Your bases, both strength and aerobic, are the bedrock to your body’s ability to manufacture energy through various pathways; and they must be developed.
Most people bypass the development phase and go straight to trying to launch an offensive training program without having the bases from which to launch them. In most of these cases overtraining, burnout, or injury occur.
Only by developing a sound base of strength and endurance (aerobics) can a strong offensive be deployed in preparation for a race or event.
The following program outline is a primer for involving one’s self in a Base Building Phase, which is 60 to 75 days in duration and generally 150 to 180 days prior to your event. Once this base phase is complete, your body and mind will be well-conditioned for a more aggressive training program specific to the performance outputs you seek.
But, as mentioned above, to dive into an intense training prep for specific outputs without having a solid foundation in place is equitable to going to war without a base of operations from which to run missions — you may make ground in your first month or so, but eventually you’re going to need a solid base to fall back on as the rigors of an effective training program take their toll.
Let’s get started.
STRENGTH BASE: Lower and Upper Extremity
Specific to Hyrox, the lower extremity strength-base will impact your Sled Push speed, Walking Lunge speed, Rowing power, and your run pace rebuild when coming out of a Rox zone and getting your legs moving back up to your race pace.
Let’s say your lower extremity strength is at 60-ish percent of potential. To increase to 80 to 85% of potential will require a regular frequency of training along with accurate weight loads and proper recovery between sessions.
Why not increase to 100% potential (or a perceived 100%)? I aim to optimize performance outputs for a targeted sport or event; and for Hyrox, to push pure strength above 85% would lead to decompensation in speed and/or endurance. It’s important to realize that to “maximize” one aspect of fitness, compensatory “minimizations” in other aspects will obtain. For events like Hyrox or obstacle course racing, a sound blend of strength, endurance, speed, and power are necessary and maximizing any one of those will most certainly minimize others.
For instance, if I were to maximize for speed above my 85 to 90% of potential goal, my strength would suffer; thereby negating any speed I developed on account of being overly smoked from the strength demands on a Hyrox course. The law of optimization is a real thing, and it’s best to adhere to it in training. Otherwise, again, overtraining or injury could occur; and worse still, your overall performance won’t be maximized but rather you’ll come away from your race saying “I need to get faster” or “I need to get stronger”.
By optimizing your training to maximize total race performance, you’ll be the one passing people on your third kilometer loop and then more people on your fifth and sixth kilometer and then getting across the finish line with your engine still revving while others are just trying to get done.
For most people most of the time, a frequency of 2 to 3 lower-extremity sessions per week to address two or all three of the movements below, provided they’re coupled with proper weight load and rep prescriptions, is enough to mark for gradual improvements. Below is a set of general guidelines for weight load prescriptions and rep values when lifting for strength.
Lower Extremity Pushing & Pulling Strength x [2 to 3 per week]
Deadlifts at 6 down to 2 reps at 65 to 90% of 1RM
Squats at 10 down to 2 reps at 60 to 90% of 1RM
Front Squats at 15 down to 2 reps at 55 to 90% of 1RM
It’s imperative to collect your 1-rep max values in these lifts. Using percentages of your 1RM value coupled with proper rep counts and recovery time per set is THE WAY to advance these numbers. Sure, there are various methods for improving strength, but all of them will involve some percentage of your 1-rep max value. So, if you don’t already know these numbers, your first order of business is to collect them.
And, throughout 7 to 10 weeks of leveraging this protocol you’ll notice significant progress in the development of your strength base. And then on the tail-end of the Base Phase you’ll begin increasing to a volume (weight loads x reps x sets) more aligned with the specific performance outputs you’re seeking. And then, once you immerse into the intensive pre-race training program associated with your race or event, you’ll integrate the specific movements and skill-based functions you’ll engage in.
Now, this doesn’t mean you “can’t” do workouts or training evolutions that to one degree or another simulate your race or event; but the goal in the Base Phase isn’t to improve your “overall result”, it’s to improve the core competencies that are involved in your race.
Think of your race or event as the full chain of your performance linked together. Most people most of the time will simply try to improve their whole chain all at once, hoping that’ll produce a better race performance. Instead, what we’re doing here is taking that chain apart into the individual links and improving the strength & integrity of each link. But don’t worry, we’ll put the links back together to reform the entire chain, and when we do your chain of performance will have noticeable improvements throughout.
Now, let’s take a look at upper body strength competencies.
The upper body pushing and pulling strength is necessary to improve ski & row erg power, power endurance on burpee to broad jump, strength on sled push and sled pull, grip on Farmer’s carry, and it will even help in power endurance on the 100 wall ball shots.
The key to training the upper body is to ensure you have formidable strength, but not so much “size” that your running speed and endurance is curtailed. And this is a great spot to quickly touch upon your nutrition throughout this training program…
Remember, this is a run-dominant race; and while strength is critical, you want to ensure you’re not running your kilometers with a heavier frame than necessary — and believe me, even 5 or 10 unnecessary pounds on a 200-pound body is enough to slow your run pace down and create additional exhaustion you’d prefer not have. So, while lifting heavy and increasing muscle tone will generally add pounds to a body’s frame, adhering to effective nutrition in terms of the correct calorie intake, proper macronutrient balance, and clean food content will promote a compositional change in which you’re incinerating body fat whilst improving muscle tonus.
Without this turning into a nutrition program, I will encourage you to think like a plant when considering your nourishment — get plenty of water and sunlight as a priority. And then, consume protein according to your muscle mass and weight training regime for effective muscle reparation (protein is a recovery nutrient, not an expenditure nutrient) and then utilize carbs and fats as your primary fuels for exercise — generally more carbs for high-intensity anaerobic work & heavier lifting, with clean fats for longer-duration aerobic work. Again, I cannot place enough importance on proper hydration.
The goal with your body’s frame is to be strong, yet feel light. It’s a challenge, but with effective training and proper nutrition, you can do it. Now, back to the training program.
Running will be a regular trend throughout training, and if you’re not familiar with prioritizing your running speed and endurance then you’re going to feel like you’re doing an exorbitant amount of it throughout this program. However, if you’re accustomed to “logging your miles” on a weekly basis and haven’t undergone an effective strength training program before then it’s important to prioritize these strength sessions to rapidly improve upon any perceived weaknesses.
What’s great about transforming these weaknesses to strengths is that it won’t just improve your ability on the strength challenges and Rox zones, it will help you recover back to your race pace more quickly when coming out of those strength challenges on account of not being so smoked from a difficult Rox zone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “fast runners” just demoralized half-way through their race, just trotting along at an ultra-marathon pace on account of the Rox zones crushing their legs.
You gotta get strong so that you’re not crushed by the Rox zones and so you can express the speed you do have.
The frequency of 2 sessions per week focused on upper body strength can be in conjunction (stacked in the same session) with lower body strengthening sessions. This program will involve numerous “split-training” sessions in which you’re hitting both, your upper and lower body in the same session. With effective programming for movement patterns and recovery blocks, this can increase your strength & power progressively.
Below is a set of general guidelines for strength training the upper body. Now, it’s worth noting here that each human system is constructed with varying amounts of different muscle fiber types, which means that some of you will be able to lift weight loads closer to your 1-rep max while others will be able to express more reps at weight loads well-below their 1-RM. That’s okay, just do your best for each prescribed set; but don’t get frustrated if you’re unable to complete a set of 3 reps at 85 or 90% of 1-RM or if you fatigue out on a set of 10 to 15 reps at 60 to 70% of 1-RM. Trust the process and remember, when you connect back together all the links in your chain of performance, the progress made through achieving those points of failure will be noticeable.
Upper Body Pushing & Pulling Strength x [2 per week]
Bench Press at 3 up to 15 reps at 85% down to 45% (predominantly drop sets)
Push Press at 8 down to 2 reps at 55 up to 90% of 1RM
Dead Hang Pull Up to Max Reps (if more than 10 reps, add weight)
The first point of feedback you’ll get with regard to the effectiveness of your strength training will be how strong and durable your legs begin to feel when you’re developing your aerobic base. Especially when you start attacking hill sprints and begin running trails, feeling the bounce from your lower extremity along with the buoyancy of your upper extremity will give you boosted confidence that your training is working.
Now, let’s take a look at your aerobic base development.
AEROBIC BASE: Cardiopulmonary Systems, Oxygen-Gas Exchange, Metabolic & Gastro-Intestinal Function, and Lactic Threshold
In my opinion, this is the number one reason why most people experience adverse race results — lack of a strong aerobic base. The human aerobic system is sophisticated and robust, and due to its complex system of organs, arteries, veins, and sub-cellular machinery, it takes a long time to properly develop efficient aerobics for a race like Hyrox.
Whereas our anaerobic and glycolytic pathways provide for gears 1 through 4 of our metabolic-physiologic engine, it’s the well-developed aerobic pathways that give way to the 5th, 6th, and 7th gears — which provide for long-term sustainment of high-intensity output.
The upside to the protracted development of a quality aerobic system is that once the pathways have been opened, they’ll remain open for a considerable duration of time. Conversely, strength and anaerobic features deteriorate quickly if not tended to regularly, but they can also develop more quickly compared to the aerobic system.
For this reason, it’s critical to begin developing your aerobic base as early in your training program as possible.
The paradox of endurance training is that it’s simple, but not easy. And at what intensity you start aerobic training depends on your current aerobic condition. As a general guideline, it’s important to be able to run for at least 50 minutes without stopping. That doesn’t mean you have to do it fast right now, you just need to be able to do it.
So, if that’s beyond your reach right now, that’s is your first objective — be able to run (even at a conversational pace) for 50 minutes without stopping. Once you’re able to do that, you’ll be able to develop faster paces at distances of 5K and 10K. And once you’re noticing your 5K and 10K paces increasing, you’ll be able to cast out to longer, low-resolution runs at 70, 90, and even 100 minutes in duration (without stopping).
Aerobic running is more than just “being able to run”. This has to do with your metabolic and GI health, your joint and core stability, as well as your arterial, veinous, and end-capillary units having the machinery developed to manage the gas exchange of “oxygen in, CO2 out”. Again, your nutrition will impact your aerobic performance and the most critical aspect in the relationship between nutrition and aerobic fitness is how “clean” your nutrition is.
As your metabolism adapts to aerobic training and your 5th, 6th, and 7th gears come online, you’ll be running hot from a metabolic perspective. And I like to say, “when the furnace is hot, anything will burn”, and, for the most part, that is true. But, if the calories you’re ingesting are loaded with synthetics and artificial ingredients then you’re in for some adverse metabolic responses when things “heat up”.
When training for body size and even for physique, you’ll be able to get away with the synthetics; but when your aim is on performance, especially aerobic performance, your fuel must be clean.
Now, once you can sustain pace for at least 50 minutes in a controlled setting (easy, flat running), introducing other factors into endurance training evolutions will be effective. These factors can include the unpredictability in elevation change via trail running or integrating sets of hill runs/sprints within your 5K and 10K runs. Both, unpredictable trail running and placing predictable hill runs/sprints in your regular runs will have progressive affects on your overall running game.
Again, most people most of the time will associate their running speed and endurance with “perfect conditions”; and do not account for being able to run when the legs are smoked from intermittent strength demands. By including these elevation changes in your run training, you’ll condition your legs to not only run faster, but also recover quicker from the lower-extremity strength demands you’ll encounter on the Hyrox course.
Below is a general template for developing and advancing your aerobic output as it relates to running.
Moderate-Intensity Steady State Endurance
40 to 60-minute evolutions x [1 to 2 per week]
Begin with controlled-environment runs on predominantly flat surfaces until running proficiency improves. Having predictable 5K and 10K routes to run once or twice a week to track improvement will be necessary here. Once you mark 10 to 15% improvements in your 5K and 10K times, you’ll be prepared to integrate hills and other factors into these runs.
60 to 100-minute evolutions x [1 per week]
These will be your 10K-plus predictable runs which include hills you can repeat at a park or known hill along your run route. If you don’t have parks or hills nearby, multi-level garages and even stairs are useful for simulating the “climbing” effect which will draw on your leg muscles and leg strength.
These will also include any trail running you’re able to embark on. Trails are sensational in that they provide elevation change, uneven ground, and other unpredictable factors that will improve your overall running ability. Plus, running out in Nature provides a “different” experience and can be healthy for your mental health as much as for your physical performance. It is useful to have only 3 or 4 different trail routes so you can track progress over the course of your training.
Now, it’s worth noting that you can develop your aerobic systems by other means aside from running. Biking, rowing, ski erg, and swimming are all outstanding alternatives for aerobic training with less impact on your orthopedic and joint systems compared to running. But, running will need to be the dominant method for this type of training in order to advance your running speed along with your aerobic endurance.
If you regularly experience discomfort or pain while running, it will be useful to investigate your running mechanics and work on your foot strike, posture, and even your breathing; all of which influence the force per foot strike and energy distribution from each foot strike. In fact, if you’ve never had running instruction or “practiced” your running pattern then you’ll most certainly gain in both speed and endurance improvements with a few small adjustments — and you’ll notice less leg joint and muscle soreness following your runs.
Building your baseline is absolutely necessary BEFORE involving yourself in a more vigorous, intense, and specified program.
Both, your strength and endurance must be developed; and even though there are loads of perceptions that will view these two dichotomies as in competition with each and suggest it's impossible to improve both at the same time -- when programmed smartly and executed purposefully, both, your strength and endurance can be progressed to great effect at the same time. Perhaps not in the same session, but definitely within the same program.
And by establishing your base, you set yourself up for success in both, your specified training leading into your race as well as in your race.
Additionally, your adherence to quality nutrition habits are going to impact your training, your recovery, and ultimately your race performance. So start now to make adjustments where necessary and equip yourself with useful knowledge as it relates to performance nutrition and even supplementation.
And once you're several weeks into building your bases, you'll start to feel the confidence that you may not have had in previous races; especially when you notice the progress your performance is making.
So, to improve performance, enhance recovery, and reduce risk of injury, overtraining, and burnout it's absolutely critical to establish your base of both, strength and endurance. You can do it!
For starters, there are A LOT of aspects to the Hyrox race I have NOT included here; and you may be wondering:
What about learning to row or ski erg more efficiently?
Did he even mention the sled push?
Should I be doing wall ball shots?
Am I going to do any burpees during this training program?
As mentioned throughout, this is about “building your bases”, without which none of that other stuff will even matter. But, that doesn’t mean they’re not important and it also doesn’t mean you’re not going to work some of those aspects into the base-building program.
With that said, there will be a far more specific approach to race day and race season beginning about 90 to 100 days out from your race.
That’s when we start to “apply the baseline fundamentals” you’ll develop during your base-building phase of training. As you develop your strength, power, and endurance, you’ll be better equipped to start training your running speed without risk of injury as well as recover faster between arduous speed sessions. Also, having the strength and power developed will help when you experience the sled push and sled pull prescriptions in the more specified training protocols.
Also, improving your skill & technique on Rox zone challenges like the ski erg, the sled push and the sled pull, as well as the wall ball shot and even the burpee broad jump will go far smoother and you’ll see faster gains with the fundamentals in place. And, you’ll be more likely to push closer to your full potential in those aspects as compared to just always training to the specifics without the general baseline fundamentals in place.
As I mentioned atop this article, most people will do just that; practice getting better at pushing a sled by just pushing the sled, try to row or ski 1,000 meters faster and faster by rowing/skiing 1,000 meters again and again and again, and try to regularly simulate the Hyrox course in its entirety thinking they’ll improve their chain of performance. But without deconstructing the chain and fortifying and polishing each individual link, the chain can only be improved so much.
In fact, when you start training for the Hyrox in the more specified and intensive protocols, you’ll actually be training beyond the demands of the race. You’ll see sled weight prescriptions heavier than what you’ll experience in the race. You’ll have wall ball modules that far outweigh what you’ll do at the end of your race; and you’ll experience race simulations that will feel like you’re doing a Hyrox-ultra.
And in order to sustain through the completion of those specified protocols, you must have a sound base of operations from which to launch your fitness missions.
So, be patient through the base-building phase and trust the process. Come race day when most people are just expecting to “rise to the occasion”, you’ll feel confident knowing that you’re not concerned about rising up on race day, but rather being able to “fall back on your training”.