‘I’ve competed twice, here’s everything you need to know’
HYROX is the biggest indoor fitness event in the world. After four years making its mark across Europe and the USA, it launched in the UK in 2021, and this year alone, 25,000 people participated in four sold-out events in the country. Getting a ticket now is almost on par with bagging a Glasto ticket; the most recent UK race had a 2,000-person deep waitlist.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Have a gander at the HYROX Instagram and you’ll see it doesn’t exactly look like a walk in the park, but as the brand tells me, ‘HYROX is a universally accessible race for every body’. Unlike other competitions such as Ironman, HYROX doesn’t care what athletic background you come from. In their words: ‘The world was missing a premium fitness competition designed for Every Body, not only elite athletes,’ and with 90,000 people taking part across 11 countries this year, they’re clearly filling the gap.
43-year-old Yanar Alkayat, Hearst’s Health and Fitness Testing Manager, is one of said people. She first competed in a pairs race in April 2022, then took part in a relay race just seven months later in November. As they say with childbirth, it can’t hurt that much if people go back for more, can it? ‘The volume of training felt daunting at times, but as soon as it was done, I was surprised by how manageable it felt,’ she tells WH.
Here, she tells her story, from how she trained and optimised her nutrition, her honest experience of each race, and everything she’s learned from taking part.
What does a HYROX workout consist of?
Everyone does exactly the same race, whether you’re in the UK or not, and whether you take part as an individual or as part of a team. It consists of 8km of running, and in between each 1km, racers complete a functional movement. Here’s the full order:
- 1km run
- 1km ski erg
- 1km run
- 50m sled push
- 50m sled pull
- 80m burpee broad jump
- 1km run
- 1km row
- 1km run
- 200m farmer’s carry
- 1km run
- 100m sandbag lunges
- 100 or 75 wall balls (depending on category)
For the uninitiated, you may have heard that it’s not too dissimilar to CrossFit, but HYROX is typically less technical; the functional training exercises it includes don’t involve as much skill as those usually associated with CrossFit workouts, like clean and jerks.
How long does a HYROX race take?
The average elite HYROX athlete completes an event in around an hour, with non-athletes racking up anything between 60-120 mins. As mentioned, the race is designed for everyone, so there is a big range.
Remember, as cliché as it sounds, it really is the taking part that counts.
HYROX race categories
There are four divisions you can choose from:
- Individual Pro – ‘For the experienced racer, heavier weights make for a more challenging experience.’
- Individual Open – ‘Take on the standard HYROX for a challenging but achievable race for everyone. The difference between pro is open has lighter weights.’
- Doubles – ‘Find a partner and take on the challenge as a pair, running together but splitting the workload of the exercises.’
- Team Relay – ‘Split the work up between 4 people for the fastest and most accessible version of the race. Each completes a total of 2km run and 2 functional movements.’
We’ll come onto Yanar’s experience further down, but know that if you choose to take part in the doubles or relay races, you will do less work as the total number of stations are split between two (for doubles) or four (for relays). These heats are ideal for beginners.
Yanar’s HYROX story
How to train for a HYROX race
‘I train yearlong in functional fitness, which is helpful for HYROX, but I allowed two months for specific HYROX training and extra running work. I would probably start earlier next time to build a stronger and faster running base and to complete more runs under fatigue – which is the hardest part about doing a HYROX race, which I’ll explain in more detail below.
‘I didn’t work with any professionals while training, but I’ve had PT support and coaching for other fitness racing and CrossFit competitions, so I used some of that experience to create my own training. I upped my running and then programmed in lots of opportunities to practice the functional moves and volume of work, like the 100 wall balls! I also follow a few HYROX athletes on Insta who share training tips and advice, like Jade Skillen, Master HYROX Trainer, and Claire Rafferty, HYROX athlete.
‘For the past year my training has focused on Olympic weightlifting, so I had to combine my HYROX training with my usual lifting programme.
‘Here’s a full breakdown of what I would do in an average week.’:
- Monday: Cardio e.g. 4 x 1K row with 30 sec rest in between – this is not pleasant but I just find a steady pace and stick to it. It helps with getting used to the distance.
- Tuesday: Snatches + back squats + pull-ups and core
- Wednesday: 2 x 1K run commute (stead run)/lunchtime bodyweight/dumbbell circuit
- Thursday: Rest day
- Friday: Jerks + wall walks + handstands
- Saturday: Running e.g. 10K steady run or speed work on the track e.g. 4 x 1K or 5 x 200m sprints OR specific HYROX partner session (we did these about three times)
- Sunday: Cleans + front squats + core
‘Part of the training was making sure I was not just familiar with the moves but able to manage the moves under fatigue. That’s the challenge – the moves themselves are relatively low skill but doing high volume reps while under fatigue is the hard part. For the pairs (I competed with a friend from my CrossFit gym), we practiced transitions, e.g., coming on and off the ski-erg and rowing machine, and practiced about half the race together a few times (e.g., four stations and 4 x 1K runs).
‘We spent more time practising the push and pull sled, as we were less comfortable with that, and less time on burpees and farmer’s carries, as we do those regularly in the CrossFit classes that we both do and are relatively easier from a skill/technique perspective.
‘I tried to keep things consistent over the months and weeks. It also takes a long time to build strength and speed, so the earlier you start, the greater the gains. In the weeks leading up to the race, I pulled back from heavy strength work and focussed on speed and agility to stay fast. Reducing load and intensity in the run up is important to avoid unnecessary fatigue, but I stayed active with lots of walking and some speedy runs to keep my legs sharp and turning. I also did a few light workouts but avoided heavy weights.’
HYROX training challenges
‘The biggest challenge for me was fitting it all in! I don’t have kids, but I do juggle a demanding job and other commitments outside of work. This year I’ve been finishing a diploma in yoga therapy and renovating a flat, so free time has been rare! Training is a priority for me, so I always squeeze it in somehow. I have to be disciplined to take a lunch break on training days, and I dedicate time at the weekends for longer sessions.’
How to recover during HYROX training
‘So much of my training is high intensity and that can be a strain on my nervous system. I try to make time for activities like yoga and breathwork throughout my week. Around three times a week, I manage to start my morning with meditation and breathwork practice so that I begin my day in a much calmer way.
‘I also try to end my day with balancing breathwork in bed before I go to sleep – ten simple belly breaths with a longer exhale, nothing more complicated than that. It settles my nervous system and helps to keep anxious thoughts from whirling in my head. I also avoid any high intensity activity in the evenings or screen time before bed. With a fast-paced job and intensive training programme I try my hardest to keep my nervous system in check as much as I can when I’m not training.’
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How to fuel yourself for a HYROX race
‘Fuel is really important as training sessions can be long, so I needed to make sure I was eating enough every day to fuel my high level of activity, as well as before and after sessions. If I trained before work, then I’d just have caffeine (one black coffee) and some liquid carbs (like an energy gel – around 30g carbs)
‘If I trained at lunchtime, then I’d have my usual breakfast – it’s always soaked oats/muesli with protein powder and toppings – but I sometimes add some banana or apple for extra energy. Or I’d have half a piece of fruit half an hour before my lunchtime session. Lunch was often whatever plant-based protein I could get from the supermarket near the office e.g., a lentil curry with added tofu. Dinner would be a mix of plant-protein and carbs such as roast veg, vegan sausages and mashed sweet potato.
‘Pre-workout supplements don’t agree with my tummy so I’m a simple black coffee caffeine person. No caffeine after midday, though, so I’m a morning or lunchtime training person. I have much less energy in the evenings, so I generally avoid training then. I do, however, rely heavily on plant-based protein powder. I have been vegan for over 15 years so keeping up my protein intake is a big priority, especially if I want to get stronger. I always finish training with a protein shake.’
How to stay motivated while training for a HYROX race
‘Knowing I have to take part in an event keeps me motivated. I hate the thought of turning up and not being able to give it my best. If there is something I can do to help myself perform or feel better on the day, I’ll try and do it. I want to feel strong, ready, and confident and that fuels my motivation and drive.
‘I love honing my training too, so that it’s not just workouts but working out with a purpose. I figure out my areas of weakness and I aim to get stronger and more skilled in those. The final piece is always the event itself – whatever the results on the day, competitions are loads of fun, and an opportunity to grow as a person, and that builds confidence and self-esteem.’
HYROX race day
The day before
‘The days before my race days were a good time to check in in with the team – how were they feeling, when and where we would meet, what we were bringing and eating? The more organised the logistics are ahead of the day, the better. There’s nothing worse than stressing about logistics on the day of an event. You want to be as organised and stress-free as possible. Everything should be packed and ready the night before and all arrangements made.’
‘For the last event I did, the relay event was on at 9pm – yes you read that right – I‘ve never trained or competed that late before! My day was spent pottering around doing house and life admin, trying to chill out and conserve energy. I had so much time, I even went for a jog in the morning just to move a bit and get some outdoor time. I ate my normal oats and protein breakfast after the run and had pizza as a big late lunch/early dinner, around 4pm.
‘For the pairs competition, we were on in the afternoon – still later than I normally exercise. Nerves and excitement often hamper my appetite, so I had to make a conscious effort to eat well during the day for both events. The closer it got to the event time, the more my appetite shut down, but that’s not helpful as I have to get enough energy in. As it’s a high intensity event I also had to leave a two-hour window after food as my tummy is prone to indigestion if I eat too close to exercise. It’s a balancing act! For the evening event, I didn’t want to consume any caffeine, so I had to rely on fast carbs for fuel. I took around 30-40g of liquid carbs about half an hour before we went on.
‘Then it was time. The event goes quickly so you must stay in the moment and focus on the rep and lap that you’re on and not think or worry about the volume of work that’s ahead. Both the doubles and relay are so much fun and full of team spirit. I loved the pairs event because you stay together the whole time and cheer each other on; you split the workout station reps and share the load, and then run together.
‘The hardest part was the first lap of every kilometre run, as we’d come off a workout fatigued and I just couldn’t recover as quickly as I wanted to. I found a rhythm of using the first lap to get my heart rate back down, then pick up the pace on the second lap. My partner Edwina was the perfect race partner as she’s a strong runner, so she kept a good pace for me to hold onto. I also helped her hold back her pace at times when she was going out too fast. There’s a lot to get through so you don’t want to go too quickly at the start.
‘The best part is the moment you finish the last wall ball (the final workout station) and run to the finishing stage. There’s so much fanfare, energy, and excitement in at the event anyway – thanks to the music and brilliant MCs all day – but everything crescendos at the point you run through the finishing arch. It feels euphoric. It took us around 1 hour 15 mins.’
Everything HYROX has taught me
‘The workout stations are not as hard as I anticipated them to be. I surprised myself both times by how much I’m capable of. The volume and reps felt daunting at times but as soon as it was done, I thought, “Wow, that was totally manageable”! Having done pairs and relay now, I’d advise that the relay is a great place to start if you’re not comfortable with all the moves, as you only have to do two stations. That makes HYROX more accessible to more people, which is a great thing. I’d love more people to experience the energy and fun of fitness racing, in a non-intimidating way.
‘I’ll absolutely do it again. Having done pairs and relay, I know what’s coming next – singles! I’m totally petrified at the thought of it, but I know I have to face the fear and do it anyway. I’m sure I’ll be ecstatic once it’s done.’
HYROX training tips
Inspired to give it a go yourself? We hit up HYROX Master Trainer Jade Skillen for her inside advice. Here’s everything she wants you to know, whether you’re a beginner or have competed before.
1. ‘Be sure that you can cover 8 x 1km of running. This doesn’t have to be a continuous 8km run; you can practice with 8 x 1km runs within a circuit-style session.’
2. ‘Be sure that you can work for 80-100 minutes. (The majority of females finish their first HYROX event anywhere between 80-100 minutes). Add one session in per week to build endurance and get your body used to working for this length of time. This could be a few EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) workouts or AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) sessions, with some rowing, skiing on the SkiErg and running added in.’
3. ‘Relax before your first race! With it being such a new and fast-growing event, it can be easy to get caught up in the stress of “competition”. Look at your first event as an experience and HAVE FUN. Take all the pressure off.’
4. ‘Test your weight! The sled pulls can be make or break on the day. Be sure to have built up enough lower-body strength to help with your sleds; back squats, front squats and Bulgarian split squats are some of my fave ways to do this. Then if you have access to a sled, load it up to the weight you intend on using before the HYROX race, and fit in a good few practice sessions. If you want to incorporate progressive overload and get more advanced, you can do these sled sessions under fatigue to mimic how it will feel during the HYROX race (when you’ll be running inbetween). This kind of workout might look like this:
4 rounds of:
- 800m run
- 25m sled push, loaded up with intended HYROX weight.’
5. ‘Pace yourself! The majority of people in their first event go off too hot. It isn’t a 20-30 minute workout, it’s more of an endurance event. Build pace into your runs, but don’t go out at a pace you cannot sustain. Keep in mind that the sleds will take it out of you, so conserve energy initially until they’re over.’