How Not To Train For An Obstacle Course Race
How Not To Train For An Obstacle Course Race
Since obstacle course racing took the world by storm back in 2010 there have been millions of adventure-seeking fitness enthusiasts sign up for the mud churning, body beating, adrenaline pumping event that shows no signs of slowing down…
With obstacle course racing now flashing across our home television screens on the NBC network and ESPN networks along with big time sponsorships with Reebok, and appearances with the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl this massive fitness event only continues to grow to astronomic popularity.
Which is a great thing for obstacle course race fanatics because we know that our favorite weekend getaway, crawling through mud and jumping over fire will be here to stay for a long, long time.
But as a fitness professional for 8 years and counting the rapid growth of OCR has left a HUGE gap of question marks for the do’s and don’t of training for a race…
You could say the “boom” of the obstacle racing industry has left the obstacle race “training” part far behind and in need of some catching up…
Thinking back to the day I decided I was going to sign up for a Spartan Race…
I followed up with tons of research, asked some friends for advice and scrolled through the many “programs” out there…
Most of the information was coming out of left and right field… it was a bit overwhelming and I was a personal trainer! I couldn’t imaging how confused someone without a fitness background would be.
So after scrolling through a few plans and talking with a few friends I jotted down my new “routine” and hit the ground running… literally.
I should have written at the top of my brand new workout program, “How NOT To Train For An Obstacle Course Race”… Because that’s eventually what it became.
And the reason I write this is to help you from making the same training mistakes that ultimately wasted my time, energy, and social life… heck, I almost didn’t make it to the starting line.
Hey, I’ve been in your shoes. Nervous about the unknowns of an obstacle course race…
“How do I train to cross the finish line? With all of the running, the rope climbs, the wall jumps, the 80 pound Atlas Stone carries… where do I even start?”
“What if I put all of this time into training only to get a big fat DNF (did not finish) at the race…”
“Will I just embarrass myself out there? My wife, my co-workers, my friends all know I’ve signed up… I can’t face them if fail…”
These thoughts go through 99% of first time obstacle course racers. So if that’s been you then you’re in good company.
I will say this, however… It’s thoughts like these that have first time obstacle course racers choosing a workout program out of “panic” instead of with a sound mind.
You begin to believe that “more is better” when in all reality… after all, the more you train the easier it will be, right?
Truth bomb: More exercise is actually doing more harm than good and could potentially put you out of order before you even step up to the starting line.
Like I said… I’ve made the mistakes. And right now I’m going to show exactly how NOT to train for an obstacle course race so you can show up on race day and conquer it.
Rule #1: More cardio is NOT better.
For some of you, this is a relief. You hate running and so did I… But it’s part of toughening up and doing something that creates physical and mental discipline and grit. I think we can both agree the burning sensation in your lungs, the lactic acid in your legs, and the mundane “clap, clap, clap” of your feet on a trail run gets a little boring sometimes… thank God for good scenery though, right?
I’m going to give you a little warning on running before you make your 5 day jogging schedule…
A recent report published in the Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology confirmed that people who push their bodies too hard may essentially undo the benefit of exercise. Those who ran for more than 4 hours a week actually had the same mortality risk as those who remained sedentary and didn’t exercise at all.
Think about it… If running isn’t making you any healthier than someone who lives a sedentary lifestyle then why would you add more of it when you don’t necessarily have too? I get more into that topic on this page.
The research fascinated me. It went against everything I was reading for my obstacle race training so I decided to dig a bit deeper…
I wanted to find out if more running was actually hurting my progress as I got closer and closer to my first Spartan Race…
After my initial research I began adapting more HIIT (high intensity interval training) into my weekly workouts. I highly recommend HIIT format cardio gearing up for your race. You’ll experience some massive cardiovascular benefits without having to spend hours of your week touring your joints on the pavement.
But with my recent research on traditional cardio and my obstacle race training I decided to look a bit deeper into HOW to HIIT…
Again, in a fitness event where most racers biggest “fear” is going the distance and crossing the finish line, a lot of people are misinformed how to actually train for a Spartan Race in an effective way that cuts through all of the fear and running B.S. that’s out there. And then I came across this…
A recent study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology asked volunteers to perform 24 HIIT cardio sessions over either 3 weeks or 8 weeks which meant that participants (depending on their group) either completed 3 HIIT cardio sessions each week or a HIIT cardio session almost everyday and sometimes twice a day…
“At the end of the prescribed time, those who had completed three HIIT sessions per week had improved their endurance capacity by almost 11 percent. But those exercising daily displayed no such improvements and, in some, endurance declined. Only after those volunteers had quit training altogether did their aerobic capacity creep upward; after 12 days of rest, their endurance peaked at about 6 percent above what it had been at the start, suggesting, the researchers believe, that daily high-intensity interval sessions are too frequent and exhausting. In that situation, fatigue blunts physical adaptations.”
Listen: I know what it’s like to want to be overly prepared for your race… you want to do cardio nearly everyday of the week because you’re afraid all the running will be too much to handle. I’ll tell you – YES you have to improve your endurance for an obstacle course race, the inclines and the distance of the courses are not easy… but running more for your training is only going to give you mediocre results.
Research shows that less is more. If you don’t believe me just trust the research and experience the difference.
Continuing on with some of the mistakes I made when I first started training for my Spartan Race…
I was training like a bodybuilder / powerlifter. Which leads me to my next point…
Rule #2: Do NOT train like a bodybuilder.
Here’s the truth: being strong is essential for obstacle course racing of any kind, however it’s not your average “gym scene” strength with a loaded barbell under a flat bench or a few plates on a leg press machine. Obstacle race training requires functional strength training using functional patterns that you’ll need come race day.
The good news is, you don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership to train like a Spartan. Sure – it may give you a few more options regarding resistance options (dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, etc.) but the truth is you can easily replace those resistance options with heavy sand and rock filled buckets, sandbags, or even heavy logs or tires.
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To The Obstacle Course Crusher Guide!
Discover how to run a Burpee-Free Spartan Race with some of the best obstacle simulation training exercises.
Some of the most effective obstacle race training moves you can do may even be done at a local park.
What are some of the BEST obstacle race strength training moves you can be doing before race day, you ask?
Try these 5 moves:
Bodyweight dips are essential for building the core muscles that hoist you up and over walls, power you through burpees, and even help you with crawling underneath sharp barbed wire. This movement will strengthen the triceps, chest and anterior deltoids (shoulders) while also engaging your core and giving you a realistic movement that you’ll repeat over and over again out on the obstacle course.
The most critical moves to your training will be those that simulate obstacle course racing movements you’ll be performing out on the course. That’s why dips hit the top 5 best moves you can be doing to prepare yourself for the brutality of an obstacle course race.
This one comes to no surprise. When facing obstacles such as wall climbs, rope climbs, swinging across platinum rigs and ascending up nets, you will need super-human back strength to help you complete these movements and continue on with the race. If you can’t, then more exhausting and frustrating burpees are in your future.
The pull-up is the best bodyweight exercise you can do to develop your entire back, traps, biceps, and even enhance your grip strength so you can overcome some of OCR’s most exhausting and challenging obstacles.
Try doing the hercules hoist or the tractor pull without back and bicep strength… good luck my friend.
And hey, even if you can’t do a full pull-up right now it DOES NOT mean you can’t be building your pull-up strength with partial pull ups or even chin up hangs.
Be sure to progressively increase your pull-up efforts on a week to week basis for maximum functional strength building. For example: if today is day one and you can only perform 3 pull-ups in a row, then next week your goal is 4… then 5 the next week, etc.
Despite the hate for burpees, they really are one of the best exercises you can do to simultaneously build lower body power, upper body strength, muscular core endurance and of course… Also build your cardiovascular system. This movement will skyrocket your heart rate faster than any exercise, helping you build race day stamina.
And hey, if you do miss an obstacle or two (or 8 like Lance Armstrong’s first obstacle course race) then at least you’ll be a burpee pro by the time you get there.
For the sake of saving energy on burpees, be sure to watch this video on how to do burpees while saving as much energy as possible and avoiding extreme burpee exhaustion in the middle of your race.
Lunges will build your entire lower body with functional, quick-firing muscle. Glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves… every muscle group in your lower body will be impacted by this one movement.
I have a challenge for you though. Forget performing lunges on a flat surface like at a football field or down your neighborhood sidewalk. Instead, take you lunges to a steep hill and practice lunging uphill. Not only will you build strong, muscular legs come race day which are essential for uphill running, jumping, and climbing, but you’ll also develop your lower body stability which is essential for some of Spartan Race’s balancing obstacles such as log crossing (don’t worry it’s on dry land) or stepping across a thin board.
You’re killing 3 birds with one stone with this move.
You may know this one as the “long jump” but hey obstacle course racing is a little more “primal” than a track and field event.
Frog jumps will again develop ample lower body explosiveness and strength to help you jump higher and further come race day. Think about it… you’ll be jumping over massive hay bails, 8 foot walls, even over valleys of mud and pools of water which will be far more challenging if you have a weak lower body… especially if you can’t jump.
This movement is a perfect obstacle racing simulator to add to your workout arsenal.
Rule #3: NO MORE Comfort Zone
If you’re one of those people who likes to stay inside of your comfort zone then I want to be 100% honest with you… I was too. In fact, I don’t think anyone can say that they truly enjoy stepping out of their comfort zone (if they did they would… well, still be in their comfort zone).
Obstacle race training is unlike anything you’ve trained for before. It’s very versatile. As I told you earlier on this page there is SO MUCH to account for…
Between grip strengthening, cardio boosting, muscle building, simulation training… you’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Because of that you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone. Step away from the treadmill or the sidewalk around your neighborhood and start running on some trails. Get off path a bit and explore. Feel what it’s like to dodge branches, brace yourself for inclines, accelerate down declines… really experience the terrain that you’ll be running on come race day.
I will tell you this… clock your mile time running around a football field track and then clock your mile time on a trail run. You’ll see a sizable difference. So get off the easy stuff and get uncomfortable.
The more uncomfortable you make your training, the more comfortable you will be on race day.
Back to the ban on comfort zones…
Get your heart rate up and keep it there. Lungs burning, heart beating out of your chest, legs aching, these are all the signs of breaking out of your comfort zone. It’s when you stay there for just a little bit longer… and then a little bit longer still, that’s when you start training for obstacle racing domination.
Moral of this rule… Be comfortable getting uncomfortable with your training. If you’re not getting uncomfortable (and basking in it) then you aren’t training hard enough. Period.
There you have it. Three of the biggest DO NOTs when training for your next Spartan Race.
Ah, you didn’t think I was just going to give you a bunch of “do nots” did you?
Adventure Over Average!