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Sport and Fitness

How does Tough Mudder design its obstacles?

Words by Nathan Irvine

Grand designs.

EDGAR chats exclusively to Tough Mudder’s VP of live events and global licensing, Johnny Little.

We talk rival brands, the future of the event and the wildest obstacles they simply couldn’t get away with.

How Tough Mudder designs its obstacles


Tough Mudder The Pyramid Scheme obstacle

On creating the obstacles…

Ideas are generated from participants’ input through obstacle design competitions, staff concepts and requests, or from everyday life.

We could probably pen an entire novel around how we come up with the obstacles, but to give you the abridged version.

Our product team toils endlessly with ideas. Puts the best ones through a basic design process. Turns them over to our construction team to determine build measures and specifications then advises what can be done. Finally the product team selects which ones to live test.

After this exhaustive process, we tweak and refine to ensure our Mudders are receiving the one-of-a-kind experience Tough Mudder is known for.

On how they’re tested…

Obstacle designs are tested through alpha and beta testing.

After the designs are selected, Tough Mudder will build the concept on an event site and test internally (alpha). We then make adjustments and build to scale to test at one of our events (beta).

Participants are then asked for their feedback and input. New obstacles can go through the process in as little as a few months or as long as a year-long roll out process.

On his favourite obstacle…

I’ve got two.

My favourite to watch is Electroshock Therapy. This really tests your mental grit and watching our Mudders overcome their fears is phenomenal. Plus, they get shocked in the process making it wildly entertaining.

The one I like to do the most is Blockness Monster. It requires teamwork to accomplish and is remarkably fun to do. You need to keep the block rotating, so it requires a process of lifting the block and maintaining the inertia.

You are instantly transformed to your much younger self with smiles and laughter bellowing out as you ride the block’s movement.

And least favourite…

Easy, Arctic Enema. Submerging yourself in freezing water is not something I’m too keen on. Much prefer warmer weather and this one freezes me to my core.

On obstacles that didn’t make it…

There are many obstacles that live in our “archives” that ultimately were not deemed safe enough.¬†One that comes to mind is Hot Shots. This challenge was to down a shot of hot sauce and jump into Arctic Enema. It wasn’t too well received.

But each live obstacle is put through an exhaustive process that must achieve our internal Safety Committee approval.

Even though we may scrape your arms and legs, dump you in freezing cold water and shock you, participant safety is of our highest priority.

On their wildest ideas…

My career with Tough Mudder began on the construction team, so I’m pretty sure we’ve tried some of the wildest ideas in my time. And, our imagination is always running.

When asked to suspend a structure over an embankment to create the ‘Cliff’ (used at Worlds Toughest Mudder in 2015, 2016 and 2017), that was crazy.

In 2018, we changed the venue for our 24hr world championship event and, even though we didn’t have an embankment 40 feet above the lake, we created one using shipping containers. The wilder the idea, the more we go after it.

On why people keep coming back…

Innovation and the spirit of our events. There are many obstacle course races (OCR) events you can do, but Tough Mudder is the industry leader in creating one-of-a-kind obstacles and experiences for our Mudders.

Additionally, our events breed camaraderie as most of the obstacles you will face on course will require teamwork. Working with your fellow Mudders to conquer Everest or Berlin Walls, for example, unites friends, co-workers, and strangers with one another.

On emerging OCR rivals…

I think it is great. The more people we can all bring into the community, the better. Getting people active is so important.

Tough Mudder is a truly unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else. The innovation we demand from ourselves drives customer experience. It’s our mission to deliver unique experiences that push your limits while having lots of fun.

On the future…

We have three million Mudders and 120+ events across 15 countries. In a decade from now, I’d love to see our footprint to grow to well over 10 million participants and operate events in 40+ countries.

Innovation will continue to drive our product and customer experience, with more and more wild obstacle ideas.

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