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How to Be One Tough Mudder

Posted 2/19/2016 by UHBlog

Did you get overly competitive on the obstacle training course? Our team will fix you up.

How to Be One Tough Mudder

If you like extreme sports, chance are you've contemplated trying or have participated in a Tough Mudder. These high-intensity obstacle and adventure races hold a lot of appeal for the young and old alike.

They also cause a lot of aches and pains in the unprepared or under-prepared athlete, says sports medicine specialist James Voos, MD, who recommends only attempting these types of competitions if you’re an advanced athlete – not a novice.

“While these kinds of races do have an entertaining and fun element to them, at their heart, they are still sporting events – despite the party atmosphere,” Dr. Voos says. “It’s important to train well for a Tough Mudder.”

Tough Mudder-style races typically combine running a 10- to 12-mile course in which participants encounter 20 to 25 challenges, such as mud pits, barbed wire, wall climbs and even fire pits. People who skimp on training or train incorrectly risk overuse injuries. Often, injuries involve the knees – such as meniscus and ACL tears – and shoulders, like labrum and rotator cuff tears.

To avoid hurting yourself, Dr. Voos recommends:

  • Start out healthy – If you haven’t been active and you sign up for a Tough Mudder next month, you risk doing exercises that are too strenuous for your fitness level.
    “Be honest with yourself,” Dr. Voos says. “These races involve many physical and mental challenges. If the race description says, ‘body breaking,’ take the organizers at their word. You need to train properly so you don't cause or make a problem worse.”
  • Focused training – Plan to train diligently for weeks prior to the race.
    “It’s different from a 10K race where you’re just training to run,” he says. “In addition to cardio workouts, you want to increase your conditioning and stamina by adding strength, balance and endurance routines.”
    Some athletes join CrossFit gyms or other similarly minded communities. Others work out with a team or use social media sites for training tips.
    “If it’s the first time you’re doing a Mudder, consider working out with a personal trainer,” Dr. Voos says.
  • Join a team – At its core, the Mudder competition is about teamwork, particularly during the race when people help each other overcome obstacles. Need a push over a wall? No problem, even if you’re on a competing team. Since many Mudder competitions don't award prizes – and only three-fourths of participants actually finish the race – it’s less about competing to win and more about mutual support.
    “This sport allows a lot of recreational athletes to revive that camaraderie that many of these men and women athletes enjoyed in team sports during high school or college,” Dr Voos says.
  • Fuel the engine – This means eating foods that prepare and fortify you for the competition. And it definitely means watching the kind of fluids you drink. For instance, water and sports drinks are fine. The stagnant water on the course, not so much. Since courses are usually laid out in rural areas where animals graze, there’s a likelihood the water and soil is contaminated with germs and bacteria.

Additionally, Dr. Voos offers these pointers:

  • When you train, always be sure to warm up and cool down
  • Use proper form and technique for the exercise you’re doing
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid alcohol before the event
  • If you injure yourself, see your doctor

“From our standpoint, it’s best not to ignore any injuries,” he says. “See your orthopedic doctor so you can heal and get back to your baseline as soon as possible.”

James Voos, MD is an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine director at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and head team physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Voos or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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