Tag Archives: Eric Stratman

Tough Mudder Training Attracting the Masses

By Pete Williams

Taking on “Wall Ball”

TAMPA – When we started Tough Mudder training at The Next Level (TNL) Training Center  a year ago, we were among a small group of 15 to 20 gathering for sessions that lasted up to 75 minutes.

Those of us who made it to last December’s race at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County found the actual 12-mile Tough Mudder easier than some of the workouts TNL head guy Eric Stratman devised.

Word of how effective the training is has gotten out and today 61 people showed up for the weekly Saturday morning torture fest. Because of the numbers, Stratman has put us into teams of 6-8 people the last few workouts. That doesn’t make things easier, but it does control the traffic flow. Unlike Tough Mudder, there will be no waiting in line for obstacles.

Today was pretty straightforward. Each team had six people, one for each of six stations:


Wall-Ball (Squat and toss a 14-pound medicine ball beyond a tape mark on the wall – 12 feet up)



200-meter sprint

Rest stop

Rinse and repeat as many times as possible in 20 minutes.

The key was the 200-meter sprinter. However long s/he spent sprinting was how long the rest of us spent at our respective stations. When s/he finished, we rotated, with everyone keeping track of our collective team totals of push-ups, sit-ups, wall-ball throws, and pull-ups.

It was only 20 minutes, a typical CrossFit WOD (Workout of the Day).

I like CrossFit, but my one complaint is that it’s not the greatest preparation for obstacle racing since there’s little running involved. That’s what makes Stratman’s program on Saturdays so effective. For the obstacle race training, he generally inserts a 400-meter or 800-meter run in between each typical WOD drill. That simulates obstacle racing, where you run a quarter-mile or so between obstacles.

Today’s top finishers

Today he added a 2-mile run to the end of the WOD. Some of the group bailed rather than run a mile up Racetrack Road at 10:30 a.m. in 87-degree heat.

But the rest of us made the run, which probably was closer to 2.5 miles.

My team logged a collective 1,633 reps between pushups, pullups, situps, and wall ball, or roughly 400 per station or 20 per minute. One of my female teammates and I were first in the run.

Clearly this obstacle race training is paying off.

Stratman continues to offer free Tough Mudder training at TNL Tampa on Saturday mornings, though not the next two Saturdays as his crew is competing in a CrossFit competition and staging a beach workout. They’ll be back at TNL Tampa, which is on the border of Westchase and Oldsmar, on July 28.


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Obstacle Race Training at TNL Tampa

By Pete Williams

The dreaded farmer’s carry

TAMPA – We made it back to TNL Tampa for what I’ve been calling “Tough Mudder Training” ever since I showed up last summer at the CrossFit gym near Westchase.

Back then, TNL owner Eric Stratman took some traditional CrossFit workouts of the day (WODs) every other Saturday morning and interspersed 400-meter and 800-meter runs to make the workouts better simulate obstacle races such as Tough Mudder. After dealing with that torture all summer and fall, I had no problem with Tough Mudder and found such training to be one of the most effective, time-efficient workouts I’ve come across.

These days, TNL puts on such workouts every Saturday morning, though it’s closer to a traditional CrossFit WOD, with little running. This morning’s workout had just one 400-meter run, so I tweaked it for myself to more closely resemble the Tough Mudder training. Here’s what it looked like:

400m run
11 Burpees
40 pushups
400m run
40 wall ball (throwing 14 or 20lb med ball up 10-12 feet onto wall)
11 Burpees
400m run
40 tire flips
11 Burpees
400m run
40 ball slams (20 or 30lb balls)
11 Burpees
400m run
40 overhead walking lunges (25 or 45lb plate)
11 Burpees
400m run
200m farmer’s carry (45lb plates or lighter dumbbells/kettlebells)

Flipping tires is an incredible exercise for developing lower body power.

We’re especially fond of moves like the farmer’s carry, tire flips, and the walking overhead lunge. All of those develop power and endurance strength and if you can handle those you’ll have no problem making it through any obstacle race. I made it through this workout twice before time was called at roughly the one-hour mark. What an ass kicker.

Afterward, we filmed five fitness segments that will air every Sunday beginning next week, June 10, on ABC 28 here in the Tampa Bay area. (They’re always posted online shortly thereafter.) Thanks to Nichole Franklin of TNL and Sophia Zayfman for doing the heavy lifting.

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Obstacle Race Training Returns to TNL Tampa

By Pete Williams

James Bellamy overhead lunging

When Eric Stratman started a Tough Mudder training program at his TNL Tampa CrossFit gym last summer, he figured he’d draw a steady crowd to his every-other-Saturday program.

That happened, of course, and we were more than prepared for Tough Mudder, which does not come back to the Tampa Bay area (Fort Meade, actually) until Dec. 1. The 75-minute routines we worked our way up to late in the program might have been tougher than the actual race.

Stratman already is drawing crowds getting ready for other races, such as next month’s Mud Crusade, and we were among the 40 or so athletes who gathered at TNL on Saturday.

Here’s what the workout looked like:

400 meter run

15 tire flips

400 meter run

25 walking lunges with a weight plate held overhead (45 pounds for men, 25 for women)

400 meter run

25 box jumps (on tires)

400 meter run

15 pull-ups

400 meter run

Side tire tosses (100 yards)

800 meter run

That’s a lot more running than the average CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) but that’s to better mimic an actual obstacle race. Most trainees on hand Saturday completed one circuit – at an average of 25 minutes – though a few kept going for an hour. The (free) program continues every other Saturday (March 31 next) at 10 a.m.

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How to Train for an Obstacle Mud Run

By Pete Willliams

Up for a mud run?

I interviewed some top experts about how to train for an obstacle mud run for a story I wrote for CorePerformance.com, rated one of the top 10 fitness blogs by Outside magazine. The site is an all-in-one resource for performance living and I’m proud to say it was an outgrowth of the original Core Performance book I had the honor of writing with Mark Verstegen.

In this piece, we get insight from Athletes’ Performance coach Darcy Norman, TNL Tampa owner Eric Stratman, and Laurel Blackburn, who trains athletes for the notorious Spartan Death Race in Vermont.

You can find the story HERE:


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Mixing it up for ‘Mudder’

By Pete Williams

Tire challenge at TNL Tampa Saturday

TAMPA – The folks at The Next Level training center mixed things up for their bi-weekly Saturday prep session for Tough Mudder, which is coming to the Tampa Bay area in December.

Normal taskmaster Eric Stratman got a day off, replaced by colleagues Greg White and Vance Vans Evers, who brought a more group-focused, boot camp flavor to the proceedings. I sat this one out, coming off a cold earlier in the week, but was able to take more photos than usual.

The 40 or so trainees split into two groups and began by running snake-style around the office park carrying ropes and firehoses, stopping to do hover planks and ab work.

From there it was off to two stations. One group had to collectively complete 2,000 meters on rowing machines, alternating with pushups. The other dealt with tire obstacles, shuttling around cones, bear crawls, and box jumps through larger tires. After several rotations, the group took a half-mile run and the hour-long session was over.

Tough Mudder is regarded as one of the more difficult races in the booming category of obstacle mud runs, generally taking athletes two and a half hours to complete a 12-mile course. The race encourages athletes to compete as teams to make obstacle navigation easier and is known for its signature feature: an “Electroshock Therapy” challenge.

Bear crawling to the finish

“The goal is to be able to hurdle everyone through that 13-mile obstacle course,” White said.

The free sessions continue every other Saturday until Tough Mudder on Dec. 3-4. Interested? Check out TNL Tampa.

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Ramping it up for Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Eric Stratman takes a dose of his own medicine on "The Prowler."

TAMPA – We thought maybe Eric Stratman was easing up for this morning’s edition of Tough Mudder training, keeping it to the same 75-minute session as two weeks ago.

No chance. The owner of The Next Level training center near Westchase added to the degree of difficulty. He wasn’t responsible for the heat, which approached the mid-90s when we started at 10:35, but he could claim credit for everything else.

This week’s menu included a 2-mile run to start the proceedings, followed by rope climbs, another 800-meter run, a return 200-meter engagement with the dreaded weighted “Prowler” weight sled, another 800-meter run, various 200- and 400- meter runs (backward, lateral shuffle), tire tossing and a whopping 50 Burpees.

My training colleague Eric Keaton and I were “fortunate” enough to have time to spare and got to repeat the 2-mile run along unshaded Race Track Road.

I felt pretty good about my performance, hanging pretty much with a lead pack that included Stratman, Keaton, ex-Florida State swimmer Christie Pesce and a couple of others.

No tiring out for Christie Pesce

Tough Mudder is regarded as one of the more difficult races in the booming category of obstacle mud runs, generally taking athletes two and a half hours to complete a 12-mile course. The race encourages athletes to compete as teams to make obstacle navigation easier and is known for its signature feature: an “Electroshock Therapy” challenge.

Tough Mudder is staging 14 events this year and more than 10,000 athletes per day (plus spectators) are expected at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County on Dec. 3-4. The Saturday race is sold out but space remains for Sunday.

For the next training session, Stratman plans to bring in some Tough Mudder-like obstacles. His free Tough Mudder prep sessions at The Next Level continue on Oct. 1 and every other Saturday until the race.

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Dialing it up for Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Eric Keaton far from tiring out at Tough Mudder training

TAMPA – Eric Stratman showed no mercy during Tough Mudder training this morning at The Next Level training center in Westchase, dialing the session up to 75 minutes and, as usual, increasing the degree of difficulty.

That hasn’t stopped attendance from growing, with about 50 victims, er, athletes showing up for the free biweekly session in preparation for the Tough Mudder, which takes place in Dade City in December.

Back for a third consecutive session was the dreaded weighted “Prowler” sled. Teams of 3-4 people took turns pushing the beast 400 yards through the parking lot. This time, we also flipped tires for 15 reps at a time, climbed ropes, and dealt with something called a “slosh pipe,” a heavy PVC pipe with water inside.

The challenge was to carry the pipe overhead and keep it balanced as the water sloshed from side to side. I used the singing strategy I learned as a kid when carrying water or eggs. Not sure if it helped, and it only added to the torture of my fellow trainees, but I gave it a try. Those arriving at the obstacle with no slosh pipes available got to carry tires.

In between obstacles, Stratman had us run one-mile loops through the office park, up from the 800-meter distance of recent sessions. All told, I finished six obstacles and six loops before time was called.

I managed to keep up with Eric Keaton, who mentored me into triathlon four years ago (and encouraged me get into it years earlier). Keaton, who is the public communications manager for Pasco County, reports that Tough Mudder is expecting 10,000 participants daily over the two-day event in December.

After finishing fourth in my 113-man age group at the Savage Race last weekend, I was feeling pretty confident about this morning’s session, especially after finishing the last two with gas in the tank and opting not to participate in Chase Kosterlitz’ stand-up paddleboarding race in St. Pete this morning. But today was tough, a reminder that there’s much work to be done in order to finish Tough Mudder, which takes more than two hours. Good thing Mix1 rep James Bellamy brought plenty of product to expedite recovery.

Stratman’s Tough Mudder prep sessions at The Next Level continue on Sept. 17 and every other Saturday until the race.

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