Train Like a Pro: David Magida


You may recognize David Magida as the 2016 host of the Spartan Race U.S. Championship series on NBC Sports or even as the current host of Spartan’s live-streaming coverage. However, before he picked up the microphone, he was lacing up his shoes as one of the top competitors in Obstacle Course Racing. Magida, a former member of the Spartan Pro Team, has over 20 podium finishes to his name.


Despite his larger frame, Magida has been a distance runner for most of his life. In high school, he was a conference champion in cross country and, after being recruited, ran for a brief time in college. After taking some time off from running due to injury, he briefly played DI-AA football at Bucknell University as a wide receiver.

Magida took nearly 5 years off before returning to running during grad school, while training for marathons. After finding success in several Spartan races and completing the first ever Ultra Beast, Magida committed to OCR training. “It was amazing and I loved it. I just fell in love with the sport,” he recalled. “I love that you can be both strong and fast. My size was not a huge disadvantage the way it was with road running.”


One of his fondest memories of racing goes back to a victory at Spartan’s New Jersey Super. Magida had trailed the majority of the race due to lower back issues. The rest of his body wasn’t giving up, though. “I was so frustrated that day because my legs and lungs felt fine, but my back was limiting my ability to climb. I was in agony. I could not get the legs to go, and I could not put it together,” Magida remembers.

After chasing the leader the majority of the race, Magida went all-in on the downhills, clocking around a 4:30/mile average pace on the rugged descents. “It’s this really brutal course with just these big, clunky rocks all over the ground,” he explained. “So, my feet after the race were just ruined. They were blistered and bruised and felt broken. I couldn’t train for a week.”  Magida’s grit paid off in the end, though, as he seized the lead in the final half-mile. Despite getting out-climbed every ascent before that, his mental focus kept him in the lead on the final climb, allowing him to run a downhill sprint to a first place finish. After trailing for essentially the entire race, Magida won by a mere 11 seconds. “I think the thing that made this particular race special was that nothing was going my way,” Magida said. “Physically I didn’t have it. But if you search inside yourself, you’ll be amazed to find what kind of strength you possess. I learned something about myself that day. It’s the beauty of pushing your body to your limits. You learn what you’re made of.”


Eventually, he decided to step away from racing to open his own training studios, Elevate Interval Fitness. Currently, Magida operates a location in Washington, D.C. and a second in Fairfax, VA, with a third expected to open in D.C. in 2018. Magida employs many of the methods he learned and relied upon in his OCR training to push his clients to their limits and maximize their performance. Elevate focuses on both strength and endurance training, to help athletes develop mental toughness, stay well-rounded and, as Magida says, “to have zero weaknesses.”

At Elevate, you’ll use equipment like treadmills, water rowers, airbikes, kettlebells, sandbags, TRX and dumbbells during sessions that include circuits, intervals and partner workouts. Plus, the coaches will teach you the correct technique to ensure total effectiveness and avoid risk of injury. For more information and a free intro class, visit



This workout is basically a race-simulation type of workout. Magida recommends doing it only once or twice per season and allowing around two weeks before racing. He suggests only doing some light running the day before and a pretty easy workout the day after.

Pro Tip: Don’t overdo it on the first two miles, or you’ll pay for it later.

Run to be completed at a 5k race pace on a treadmill. If you want to use this as a race simulation, complete as fast as possible. Warm up with a 10-15 minute jog

  • Run 1 mile with the treadmill at 2% incline. Once finished, complete either 30 pull ups or TRX Inverted rows.
  • Run another 1 mile with treadmill at 2% incline. Once finished, complete 30 burpees.
  • Increase the incline to 4% and run 0.50 miles. Once finished, complete 50 switch/jump lunges. That is 50 total, or 25 per leg.
  • Run another 0.50 miles with treadmill at 4% incline. Once done, complete a 100-meter bear crawl.
  • Increase the incline to 6% and run 0.25 miles. Once finished, complete another 25 pull ups or TRX inverted rows.
  • Run another 0.25 miles at 6%. Once done, complete 30 burpees.
  • Run another 0.25 miles at 6%. Once finished, complete another 50 switch/jump lunges.
  • Run one more 0.25 miles at 6%. Once done, complete another 100-meter bear crawl.
  • Finally, run 1 mile with the incline back at 2%. Once done, complete the workout with another 20 pull ups or TRX inverted rows.

Workout Totals:

  • 5 Miles of Intervals
  • 75 Pullups
  • 60 Burpees
  • 100 Switch Lunges
  • 200m Bear Crawl

Writer’s Note: Thank you to David for sharing this workout. You can follow him on Instagram.

Check out past Train Like a Pro articles:

Photo Credit: David Magida, Elevate Fitness, Spartan Race, Savage Race

How I Built My Own Hangboard

I’m a competitive person, by nature. So when I completed my first Spartan as well as first (also last) BattleFrog within two weeks of each other, I learned quickly what my strengths and weaknesses were. One common theme was grip strength.

Because so many obstacles put your grip to the test (rigs, monkey bars, heavy carries, etc), fatigue can become an issue. Going into both races, I had trained grip strength pretty heavily by doing various towel pull-ups, weighted carries, and dead hangs. After them, I still wanted to improve.


A friend of mine, who had done BattleFrog Xtreme, gave me an idea. If you’re unfamiliar, BFX had racers complete as many 8k laps as possible. Each lap for this particular race included a jug carry, monkey bars and two rigs, which is where I struggled. He had completed both rigs in the elite lane all three laps he ran. When he could see how impressed I was, he mentioned that he was a rock climber.

I had known that climbing improved grip strength, but this had me sold. Unfortunately, I don’t have easy access to a mountain or rock wall and buying a hangboard/fingerboard can be a bit pricey. So I decided to do the next best thing: make my own hangboard.


Because I’m not the most handy person in the world, I began doing some research. After taking some advice from various online sources, I dove head-first into building a board that would fit my mounting location. I didn’t need the board to be pretty. Function here is the most important aspect. The space available to attach the board was about one foot tall and three feet wide. As I said before, I’m not contractor. This setup has worked for me but, depending on your situation, you may want to do things a bit differently.

What I used:

  • Plywood (½” thick) – My local hardware store sold it in 2’x4’ sections, so I cut it in half and doubled it up to make a 1” thick piece for more stability.
  • Several 2″ x 4″ pieces – I used these to mount the plywood to, but also as my holds. Most hardware stores have scrap piles sold up to 70% off.
  • Wood screws – To hold the two pieces of plywood together so that I could drill, which will come later. If you go with a 1” thick piece, you may not need these.
  • Bolts/washers/nuts – For the holds, I used ½” thick and 3” long hex head bolts matched with the proper washer and nut. Hex head lag bolts (½” thick / 5” long), with washer, were used to mount the board above my door frame.
  • Tools – This includes a drill, drill bits, torque wrench, socket set, wrench, and whatever you normally use to cut wood.


How I used it:

  • I cut two lengths of 2×4 at one foot to attach to the back of the plywood, serving as a gap between the plywood and mounting surface. This helped because, when changing holds, I needed space behind the plywood to use my wrench so that the nut could be either tightened or loosened. This makes the board completely adjustable!
  • I then cut the plywood into my two 1’x3’ pieces. I used the wood screws to attach these pieces to the previously cut 2x4s. This kept the two pieces of plywood together so that I could drill the holes.
  • I used my ½” drill bit to put holes about 2” apart in the plywood. You can use whatever distance you’d like, but just make sure that if you cut a longer hold, you measure the holes to match.Drilling-the-holes-for-holds
  • Using the remaining 2x4s I had purchased, I measured and cut various lengths for holds. Some were 3” wide, others 4” and a few as long as 8-10”. I used a spade bit to drill down into the wood slightly so that the hex head was recessed. I also did this to the corners of the plywood for when I was ready to mount. Be sure to make it large enough for your socket. I then used my ½” drill bit again to make a hole in the 2×4 pieces. In the larger ones, I put two. Once the holes were drilled, I sanded down each edge to prevent splinters.
  • (This part may require a friend) I had my dad hold the board on the mounting location so that I could pre-drill the holes for the lag bolts. Since the hex head lag bolt still needs wood to grab onto as it goes in, I pre-drilled the holes a few sizes smaller than the bolt.
  • Once all the holes were drilled, I used a torque wrench to insert one lag bolt into each corner. A washer was used so that the hex head didn’t dig into the wood.
  • After the board was mounted, it was time to attach the holds! To attach the hold, I simply lined up the hole in the 2×4 with the plywood, inserted the bolt through the front and attached the washer and nut on the back. Holding the nut with an adjustable wrench, I used the proper socket size to tighten via the front hex head.

How-to-attach-the-holdAnd there you have it! With only a few items from the local hardware store, I was able to build my own hangboard. Now I have been able to add a variety of deadhangs, pull-ups and even hold transitions to my training.

Utilizing Pull-Ups as an OCR Athlete

Obstacle Racing Media (ORM) has teamed up with Complete Human Performance (CHP) to bring you reoccurring tips and training advice that will help you at your next race, whether you’re trying to conquer your first rope climb or move more quickly and confidently across the Platinum Rig. This week’s training is brought to you by Alec Blenis, running and OCR coach at CHP. You can see him below at the fire jump of the first Spartan World Championships in 2011, where he finished 5th. Alec has been around OCR for over five years.

Fire Jump

Why Everyone Should (and can) Do Pull-ups:

If you had to pick just one upper body exercise for OCR training, the pull-up would be it. So many obstacles require the upper body strength that you can develop with a strict pull-up or pull-up variation. However, training for pull-ups is one area where I see a ton of mistakes, especially among beginners.

In this article, I’m going to discuss some common training mistakes that people make and some fun pull-up variations to include in your training. This will be especially useful for those of you working towards your very first pull-up, but also for more advanced athletes too.

Preparing for your pull-ups:

Warm up: For some reason, a lot of athletes will perform plenty of warm up sets before heavy squats or deadlifts but rush right into pull-ups without even considering warming up. Don’t do this. If pull-ups come towards the end of your workout, you are probably already pretty warm, so you might not need an extensive warm up, but you should still do something. If pull-ups come first in your workout, take a few minutes to warm up your core, back, and lats. Some great exercises to try here include hollow holds, face pulls, and easy ring rows.

Brace Yourself: When it comes to developing athleticism and the ability to conquer obstacles, a well-braced “hollow” pull-up is going to be most beneficial. What does this mean? When you are hanging from the bar, your abs should be tight, your glutes should be tight, and your pelvis should be tucked. If you’re unfamiliar with this position, I suggest working on some hollow holds on the floor first. Basically, your body should be concave like the photo below.

Hollow Hold

Hand Care: There’s nothing tough, hard-core, or beast-mode about ripped up or bloody hands. It may have been a great workout that tore your calluses off, but it’s going to take time to heal before you can really work hard again. Pull-ups result in more hand tears than any other exercise by far, so it’s extremely important to take care of your hands. Use chalk. Use a pumice stone. Take care of your hands and keep them looking good so that you never miss a beat.


Plan your workout: You should never begin a training session without a clear goal in mind. Is your goal for the day to improve your strength? Do you need to improve your muscular endurance? As an OCR athlete, you may want to ask yourself what obstacle weaknesses need addressed. If you’re just randomly playing on a pull-up bar until you’re tired, stop and come up with a better plan. If you’re not sure how, we can help.

Pull-up Variations: 

We’re going to look at a couple variations of pull-ups now. Below you will find a video demonstrating each kind of pull-up, with a detailed explanation below it.

Ring Rows: Of course, the ring row is not really a pull-up at all, but this is an ideal starting point for the athlete who can’t even come close to doing a strict pull-up and for whom even banded pull-ups are a struggle. One great thing about ring rows is that it’s simple to adjust the difficulty of the exercise by modifying your foot position. At first, you may be nearly vertical when doing these rows. Over time, you should walk your feet out and approach a more horizontal position. Ring rows strengthen many of the same muscles that a pull-up does, but it is not a direct substitute. You should start here, but quickly introduce banded pull-ups and other beginner variations as you get stronger.

Banded pull-ups: A common mistake when training beginners is to abandon the bands too soon. Just because someone has successfully completed their first strict pull-up doesn’t mean it’s time to ditch the bands altogether. Even for athletes who can complete as many as 5 strict pull-ups, there is still value in utilizing an assistance band to complete sets of 8, 12, or more.

Banded pull-ups with pause: If you’ve been progressing towards a strict pull-up using bands for assistance, you may find that the hardest part of a strict rep is breaking from a dead hang. Because a band offers the most assistance at the bottom of a rep, banded pull-ups don’t develop much strength in the dead hang position. So, if you’re progressing towards a strict pull-up using bands, you’ll need to focus some extra energy on this position. One simple and effective way to do this is to implement banded pull-ups with a pause. All you do is pause in a dead hang position for 3-5 seconds per rep. Whenever implementing banded pull-ups, I recommend at least a slight pause at the bottom to help develop the strength needed to break from a dead hang. Also, don’t forget to move up to the next band when you’re ready! Go ahead and purchase multiple bands with varying degrees of assistance. Use a different band when the goal of the workout is different. Trying to improve strength? Use a less helpful band. Training muscular endurance? Use a more helpful band.

Negatives: Negatives and weighted negatives are great pull-up variations but, in most cases, are overused, especially by beginners. Imagine telling someone who wants to increase their bench press from 95 to 135 that you’re just going to have them do negatives with 135 until they reach their goal! They certainly have their place, but don’t neglect other variations liked banded and jumping pull-ups by devoting too much time to negatives. That said, don’t be afraid to add weight for negatives, even if you struggle with strict pull-ups. You can safely and effectively do negatives with weights as heavy as 20% greater than your one rep max, so if you can do one strict pull-up, you may want to add about 20% of your bodyweight to slow negatives for maximum benefit, but this should just be a small portion of your total training.

Pronated vs. supinated grip pull-ups: pronated-supinated-grip
Most people find it easier to start with a supinated grip as you’re able to recruit the biceps more in this position. However, this doesn’t mean that the supinated grip is a beginner variation. It’s important to routinely train both grips, and even neutral grips for well-rounded athletic performance. Close underhand grip pull-ups are great for developing the strength you need for rope climbs and heavy hoists, while overhand pull-ups will help you prepare for wall climbs and monkey bars.

Jumping pull-ups: Jumping pull-ups offer many of the same advantages and disadvantages as banded pull-ups. Like banded pull-ups, jumping pull-ups are not very effective at developing strength near full extension, but they offer the advantage of being a convenient and effective exercise that can easily be worked into body weight circuits without additional equipment. For an added bonus, try variations like burpee pull-ups mixed into a circuit. Jumping pull-ups are generally safer than kipping pull-ups for beginners (advanced athletes can do kipping pull-ups just fine with practice), so these are my preferred option for new athletes in workouts like Cindy and Fran that involve a lot of pull-ups.

Weighted pull-ups: Once you can do at least 3 strict pull-ups, it’s time to start thinking about adding weighted pull-ups into your routine. You don’t have to be an elite athlete or pull-up monster to do weighted pull-ups. Even if you’re just adding 5-10 pounds for sets of 3, that’s great. Treat pull-ups like other exercises, implementing heavy singles, triples, sets of 5, 10, and more. Don’t get bored by only doing bodyweight sets all the time!

L pull-ups: To further engage the core while also working the back and lats, try pull-ups with your legs lifted. The easiest variation is with your knees tucked towards your chest. A more advanced variation is a strict “L” pull-up. If you feel like you are good at pull-ups but struggle with obstacles like Spartan Race’s Herculean Hoist, then this is a pull-up variation that you should try. Many obstacles require you to engage your core and even legs while pulling up your bodyweight (or pulling down on a rope), so pull-up variations like this are great at replicating the sort of challenges you’ll face on race day.

Monkey bar simulation: For the advanced athlete looking to get better at monkey bars, rigs, or even progress towards a single arm pull-up, this monkey bar simulation is a great way to develop the shoulder stability, grip strength, and body control needed for those challenges. To execute the monkey bar simulation, simply get into a dead hang position, then tap your right leg with your right hand, then your left leg with your leg hand, and repeat. For an even more advanced variation, try touching opposite hand to opposite foot. Once you’ve got this down, you can start working on single arm banded pull-ups, negatives, and eventually, single arm weighted pull-ups!

Remember, you should treat pull-ups like other exercises. Don’t allow your training to get stagnant by doing the same thing every week! And make sure you check out Complete Human Performance!