Obstacle Races Are A Good Time

I love obstacle races. They’re a great way to get outside. The challenge of navigating over, under, around, and through objects is incredibly satisfying. I also like that they’re not just about cardio and require strength training and strategy as well. However, a lot of obstacle races are no joke and they require serious training if you want to complete them without injury or exhaustion. That’s why I’ve put together this list of tips for anyone who wants to run an OCR (obstacle course race) for the first time.

Learn more about the race you’ve signed up for.

The first thing you should do is research the course! If the race has a map, look it over and get familiar with what you’re getting yourself into.

Try to get an idea of how much climbing there is and how much distance there is between each aid station. Look for elevation changes, as they can be difficult on your body when you’re trying to run them at a good pace.

Have an understanding of the obstacles you will face so you can properly train for them. Running up a half pipe is different than swimming through a submerged tube, for example. Same goes for electrified obstacles vs. rope nets. Everything you will encounter can require a different type of training. Only planning for one type of obstacle can severely impact your ability to finish.

Also, make sure that you check out what kind of weather conditions are expected on race day—rainy days are especially tough because they require more gear like waterproof shoes and extra unplanned for mud can really slow you down.

Finally, try to find out if there will be any time changes during the event (like starting earlier or ending later). The time you start can impact how well you do if it is unplanned.

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Start a training program that’s specific to obstacle racing.

Training programs are a must. They’ll help you get in shape, build strength and endurance and prevent injury.

What kind of training program should you use? There are many options to choose from, but each obstacle run will usually provide general guidelines for how to train.

The people who put on the race will include information on how long each workout should last, what exercises you need to do during each session, as well as links to other resources like workouts specific for different OCR events (like Tough Mudder or Spartan Race).

Since they are built by the people who make the race, they can give you a good understanding of what is needed.

Use what they provide to build extra, race specific training into your existing strength training and cardio plans.

Building strength and power is a top priority.

The first step to training for an obstacle race is to focus on building strength and power. In general, you want to work on the muscles that are used in obstacle races. This will help you prepare both physically and mentally for the tasks ahead of you.

Trust me, you will need both, cardio AND strength to complete most of these races. In my experience, most of these races are heavily focused on upper body strength because the obstacles all focus on climbing ropes, doing pullups, or other similar movements.

Of course, don’t neglect your legs. You will encounter the occasional buddy carry or log run.

Be sure to incorporate three types of exercises into your routine: compound exercises (like squats), single-leg exercises (like lunges), and core exercises (including planks). These types of movements will provide a full body workout while also helping build the strength needed for the race itself.

For example, if you’re new at fitness or haven’t been working out at all lately, try this routine:

  • 10 pushups
  • 10 bodyweight squats
  • 15 sit-ups
  • 20 jumping jacks

Take your time, and remember that the point of training is to have fun.

The key to finding the right balance of training and rest is to listen to your body. If you’re not feeling it one day because of illness or you are just too sore, don’t feel guilty about taking a break. But, if you have time on your hands try adding a few more days of training into your schedule as well.

The whole point is that you should be having fun and making progress without getting hurt!

I would say this: Know the difference between injury and discomfort. Injury requires rest. Discomfort is where you grow. Know your body and understand when to push through the non-desire to get it going. I can almost guarantee that even on days you don’t feel like it, if you just start you will be happy you did. You just need to get through the initial brain whispers of, “you don’t want to do that.”

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Work on your grip strength.

Grip strength is one of the most fundamental skills for obstacle races. You need to be able to hold onto a rope, for example, when you’re climbing up a wall. In addition to that, it can help prevent injuries when you’re crawling over monkey bars or doing pull-ups.

There are tons of ways to build up your grip strength—here are just a few ideas:

  • Climb on something with your hands (like monkey bars). Nothing builds grip strength like using your grip to hold on. Monkey bars, dead hangs, even deadlifts can all work on your grip strength. Utilize them.
  • Squeeze tennis balls as hard as possible for five seconds at a time. Do this 50 times in one session and rest two minutes between sets (repeat three more times). Be mindful not only about how much pressure you’re putting into the ball but also about how long it takes for those muscles to relax after exerting themselves so powerfully!

Don’t neglect your cardio.

You can’t just show up to an event and expect to finish. You need endurance, and that requires cardio. Cardio training is different from weight training in that it helps you recover from workouts and gives your body the energy it needs for an obstacle race.

It’s important for overall health too—boosting your heart rate and keeping it high for long periods of time will keep you strong later in life, even when you’re retired from the more hardcore fitness scene many of us participate in during our youth.

It’s true that some people do well with only running or swimming as their cardio routine—but others find they improve their performance by adding some other activities into their routines, like cycling or rowing machines. Before committing yourself to any one form of exercise (even if it’s one of those trendy ones), make sure you’ve tried a few different things out there so that you get something out of each experience!

Even if you have a favorite type of cardio, swap it up. Toss in cycling, HIIT, burpees, farmers walks, and other types of cardio on top of longer distance running. You will be much better prepared when race day comes if you did a bit of training for everything.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Comfort is where dreams go to die. If you want to succeed in crushing your goals, whether that is on an OCR, in the gym, or in your professional life, you need to be uncomfortable.

We stagnate when we have too much comfort. It’s warm in the comfort zone. Sunshine, rainbows, unicorns and all that other nonsense. Why change? It’s like on a cold morning when you wake up, warm in your bed and don’t want to get up because you know that you will be cold the moment you throw the blanket off. If you stay there all day, however, you will get nothing accomplished. You need to get up.

Same goes for fitness overall and OCR’s specifically. If you expect a warm, sunny day and plan only for that how do you think you will do if it is raining and chilly on race day? Take every opportunity to switch it up so you can succeed in any environment. People look at me like I’m crazy running outside in mid-January while it’s in the 20’s, but come March when all the St. Patties day races happen I’m ready. Have the same mindset.

If your race is in August are you running outside when it’s in the 90s to prepare? If not, why?

Obviously, be safe in your uncomfortableness. Hydrates, stretch, eat properly, etc. But, be uncomfortable nonetheless.

Take care of yourself outside the gym.

In order to do your best, you need to take care of yourself outside the gym as well as inside.

You need your sleep. If you’re thinking about going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 5am every day, think again. You can overdo it with training and that will put you out of commission for weeks.

Your body also needs quality foods in order to function properly and recover from strenuous exercise effectively. Find your daily calorie intake and stick to it. Consume enough protein every day for recovery (I recommend 1g per bodyweight pound, not that nonsensical FDA recommendation of 60g a day across the board). Drink your water.

Stretching daily will help you make flexible muscles, which reduces your overall chance of injury.

Small steps every day can go miles towards making sure you stay healthy and injury free.

It’s important to approach obstacle races with a plan, but also to make sure you get enough rest and recovery time.

When you’re training for an obstacle race, it’s important to make sure that you have enough recovery time. Rest days are a huge part of the process, as well as sleep and stretching. Hydration is another important part of staying healthy and making sure that your muscles can recover properly after workouts—and nutrition plays a role in that as well!

If you’re not resting enough or taking care of yourself properly during these crucial times, it’s likely that your body won’t be able to recover between workouts. If this happens, it will be much harder (or impossible) for you to get back into the swing of things when it comes time to train again.

Have Fun

Training for an obstacle course race is a great way to challenge yourself and have fun. Make sure you do your research beforehand so you know what to expect, and set aside enough time for training. If you want to try to finish first, that’s great. Put in the effort. If you do finish first, that’s awesome. If not, don’t beat yourself up. OCR’s are supposed to be fun. Don’t forget that.

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