Need a New Challenge? Try an Obstacle Course Race

Week in Review: February 22, 2019
February 22, 2019
Week in Review: March 1, 2019
March 1, 2019
Week in Review: February 22, 2019
February 22, 2019
Week in Review: March 1, 2019
March 1, 2019

Much like watching my favorite NFL team's season end after Week 3, competing in an obstacle course race has become a yearly tradition for me.

I look forward to organizing or joining a team, creating the training and competing on race day. I look forward to the beer at the end. I even look forward to the inevitable scrapes and bruises that I'll earn along the way.

For some, obstacle course races are a way a life – they jet all around the country just to compete. For others, the mere thought of running 10 miles is enough to stop then in their tracks, and that's without pausing to climb a 30-foot structure along the way. Certainly, if you're in the latter group, you're probably asking…

Why would I do this to myself?

While I can't answer that for you, I can tell you why I choose to do so:

1. It's different

Like many others, I have an aversion to distance running. In fact, I tacitly refuse to run long distances as a matter of principle.

Yet it's too easy to get stuck in familiar, comfortable modes of training. An obstacle course race forces me to train much differently than I otherwise would. Good things happen when I train outside of my comfort zone.

For 8-10 weeks I have to create a training environment that closely mirrors the demands of the course. That means a lot of upper body and grip work, conditioning, longer runs and hybrid workouts that challenge all of those things. And, I have to make it sufficiently suck so that the race is, by comparison, an enjoyable experience.

All of that is a far cry from the traditional strength, power and interval work that I prefer to do!

2. It's fun

Sure, I could neglect a sound training strategy and just show up. But I would not have fun. I'll put up with the training necessary to complete a 6-10 mile run because I get to go over, around and through things.

In fact, I live for the obstacles. In the days leading up to the race I'm like a little kid at Christmas, looking at the course set-up and obstacle videos on you tube. I mentally map out my strategy for each one and approach them with unbridled enthusiasm.

On race day, I have one goal aside from finishing: successfully complete every obstacle. Whether or not that happens is a function of my training and the difficulty of the obstacle. I've learned that organizers like to up the ante in this regard, which forces be to respond in kind during training. That alone, is a fun game of cat and mouse.

3. The Camaraderie

I've written before about the power of shared experiences. There's no greater shared experience than putting together a team of friends, co-workers and clients and wiling yourselves through the course.

As you compete, there will be moments when you're helping pull a teammate through a challenge and vice versa. There may even be moments of doubt. Good thing you've got buddies to help you across the line.

Along the way you'll laugh, groan, strain and eventually, toast to a job well done. What can be better?

Key Training Elements

Above all else, two key elements drive my training methodology:

1. Upper Body Strength

We need a strong upper body to tackle the various obstacles. For upper body strength, nothing beats good old-fashioned Pull-ups. Since you're constantly clinging to things, stronger back muscles will allow you to offset some the work your grip will do.

Beyond Pull-ups, here are some of my favorite upper body exercises to include in a workout. Most of them require only the use of a bar:

  • Dead Hangs – If Pull-ups are challenging, just getting your grip and upper body to hold a hanging position will help get you stronger. Keep some tension through your lats and upper back to ease the stress on your hands.

  • Hand Switches – Alternate your hands from an overhand position to an underhand position, which will simulate a monkey bar movement. You can also add a Pull-up in between each switch.

  • Bar Switches – Bar switches make the movement more dynamic by having to change directions. Again, you can add a Pull-up in between each switch.

  • Monkey Bars – There's no better way to simulate upper body dominant obstacles than by using the monkey bars. Head to your local park or use a rig like I've done below.

Note, that you can do any of these for a specific rep count, time or complete to failure. You can also add pull-ups to these to make them even harder.

2. Conditioning

We need to be well conditioned so that we can efficiently complete the course. Unfortunately, people sometimes neglect the conditioning component, especially on shorter courses. Even If you are strong, your capacity to handle the obstacles will suffer if you're gassed when you arrive at them.

Typically, I like to create a circuit that combines a variety of strength training exercises for lower and upper body, along with a high intensity exercise, like a row machine sprint. The circuit can be completed for a set number of rounds or AMRAP for time (usually 40-60 minutes).

For some workouts, I'll replace the high intensity exercise with a short distance run (1/4 mile). Track workouts and a long distance running day are also beneficial for boosting overall conditioning.

Jump in and Hang on!

Obstacle course races offer you an opportunity to vary your training, experience unique obstacles and have a shared experience with friends that you'll always remember. As they've grown in popularity it's become easier to find one to fit any skill level. Consider giving one a try this spring, summer or fall. You won't be disappointed!

Even if an obstacle course race isn't for you, I highly encourage you to step outside your comfort zone. You'll improve blind spots that occur in your regular training and you'll keep things fresh and fun.

If you’d like to learn more about obstacle course race training or are looking for new ideas for improving your health and overall fitness, please contact us with questions. If you're interested in on-line coaching, each of our Vitalifit Coaching Programs is individually designed to fit your goals and lifestyle. Simply choose the one that is right for you.