Move over marathons, obstacle course races (OCR) are taking over. People around the world take part in OCRs every year. If you’ve never done one, you may wonder why they’re so popular.

There’s nothing like participating in a fun, healthy past-time like OCRs. The team-building opportunities and camaraderie on the course are like nothing else.  

You can’t decide 24 hours before the race that you want to do it, though. You’ll need to invest time in obstacle course training to ensure you’re ready for what’s coming. 

The three main areas you need to focus on are cardio, strength, and agility. Read on to learn how to train your body to prepare for your next (or first) OCR. 

Cardiovascular Training

No obstacle course training plan would be complete without a little (or a lot) of cardio. There’s no way around it. To complete your race, you’ll have to train your cardiovascular system beforehand. 

You can choose the cardiovascular exercise you prefer. Swimming, hiking, and cycling are all great heart-pumping workouts to include in your plan.

If your OCR covers a great distance, you’ll need to start a running training plan. Take your runs outside to change up the scenery if you can’t stand the “dreadmill.”

Give yourself time to build the endurance necessary to see you through the end of your race.

Don’t just run around your neighbourhood, either. If you really want the OCR experience in your training runs, try different terrain. Races often feature slippery slopes, gravel, mud, and winding trails. 

Running on different surfaces helps build endurance and reduces your risk of injury. If you’re already aware of how to run on slopes and mud, you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself on race day. 

Strength Training

You need to train your cardiovascular system to survive the running part of your race. But physical strength is necessary to get through the obstacles.

A functional obstacle course training program will be an even mixture of upper and lower body exercises. How much time you spend in the gym will depend upon how conditioned your body is right now.

Gym Junkies

If you’re hitting the gym several times a week, keep it up. Focus energy on exercises that challenge your balance, explosiveness, and push/pull capabilities.

Every OCR racer needs a strong foundation, so building balance is an absolute must. 

A BOSU ball is an excellent tool for increasing your balance. Use it for hop-ups and one-legged exercises. 

Program in pull-ups so you can get yourself over bars and tall walls. If you’re not strong enough yet, do them assisted. Use a resistance band around your feet or the pull-up assist machine at the gym.  

Practice squatting with an overhead press. Many OCR obstacles involve lifting an object, like a boulder, from the ground. This exercise will also assist you in getting your teammates over a wall.

Gym Newbies

If you’ve never been to a gym or if it’s been a few years, you can still do an OCR. You only need to devote a little extra time for training before race day.

Obstacle course training for beginners should focus on building a strong foundation. Aim to hit the gym at least twice a week with one upper and one lower body focus day. Don’t forget to tack on a few core exercises, too.

Your obstacle course workouts should hit every major muscle group.

Upper body days should focus on chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and back. Aim to hit the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and glutes on leg days. Your core workouts should hit the transverse and rectus abdominis and the external and internal obliques. 

Include chest and shoulder presses, triceps dips, and wide-arm pulldowns on upper days. Squats, deadlifts, and calf raises are great staples for your lower body workouts. For your core days, include planks, slam balls, and hollow body holds. 

High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT can meld your cardio and strength workouts together. 

Build explosiveness with exercises like burpees and box jumps. Sprinkle compound strength moves like dumbbell thrusters and power cleans. Make sure you learn proper form before trying these more challenging exercises. 

Agility Training

Agility will complement your cardio and strength training. It’ll help you stay balanced, fast, and improve your coordination. You don’t want to trip and sprain an ankle on race day.

You don’t need to devote a specific day to this skill. Incorporate ladder drills and bear crawls in your warm-ups to help increase agility. 

Training for Extreme Obstacles

You can spend hours training glutes in the gym building power for big jumps. Your pull-up game may be on point for the walls you’ll have to hoist yourself over. But if you’re not ready to face some of the more extreme challenges, you might struggle.

Tough Mudder, for example, has several obstacles that test your mental strength more than your physical.

Their Arctic Enema has earned a bit of a reputation over the years. Participants plunge themselves into a dumpster full of ice-cold water. They’ll then need to swim under a plank to get to the other side so they can climb out.  

Another classic Tough Mudder obstacle is using electricity to liven things up. Though many races no longer use live electricity, it’s good to be ready for whatever comes your way during the race.

Acceptance is the first thing you need to do to prepare for these mental challenges. You know at the start of the race that you might have to face obstacles that test more than your brute strength. Accept what is coming and know you’ll come out stronger on the other side.

Keep going and don’t stop mid-obstacle. Resist the urge to overthink the challenge before diving in. You could psych yourself out by overthinking. 

Once you’re in the midst of it, keep going. If you’re neck-deep in ice water, the last thing you want to do is stop. 

When you’ve made it to the other side, use the adrenaline rush to get you to the next obstacle. 

Start Your Obstacle Course Training Today

It’s never too early to start obstacle course training. The more time you allow yourself to train, the better equipped you’ll be on race day. 

Check out our guide to find the right supplements to complement your training plan. When you’re ready to book your next (or first) race, use our events page to find one near you. Happy training!


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