10 Tips to Train for Obstacle Racing
Obstacle course racing can be tough but it can be fun too if you’re ready for the race. It can be a test for anyone, no matter your fitness level and It can be a great experience. But in order for you to have the most enjoyable adventure on course, you need to train for it. Below are a few recommendations on how you can train your body and mind for the challenge that awaits you on the course.
1. Run – A Lot:
Even for beginners, it is a good idea to be able to run (or jog). Obstacle courses consist of 80% running (or walking) and 20% obstacles so if you have some level of running ability you will enjoy the course a lot more, instead of being too exhausted to.
For your average 5 Km race such as a Rise Up Challenge or Spartan Race, being able to run at a comfortable pace for an hour would do well on the course. An easy goal to help lengthen your running distance is to Increase your weekly mileage by 10% each week. If you’re new to running simply start by jogging for 5 minutes followed by 5 minutes of walking and work on increasing the amount of running you do each time and reduce the amount of walking. Before you know it, you'll be running the entire time.
If you’re training for longer races:
Try to dedicate one day per week to a long run. For example; if you’re training for a 12-mile race, begin your long run at three miles and progress up to 12 or more miles by the time of your race. Dedicate at least one other day of the week to cardiovascular training. Doing other activates such as cycling, swimming, or ice-skating for 30–60 minutes is a great way to cross train and prepare you for obstacle racing.
2. Add Flavour to your Running:
It’s not just running you should be good at; you should be strong too. For obstacle course racing this doesn’t mean you need to be Superman, but you should have well-rounded strength. The best exercises for OCR revolve around bodyweight. Pull-ups, Push-ups, Squats, Lunges, Burpees and Sit-ups work well and can be added into any running program. Add them into your runs to add flair and variety. Stopping during your run to do strength exercises can help train your body for the inefficient nature of obstacle courses and teach you how to effectively transition from cardiovascular to strength with minimal delays in your breathing or energy.
Sample Workout: Run for 1 to 2 minutes at your normal tempo, stop and perform 20 reps of any exercise. Repeat for 3 to 5 miles.
Warm-up: 2 minute run.
2 minute run
2 minute run
2 minute run
20 Pull-ups (using a tree or playground)
Repeat until you have travelled 3 – 5 miles.
3. Embrace the Hills:
Running up and down hills can be one of the most effective ways of building leg strength, endurance and power and can help you keep moving when you’re on the course and the obstacles and terrain are zapping all your strength.
Sample Workout: Do each exercise in sequence and repeat 10 rounds. The hill can be any incline and length.
Uphill Sprint: great for increasing leg power and allows you to practice controlling your breathing.
Downhill Run: allows you to run faster while expelling less energy. Make sure you run in small strides while landing on your forefoot.
Uphill Speed Ladder: unconventional way to move up a hill but a great way to develop your footwork and coordination which could come in handy on those uneven trails. Simply lay a speed ladder on the hill and run drills with a 5 – 10 second sprint after the ladder.
Uphill Backpedal: running backwards uphill is an exercise that focuses on strengthening your hamstrings, calves and coordination. Not to mention, your legs will be on fire.
Uphill Zig-Zag: to prepare for the uneven terrain of obstacle courses, try bounding up the hill, pushing of the ground at an angle (Similar to skating on ice) or running in a zig-zag pattern in the most inefficient way. You can make a 100m hill feel like a 300m hill that never seems to end.
Uphill Burpee: add some upper body strength into your hill workout. Start at the bottom of the hill and perform a Burpee, but instead of jumping up in the air, leap forward up the hill. Repeat until you’re at the top of the hill.
Downhill Burpee: same as above but leaping down the hill. The focus here isn’t speed, but more on body control, balance and coordination. The goal is not to fall forward on your landing.
4. Burpees are Your Friend:
If you haven’t done a burpee before, you’re in for a treat! They are the perfect exercise to develop full body strength, stamina and aerobic conditioning and the fastest way to prepare for an obstacle course race.
Sample Workout: Perform 100 burpees every day for 30 days.
To perform a basic burpee:
Get into push-up position
Perform a push-up
Jump up in the air
Return to push-up position
5. Train in the Elements:
Treadmills and sidewalks are great for running, but if you want to get ready for an obstacle course race you need to get outdoors and on to the trails. They can be uneven, rocky, muddy, and unpredictable which makes them perfect for teaching your legs and your mind how to adapt at a moment’s notice. Running on trails will help strengthen your ankles, knees and hips and develop your balance and coordination. To add fun to your runs, instead of avoiding the puddles, fallen trees or mud along the trail - practice jumping across them, crawling under or jumping over as you go. You’ll build up explosive power in your legs without even thinking about it.
If you have no trails nearby and you need to stick to sidewalks and roads, try running in an inefficient manner, zig zagging along the road or bounding on and off the curb. Try alternating between grass and concrete terrain to mimic the unpredictable nature of trails under your feet.
6. Train Heavy:
One of the easiest ways to train your body to perform under pressure and extreme conditions is to incorporate heavy weight into your cardio. Grab a heavy log, rock or fill a backpack up with soup cans and carry it with you on your adventures through the trails. Using weight above and beyond your own body weight will strengthen your core, legs and stability as well as your ability to breathe comfortably under additional stress. If you can move well with excess weight, you’ll be able to move easier and quicker with only your bodyweight, leading to speed and endurance.
Carrying heavy objects isn’t just beneficial on the trails. Try hauling a heavy log up and down hills or a set of stairs or use it to perform shoulder presses, bi-cep curls and deadlifts. All requires you to develop brute strength and grip to securely hold the log, which is vital for upper body obstacles.
7. Get a Grip:
Many obstacles involve grip strength - for carrying something heavy up a hill, to swing from bars, or to hold on to a wall as you pull yourself up. It all takes grip strength. Traditional exercises such as pull-ups, deadlifts and back-rows are good, but if you want to think outside of the box and do something more enjoyable, try bouldering at your local rock-climbing gym. Bouldering strengthens your fingers, hands, wrists and forearms in ways similar to how they function in a race. Rock-climbing can also improve your back, quads and hamstrings. It’s also great to develop your problem-solving skills. If you don't live near a rock-climbing gym you can simulate its effects with some of the following grip-building exercises:
Timed Hangs from a Pull-Up Bar
Playgrounds are a great place to workout and train for grip strength. They usually have bars of all shapes and sizes to swing from, climb up or hold on to. The different thickness of the bars can add a unique element to any pull-up or monkey bar exercise.
8. Team Up:
If you don’t have someone to train with who has similar goals or is running with you in your next obstacle course race, you should find one fast. Having a friend to workout with has so many advantages. They’ll be that second alarm clock to help you out of bed for the morning workouts. They’ll motivate and encourage you to push for that extra set of burpees or to run an extra kilometer even though your mind is telling you you’ve gone far enough. They will hold you accountable when you really don’t feel like working out. They’ll be there to laugh with and keep the workouts fun and creative day in and day out. Best of all, they will be there alongside you to share in all the memories throughout the journey.
9. Don’t Forget to Rest:
Recovering from a workout and letting your body rest is often overlooked in training programs. A lack of rest (especially after an intense training session) can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout. To avoid problems closer to race day, make sure to schedule 1 to 2 rest days into your weekly schedule. If resting is too tough for you or you feel guilty taking a day off, try active resting and do a light workout such as stretching, yoga, walking the dog or even cycling. (something less demanding)
Final Tip: If you want more help check out the wonderful world of YouTube. You can find tons of great tips on obstacle technique, workouts, exercises and footage of past races that will give you a hint of what you’re in for once you take off from the start line.