Virtual challenges are a dime a dozen in 2020. The Tough Mudder (TM) team pumps out a new challenge every month that I historically passed on until October’s announcement. Nerd at heart and by name (@nerdragefit), the partnership with Marvel hooked me. One day before the challenge launched, I verified medical clearance—was highly encouraged, no less–mere minutes before undergoing anesthesia for a minor procedure (Kentucky Mule exposé update planned in December). Superhero training started the very next day.

Higher, Further, Faster, Baby

TM challenged all participants to complete four primary challenges, three physical and one absolutely ridiculous, within the 21 day period:

  1. Accumulate 81 miles
  2. Gain 4912 feet elevation
  3. Crank out 1400 reps
  4. Find the Infinity Stones (yes, that’s the ridiculous one)

Every week we were issued four additional challenges, TM requiring completion of at least two. In general, two of the four were physical challenges (i.e. workouts), while the other two were a bit off the wall, in my humble opinion. In fact, someone in the message boards put it best when week 2’s challenges came out with the sentiment, “Did they let the intern write this one?!” Then again, this from the race brand that requires newbies to run through an electrical field to finish. Just saying…

Ridiculous Challenge

Sometimes You Gotta Run Before You Can Walk

As an added bonus, team TM issued a “Level Up” option for the primary and each secondary challenge as well. I opted to level up primary challenge #3, cranking out 1400 prescribed reps every week instead of over the course of the 21 days. Moving into building season, this felt like the perfect way to build up some relative strength and muscular endurance. With the original challenge designed to induce metabolic stress with such a high number of reps, it took some creative thinking to effectively program workout splits to result in actual strength gains. I managed to design a strength training split that met the ultimate 1400 rep/week challenge. As a result, I noticed improved tolerance in my joints to the Captain Marvel step-ups by the end of the 21 days. Further still—and what I think most were chasing—working through my Wolverine push-ups little by little, I transformed from struggling with eight Rx, improving to 10+ full ROM reps for four sets.

I checked into the TM Challenges Facebook page to see if anyone had approached the leveled up challenge similarly. While I did not do any deep dive investigative work, it appeared my approach was an anomaly. The unfortunate result, not just of the TM Marvel Challenge, but of all virtual challenges seen thus far, is the relative lack of variance in program design. Sure, serving the masses that currently lack access to formal exercise equipment imposes significant limitations. What I’d like see if these virtual options continue for the foreseeable future are some creative approaches that incorporate better the principles of strength training (i.e. overload, variation, and recovery). This is perhaps a conversation for another article, so for now I digress.

Challenge Made Ridiculous

Avengers Assemble

Where team TM consistently bests other brands lies in the dedication of the community, and this challenge was no exception. The Facebook group was so active that I had to silence all notification shortly after joining because the posts with comments, suggestions, questions, and encouragement were ENDLESS. Because the community is so fervently active, anyone who misses the community aspect of OCR just as much as the challenges were more than adequately served in this challenge.

I Am Groot?

In summary, I was personally a bit disappointed by the challenge. While the physical challenges were explained in a way to loosely connect the task with the hero, many of them still felt disconnected or downright silly. Again, I get the irony here as we as a community willingly throw ourselves into icy plunges and sticky mud for a beer. I just feel that a little more thoughtfulness and creativity could have taken this challenge from okay to a nerd’s dream. Perhaps the rep challenge could have been geared using a hero’s lore. For instance, take Captain Marvel’s catchphrase, “Higher, Further, Faster, [baby]” to heart when prescribing the move assigned for this hero. Instead of a challenge that simply tasks participants to do 400 step-ups, incorporate that catchphrase. Doing so would solidify the task; if I were designing it, I’d prescribe # step-ups focusing on step height; perform # step-ups focusing on jump height; and perform # step-ups as fast as possible. Because most of the challenges never quite made a good enough connection in my opinion (with Galactus challenge being an exception), the TM Marvel Challenge just missed the mark for me to call it a super challenge overall.

Readers interested in tackling future Tough Mudder Challenges? Register here.

3 out of 5 stars

Bonus Feature: Bobbing for Infinity Stones Challenge Video

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