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The Spartan-Strong Workout

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Spartan Strong

Inspired by the popular obstacle-course race, this circuit boosts mental and physical strength, improves conditioning and agility, and burns fat.

For the people who participate in Spartan Races each year, navigating mud pits, barbed wire, and log carries is a thrilling challenge that bonds them with fellow racers, exposes them to the grit and grandeur of nature, and lends purpose to their workouts, year-round.

“Spartan Strong brings the spirit of obstacle-course events into the fitness studio,” says trainer and Ironman athlete Alex Isaly, who co-created Life Time’s new Spartan Strong group fitness class and designed the following workout. “Just like on the race course, you’re moving from one exercise, or obstacle, to the next, pushing to the limit on each one. There are also times when you have to slow down and make sure you maintain enough energy to get to the finish. You have to dig deep and train smart.”

Whether you’re an obstacle-race veteran or a newbie exerciser with zero intention of ever toeing a mud-stained starting line, this workout is intended to push your physical and mental limits. It provides the intensity you need to conquer your first race, improve your time, or move your fitness to the next level.

The Workout

The following circuit is intended to help you perform better on the race course and in everyday activities. It ranges from medium to high intensity — but keep in mind that intensity is relative to individual fitness levels.

Trainers offer modifications in class; at home or in the gym, it’s up to you to pay attention to your body so you can ride the line between “just right” and “too much.” (Find pregressions — modified versions of each move — below to keep this workout safe and effective.)

The Routine: Perform each move for 60 seconds, aiming for as many good-form reps as you can in that minute. Try to keep moving; modify the moves and pace the reps as needed.

Rest and Recovery: At the end of each block (three minutes of work), take approximately 60 seconds to rest before moving on to the next block.

Weights: For exercises calling for a weight, use a 10- or 15-pound sandbag. If a sandbag isn’t available, a dumbbell or kettlebell is fine.

The Finish: Complete the entire circuit twice, resting between blocks, for a 24-minute workout.

Block 1

Lateral Shuffle

  • Assume an athletic posture: feet wider than shoulder width, knees slightly bent, back straight, gaze forward.
  • Keeping your feet pointing forward, step your right foot about a foot to the right.
  • Catch up with your left foot, returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat the move, quickly shuffling to your right for about 20 feet.
  • Reverse directions and repeat the move traveling to your left.
  • Continue the move for 60 seconds, changing directions every 20 feet.

Pregression: Step to the side instead of shuffling, aiming to engage your side-butt with each move.

Halo Chop

  • Assume an athletic posture, holding the sandbag in both hands near your left hip.
  • Draw the sandbag up and across your body toward your right shoulder.
  • Circle the weight behind your head, raising your elbows high.
  • When the sandbag reaches your left shoulder, lower it across your body, toward your right hip.
  • Reverse the move, this time lifting the sandbag starting at your right hip.
  • Continue alternating directions for 60 seconds, and then move onto the next move.

Pregression: Perform only the halo, circling the sandbag around you while keeping your forearms close to your head.

Squat Jump

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Squat down, and then with one explosive movement, jump up as high as you can.
  • Upon landing, squat down and immediately jump again.

Pregression: Perform step-ups onto a box, or body-weight squats without the jump.

Block 2

Burpee

  • Standing with your feet hip width apart and arms at your sides, squat down and place your hands on the floor, about shoulder width or slightly wider.
  • Keeping your arms extended, jump your legs back and land in a plank position. Your body should be in a straight line from head to heels. (Make it harder by adding a pushup here.)
  • Jump your feet toward your hands to return to the squat, then stand (or jump into the air), fully extending your hips and squeezing your glutes.

Pregression: Step your feet in and out of plank position instead of jumping them back and forth.

Crab Throw-Over

  • Sit on the floor with a sandbag on the floor near your right hip.
  • Place your hands on the floor behind you and your feet on the floor in front of you.
  • Lift your hips as high as you can, attempting to create a straight line between your knees and your shoulders. Hold this position throughout the exercise.
  • Grab the sandbag with your right hand and lift (or toss) it over your torso, setting it on the floor near your left hip.
  • Repeat the movement with your left hand.
  • Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.

Pregression: Remain seated on the floor as you rotate your torso to move the sandbag from side to side.

Lateral Lunge With Chest Press

  • Stand with your feet together, holding the sandbag in front of your chest.
  • Step your right foot out wide to your right, keeping your feet parallel at the same time pressing the sandbag directly out in front of you.
  • Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee and hip as much as possible.
  • Reverse the move, standing tall and bringing your feet together.
  • Repeat the move, this time stepping to your left.
  • Alternate sides for 60 seconds.

Pregression: Limit how deeply you lunge to the side, focusing on engaging the glute of the lead leg and hold the sandbag at your chest throughout the entire move.

Block 3

High Knee Run

  • Stand with your feet about hip width apart.
  • Quickly run in place, driving your knees as high as possible.

Pregression: Limit the bounce in your run and focus on drawing your knees up in a march.

Alternating Row

  • Place a sandbag on the floor and stand behind it.
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Maintain this position throughout the exercise.
  • With your right hand, reach down and grab the sandbag.
  • Simultaneously retract your right shoulder blade and pull your right elbow toward the ceiling as high as possible.
  • Reverse the move and drop the sandbag on the floor in front of your feet.
  • Repeat the movement with your left hand.
  • Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.

Pregression: Instead of resetting the sandbag on the floor and alternating sides, stagger your feet and perform 30 seconds of reps on one side, then switch.

Broad Jump With Shuffle Back

  • From an athletic stance, swing your arms back behind you.
  • Swing your arms explosively forward and jump forward, off both feet, as far forward as you can.
  • Land as softly as possible, weight evenly distributed between both feet.
  • Shuffle your feet backward to the starting point.
  • Repeat for 60 seconds.

Pregression: Limit how far forward you jump, and walk back to the start instead of shuffling backward.

, CSCS, is an Experience Life contributing editor.

Photography by Ted Catanzaro; Fitness Model: Alex Isaly

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