You may or may not be ready for obstacle course racing, but in any case, you can and should give it a try. While training will certainly help you prepare for the OCR event, there are plenty of events that don’t require any kind of conditioning. If you’re unsure where to begin, check out a training facility like Pretty Huge Obstacles.
Obstacle course racing is for just about anyone. It gives you the chance to embrace the outdoors, put your physical limits to the test, and engage in some friendly competition. Training is not a necessity for all OCR events, but it will make things a little easier and a lot less intimidating on race day, and it’s fun to try out the obstacles without any time and performance pressure.
Which obstacle should you try first?
Tackling the obstacles, or at least a close counterpart, will give you more confidence when you’re faced with the real deal. The easiest one to replicate is the running. It’s not the main event, but you will have to do a lot of running all throughout any OCR event. If you don’t already have a regular cardio routine, you can get your heart, lungs, and legs ready with jogging, sprinting, biking, or even dancing.
Doing a test run on some common obstacles can help you figure out the best way to approach them. You can start with the simplest kind of obstacle: walls. Although they can be quite challenging, these are the easiest obstacle to learn. From walls, you can transition to basic hanging obstacles like rings and monkey bars - both pretty easy to find at your local park. Start by playing around and doing simple tasks like climbing up the wall and landing safely, or getting all the way across the monkey bars. Once you’re in the zone, try doing the same thing but while timing yourself, or with fewer or no rest periods.
Experiment until you find out what works best for you. Once you’ve mastered walls and hanging, the other obstacles will become easier to learn. Mastery is important because you need it to develop neuromuscular adaptation. This means your body has to become familiar with the movements you need to do.
Exercises for specific muscle groups
Build arm strength by incorporating exercises like hangs, rows, planks, and pull-ups into your workout routine. If you’ve mastered the pull-up and are looking for something more challenging, try upgrading to cliffhanger pull-ups. These are narrow-grip pull-ups using staggered hands.
- Start by putting your right hand in front of your left on the pull-up bar. Your palms should be facing inward. Keep your shoulders tight and pointed away from your ears.
- When you do the pull-up, move your head to the left side of the bar, then back to the middle as you go back down.
- On the next pull-up, do the same on the right side of the bar. Continue alternating, then when you’re ready to start a new set, put your left hand in front of your right hand instead.
This exercise will help prepare you for lifting your own weight, especially when you need to use an asymmetrical grip like in rope climbing.
Squats and jumps can help you get your legs in great shape for running, climbing, and carrying, and so can the many single-leg movements you can do with or without a machine. If you have some weights on hand, make the most out of your leg workout with some goblet squats. You can use either a kettlebell or a dumbbell.
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Point them slightly outward. Using both hands, hold the weight at chest level. The handle should be vertical, like if you were holding a stemmed glass or goblet - hence the name of the exercise. Make sure your spine is stretched out straight so that you’re at your tallest.
- Keeping your core tight, lower your hips down towards your heels by slowly bending your knees. As you do this, take a deep breath in, then let it out when you push upwards to get back into standing position.
Regular goblet squats will make flipping tires and lifting and carrying heavy objects much easier.
Core strength is essential for many obstacles and even for maintaining good running form. Toes to bar, hanging knee tucks, and machine exercises are just a few ways to work on your core. If you want to keep it simple, add a few sets of leg raises to your core training.
- Get down on the floor and lie on your back. Your legs should be straight and together. Keep them together as you lift them up to the ceiling.
- Lift until your butt also lifts up off of the floor. Focus and engage your core, and don’t feel discouraged if you shake a little.
- When you’ve gone as high as you can go, gradually lower your legs back down, but don’t let them touch the floor. When they’re almost there, hold for just a moment, then bring them back up and repeat.
Aside from strengthening your core, leg raises also enhance your flexibility and balance.
Should I exercise alone or with a group?
There is no hard and fast rule for whether it’s better to workout solo or with other people. Everyone thinks and moves differently, so it’s probably best to consider what the purpose of your workout is and how familiar you are with the routine.
Exercising alone is your best option if you already have a clear idea of what you want to do. Of course, you should also already know how to do it. When you work out independently, you get to decide what exercises you do and how much time you spend on each one. This is ideal for tackling specific obstacles that you feel you need to master before doing the real thing. It also allows you to be fully focused and easily keep track of time, which is important when you’re on a tight schedule.
Exercising with a group - whether it’s a set of friends or a handful of fellow gym-goers - works better for those who need an extra push to stay motivated. It’s also the more beginner-friendly choice as you can ask others in the group for guidance when you aren’t sure what to do, or if you want to learn some new techniques for overcoming tough obstacles. Some people prefer working out in a group because it’s more fun for them and makes the workout feel less “heavy” or strenuous.
When creating a training program, you should aim to have a well-rounded workout that changes as you make progress with your body so that you’re always improving and on your toes. If your training no longer challenges you, that means it’s time to adjust your workout. Your program will also look different depending on how much time you have to prepare before the big event. The longer you can spend getting ready, the better, but you can still be in great shape for a race after just a week of training. You just need to know what to focus on and commit to it.
Two months before the race
Two months is a good amount of time before race day for you to start training if you’re serious about finishing your OCR event with flying colors. Your routine should include running and strength and conditioning exercises. This is also a good time to give some common obstacles a try, since it may take a few sessions for you to pin down the right techniques.
Though the exercises may be replaced or modified over time, cardio, strength, and conditioning exercises will be a permanent part of your training. If you start early, you’ll have enough time to develop your running form and stamina, build strength, and perfect your obstacle-tackling strategies.
One month before the race
If you registered for an event a month ahead and plan to start training immediately after, be sure to include running and trial runs on the obstacles. One month is not quite enough time for strength building, but you can make up for it somewhat by doing a lot of running and practicing on the obstacles until you get it right.
Two weeks before the race
For two weeks of preparation time, do some light cardio conditioning and a few runs on the obstacles. You won’t see immediate results in your running, but it will give you a feel of the cardio part of the OCR experience. On the other hand, two weeks is plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the obstacles and work out some killer techniques to overcome them.
One week before the race
If you only have a week to prepare, do away with the running. One week is not enough time for cardio conditioning, and you will more likely just tire yourself out. Instead, put your energy into practicing on the obstacles. You won’t have enough time to build up muscular strength, but being familiar with the obstacles will give you a definite advantage.
One day before the race
The day before the race, you want to make sure you don’t wear yourself out. Some people opt to put in a light workout, but it might be best to rest and prepare your body for the race itself. Get enough sleep (not too much, not too little), keep up with your eating plan, and mentally prepare for the upcoming challenge.
With these tips in your arsenal, OCR will still be tough, but you’ll be more prepared to face the obstacles head-on. It won’t be a walk in the park, but expect to enjoy the race more than if you hadn’t prepared for it. Keep going and don’t forget to have fun!