?

How could a human being who has been capable of standing upright for fewer months than I have remaining on my car loan, actually be better on two feet than most of us?  Without getting into the nitty gritty bio-mechanical or structural differences between children and adults, let’s give the real reason.

We are born fearless.

We are born tough.

We are born strong.

And most importantly,….We are born to live for the moment.

Through conditioning from upbringing and social pressures, we learn to embrace fear, that pain should be avoided at all costs, and that pessimism is ultimately the most secure path to longevity, health, and dare I say,happiness. Our instinctual mindset when faced with an obstacle should not, by nature, be focused on what might happen if I try, but about how exciting an attempt would be. Ask a five year old child why she felt compelled to try and jump over that ten foot wide puddle there was no way she could leap, decode your answer to discover it was for none other than a slight chance of victory and the inevitable emotional high no matter the result. If we are all the same humans we once were, why don’t I see suits on Wall Street skying over bums and wet pavement?

Because that’s not socially acceptable, TRUE. However, the fact that we contain and limit our adventurous side habitually, destroys our body from the inside out.

Just watch a young child get up onto a full size chair. They brace the chair  with their hands and then at the hip flex, abduct, and internally rotate all and climb up effortlessly. As we get older, we do fewer and fewer activities that require 1/10 of that amount of hip functionality so the body gives it up. Don’t use it, you lose it!

At the grocery store, how often do you see someone over the age of 25 having a good time or even wearing a smile? Or how many people in that group ever ride the cart like a skateboard?

We have to be coached and instructed how to conquer even the most basic obstacles is not because we have gotten older, but as a result of losing our emotional connection to being human. The biggest difference between Jackie’s child and most of us is that her child lives for the moment. Most of us today are all stuck somewhere in the future or the past. We often times bury our human priority list to focus on more socially acceptable or financially rewarding priorities.

Get that back and life becomes your Spartan Race.


Stand up for 30 seconds every 15-20 minutes. Close your eyes and this will be surprisingly meditative in helping you regain presence and very beneficial to your productivity.

Do one thing today that you wouldn’t normally do. This might be jumping a puddle, riding the cart at the grocery store for a few feet, skipping to the coffee line, whatever! (Post your funny one’s to the comments section!)

Grab a friend, do this workout in public and try to be a kid again. Live for the moment, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable:

At a jogging track, skip at varying intensities for 5 minutes with opposite arm and leg moving in a coordinated rhythm. Try jumping for height, jumping for distance, “double time” by doing quick, low to the ground skips, etc. Then, complete one full, 400m lap:

Bear Crawl for 15 “One-thousandths”
Burpees 5x
Reverse Bear Crawl for  15 “One-thousandths”
Burpees 5x

Cool down / recovery: Skip at varying intensities for 5 minutes

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