The SAS path to fitness

If your idea of a good day out involves scrabbling your way across one of the world's toughest obstacle courses, then a 20km Tough Mudder SAS-style fitness challenge should be your next stop.

Devised by British Special Forces, the Tough Mudder events are designed to test strength, stamina and mental fortitude, and white collar warriors are flocking for a chance to win the title.

The inaugural Aussie event at Phillip Island in March drew 21,000 competitors – 75 per cent of them male – and registrations for the next challenge in Glenworth Valley in NSW on September 22 have already exceeded that number.

“It doesn't matter what your fitness level is, there will still be something that will challenge you," said Melbourne PR professional Danielle Galea - who will be among those going back for a second dose in September.

She said Tough Mudder was harder and more exhilarating than solo, straight line races.

“You can mentally prepare for a marathon or tri – but you can't for the Tough Mudder because you don't know what's coming up next,” Galea said.

This new breed of intrepid white collar warriors find nothing hits the spot quite like a regular serving of blood, sweat and tears.

They're taking to the hills, the high wire and the ring with activities to get the heart rate soaring, the adrenalin pumping and every muscle aching.

Tough Mudder chief creative officer Alex Patterson said, at a minimum, entrants should be running 5-8 km three times a week, be able to do 15 push-ups and swim 25 metres.


Extreme sports have really gained mainstream appeal in the past decade, said Seaworthiness Australia chief executive Lauretta Stace, with their promise to improve participants' “overall endurance, stamina and physical and mental strength,” with the added benefits of closeknit teamwork and camaraderie.

“They don't just concentrate on one type of activity. This makes training and preparation more challenging and interesting,” she said.

Here are some other take-your-breath-away sporting activities:

Pulling on the gloves:

Wowing a room full of people with your latest Powerpoint presentation is one thing; having 500 people crowd round the ropes while you duke it out with a stranger quite another. White collar types have taken to fighting for fitness in droves and a handful of these take it a step further again. There are amateur boxing competitions across the country most weekends of the year, for the mid-life Mike Tysons who want the adrenalin rush of going a few rounds in the ring in front of an audience.

Events are usually staged in hotel function rooms and are free to enter for boxing club members, provided they receive medical clearance on the day. Participants are matched with those of similar age and skill levels. Although primarily a young man's sport, for the smattering of over-35s who give it a try, it can be the fulfillment of a dream, Boxing Queensland secretary Allan Nicholson said.

“Some guys in their forties want to have one last hurrah,” Nicholson said. “It's harmless, they feel good and they enjoy it.”

For others, it's the start of a whole new obsession.

“Some people it becomes an addiction, they want to get better and better,” Brisbane Boxing head coach Khuram Nasir added.

Crossing the fine line:

For those whose nine-to-five routine feels like a badly executed balancing act, slacklining can be an exhilarating wake-up call. Differentiated from tightrope walking by the lack of tautness in the line, the sport is about discovering “the awe and wonder in balance”, according to Slackline Australia founder Ryan Gittoes.

Walking, bouncing or somersaulting along an inch-wide piece of nylon webbing requires such heightened physical concentration that all thoughts of the office, the overdraft and domestic dramas are banished to the background, Gittoes said.

“You step up on the slackline and everything else drops away. You really need to be present. People get addicted to that feeling. It's about taking a step back from rushing around to just 'being'.”

As well as forcing both sides of the brain to work efficiently together, the sport provides an unparalleled workout for the core muscles and abs, particularly if you're bouncing and twisting your way across the line.

Slacklining emerged from the climbing scene in 1983 but has only begun to gain mainstream awareness in Australia in the last two years. Entry level slacklines retail from $109.

Everest style preparation:

Not exactly an extreme sport in itself – but it may help you perform better in one. Using a mask and machine to increase blood oxygen saturation while running, rowing or riding can increase strength and stamina and reduce recovery times significantly. Training at altitude has traditionally been the preserve of elite athletes and the military but Melbourne personal trainer Sara Picken-Brown said it had begun working its way into the mainstream.

Around 20 of her clients do regular altitude training sessions, for a cost of $55 a half hour.

The last ten years had seen an influx of people embarking on heavy duty preparation regimes for triathalons and adventure races and altitude training could help them achieve their goals, Picken-Brown said.

“It's about pushing boundaries. This is in line with these extreme trends.”

Pedal till you drop:

Fancy riding 100km up hill and down dale for a full day in the blazing sun? Launched as competitive events in Australia in 2003 with the backing of Flight Centre boss and long-time cyclist Graham Turner, mountain bike marathons offer a rugged alternative to road bike races.

Courses take in a mix of terrain and tracks, from well graded to extremely rough, and while super-fit regulars may get round in four hours, the average rider will take seven or eight. Or more. Long-time event organiser Peter Creagh said slower souls were often pedalling valiantly on into the darkness, sunburn, saddle sores and all. For many, it's the toughest thing they've ever done.

“If the weather's too hot, as it can be on some Queensland days, participants have been known to have catabolic meltdowns,” Creagh said.

Meltdowns of a less medically dangerous nature are also commonplace.

“I've seen people on the side of the track crying. They've reached their emotional end point.”

Hardcore pedallers and would-be masochists can choose from an annual circuit of half a dozen big races and a score of smaller ones. High profile events like the Convict 100 outside Sydney, Queensland's Epic and the Highland Fling in the NSW southern highlands attract up to 2000 riders. Over 85 per cent of them are male, and around half are rookies.

“People have a picture in their head that it's extreme but it's not overwhelmingly difficult to do,” Creagh said.

“It helps if you're prepared and have had some experience dealing with adversity.”