The missing link to climbing a Spartan Race wall
In a Spartan Race, there are many unknowns about what you will face. If you are like me, you keep checking social media the day before a race to see when they release the course map, to have an idea of what you are in for.
Despite these unknowns, there are certainties you can rely on. The main certainty is that you will be pushed to your limit and challenged every step of the way. As for obstacles, after 3 years of racing, I have never seen a race that did not have a wall, make that many walls, you must climb over.
These walls will be different heights, but for many, any wall may feel like an impossible hurdle to conquer.
I recently had quite a few clients compete at the SoCal Spartan Super. While we train for the wall climb, I was surprised how many still struggled with the 8ft wall. I had to take a step back and evaluate what went wrong. In the end I realized the issue and it didn't have to do with strength or power.
Training for jumping over a 6, 7, or 8ft+ wall is multi-faceted and there are many things to consider. Improving your lowering body explosive power and upper body pulling strength are critical. But what often gets left out is hip mobility. Lacking in this key area has been the difference between a successful wall jump or burpees for many individuals.
Sufficient hip mobility can significantly make up for a lack of strength and power. While I am not saying forget those areas of training, I am saying to not underestimate its importance.
Every race I do I see a handful of Spartans stuck on the wall, hanging there, with no chance of getting their legs over. While the jump and the pull will get you started, it is the flexibility that will finish the obstacle.
Here is a simple plan to follow to help you get over any wall in front of you, by simply maximizing the movement and strength of the hip.
Step 1: Self Myofascial Release
In order to improve your mobility you must start with self myfoscial release. Here you will massage the tightened muscles using various tools like foam rollers. This will help reduce the density of muscle tissue and move water around to increase the plasticity of the muscle and connective tissue. There are a few specific drills that will dramatically improve your hip mobility to get you up and over a wall. Here are some big ones.
Posterior Hip Rotators
Place the mobility sphere under one hip while sitting on it. Cross that leg over the other knee. Lean to that side, putting as much pressure on the sphere as you can tolerate and move the tissue around. Focus on the areas of greatest discomfort. For added hip rotation, while on a tender spot take the hip through internal and external rotation by moving the knee in and out.
Tensor Fascia Latae
To determine where you will put the peanut or sphere, lie on your back with your hand on the front of your hip just below the hip bone. Internally rotate your hip by moving your foot inward. While doing that you should feel a muscle tense in the hip. That is the location you will put the ball.
Flip over placing the ball under your hip and roll any tender spots.
Using the foam roller lie face down with one leg out to the side and knee bent. Place the roller under your inner thigh just above your knee. Move your body across the roller moving up towards the hip. Focus on the most tender areas.
Step 2: Dynamic Flexibility Drills
After performing the above rolling exercises, you have now opened up the window to restore better movement. You will take advantage of this opportunity with dynamic stretching drills. Static stretching drills will work as well, but for our purposes today we will focus on a few dynamic exercises.
Shin Box (Internal/External Hip Rotation)
Start in a shin box position and lean your chest towards your thigh then lean back. Hold each position for 1-2 breathes and repeat.
Rocking Adductor Mobility
Start on all fours. Kick one leg straight out to the side, keeping your foot flat. With a neutral spine rock your body forward and backwards.
Elbow To Instep
Perform a forward lunge and drop both hands down to the floor. Take the elbow closest to the front knee and try and touch your instep. Hold for 1-2 breathes. Stand up and repeat on the other side.
Step 3: Strengthening Drills
This last step is probably the most important, yet least utilized. After completing the first two steps you will see clear improvements in your mobility and movement. But how many times have you stretched, seen improvements, only to lose it all the next day? This is because you are missing the final component. When you give a joint new range of motion you brain has to understand that it has this new range of motion and that you have the strength to go through it. Just because you are giving improved motion does not mean you know how to use it.
So you will now perform strengthening exercises and isometrics to make sure these gains will stick. Here are a few to get started with. These will likely be awkward and challenging. You may even get cramps. This is a sign that you are doing something you are not use to. Keep at in and you will see dramatic improvements. As you complete the exercises make sure you do not compensate and keep form throughout.
Prone Wall Climb
Lie face down. Without touching the ground, bring your knee up as high to your side as you can. Imagine you were hanging on the top of a wall and needed to get your knee up onto the top. Hold this position for 5 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Shin Box To Hip Extension
Start in the shin box position. Push your front thigh into the ground and lift your body up so you are on your knees. Squeeze your glute and hold for 5 seconds. Then sit back down, roll to the other side and repeat.
Single Leg Bridge Hold
Start on your back with both knees bent. Bring your left knee up to your chest. Take your right hand and push hard into your knee as if you were trying to push it back down, but do not let the leg move. Then lift your hips off the ground and hold for 5 seconds. Perform 5 reps and repeat on the other side.
Hip Rotation Box Step
Stand with one foot on a box or step. The height should be a challenge to get your foot on there without losing a tall standing posture. Lift your foot off the step without moving your body, and swing your foot down behind the step. Then slowly bring it back up again with no movement in your body.
These are just a few drills to get you started. Like I mentioned earlier, keep working your lower body power and upper body strength to improve your wall jumps, but do not underestimate the importance of hip mobility in this process. The better it moves the easier you will conquer this obstacle and the less likely you jack up your back in the process. What's your favorite hip mobility exercise?