The Beginner’s Guide To Obstacle Course Run Training

Obstacle Course Training

If you’re looking to shake up your regular training, take your athletic prowess to another level, and maybe get a little dirty in the process, it might be time to look into signing up for an obstacle course race! Rather than participating in one kind of discipline (like in marathon running), or even a couple of fixed events (like in a triathlon), obstacle course races introduce a variety of obstacles that’ll keep your body and your mind pushed to the limit during your race to the finish line. 

Obstacle course races like the Spartan and the Tough Mudder have taken the competitive racing world by storm over the past couple of years, and for good reason. The most fun (and perhaps the most daunting) part of competing in obstacle course competitions is that you can’t always know exactly what to expect, which makes for an interesting training regimen! Here’s what you need to know about getting started in your obstacle course training. 

What to expect

Obstacle course races, or (OCRs for short), can vary in length and intensity, starting as small as a 5K and ranging all the way up to a whopping 50K (as is the case with the Ultra Spartan). In addition to the length of the course, you’ll also need to clear several obstacles that challenge different areas of your strength, speed, and stamina. 

Some common obstacles that might be present in your course include (but are certainly not limited to): 

  • Hurdles
  • Climbs
  • Monkey bars
  • Wall jumps 
  • Crawls 
  • Weighted carries 
  • Slackline or balance beams
  • Tire flips 

In addition to the physical toll that these obstacle courses present, it’s also worth noting that you’ll need a good deal of mental toughness to get through some other obstacles like ice baths, claustrophobic crawls, and more (some Tough Mudders even feature an “Electroshock Therapy” obstacle where you have to run through 10,000 volts of electricity!). While you might not be able to train for this in the same way as the more physical events, it’s good to be prepared for these events that require a fair amount of mental fortitude in addition to athletic prowess. 

Areas you’ll need to train 

Because the terrain and challenges present during an OCR can vary so widely, training adequately for a competition will mean challenging all aspects of your athletic performance. 

Cardio and endurance training 

One thing’s for sure: no matter which competition you’ve signed up to do, you’ll need to do some racing against your competitors to the finish line! So like most race competitions, you’ll need to train a good amount of cardio to improve your speed, stamina, and endurance. 

Cardio workouts to include in your training: 

  • Long-distance runs
  • Sprints 
  • Hikes with incline/decline
  • Swimming 
  • Cycling

Strength training

Because OCRs rely on more than just speed and stamina, you’ll also want to dedicate plenty of time to strength training so that you can easily clear those obstacles come race day. It’s also important to note that not only will you need to train for muscle strength itself, but you’ll also want to dedicate plenty of attention to improving your muscle endurance so that you can keep your strength up through the toughest obstacles. 

What this means for your training: while you’ll need to get comfortable with lifting resistance weights for events that require carries and drags, a good training program will also incorporate workouts that use lower weights but higher reps and sets. 

Strength workouts to include: 

  • Farmer’s carries 
  • Weighted squats 
  • Weighted lunges
  • Deadlifts 
  • Curls 
  • Shoulder presses 
  • Bench press 
  • Tire flips and drags 

Functional movement

You’re going to need your muscle strength for more than just lugging heavy weights around your obstacle: you’ll also be using it to lift yourself! So in your training, you’ll want to add functional bodyweight workouts that closely mimic the natural movements you would be doing on race day. In addition, you’ll also want to work on your grip strength and balance, since both aspects will also be challenged during your OCR.

Functional movements to train:

  • Pull-ups 
  • Rope climbing 
  • Rock climbing 
  • Dead hangs
  • Monkey bars 
  • Slackline 

Explosive movements

Finally, many obstacles you’ll encounter during your race will require quick, explosive strength. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and circuit training are great tools here since they train both your cardiovascular and strength-training abilities while bringing speed and endurance into the mix. 

Workouts for this aspect of your training include: 

  • Burpees 
  • Long jumps 
  • Box jumps 
  • Battle ropes 
  • Snatches 

How to approach your training 

When it comes to training for any kind of competition, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time, and the earlier you can get going, the better. As a general rule, you should start training about two or three months before your event for the best results. 

Training for an obstacle course run will consist of various workouts, so you’ll want to incorporate a multitude of them each week to train yourself to be well-rounded while on the course. For efficient training, you can dedicate each day of the week to specific disciplines, rather than isolating different muscle groups. For example: 

  • Running on Monday 
  • Weightlifting on Tuesday 
  • Functional bodyweight workouts on Wednesday 
  • Rest day on Thursday 
  • HIIT training Friday 
  • Cardio and functional bodyweight workouts Saturday 
  • Rest day on Sunday 

Gear you’ll need

Trail shoes

One of the most important pieces of equipment that you’ll need to have during an OCR is a good pair of trail shoes with plenty of traction. You’ll likely be encountering some rough terrain during your race -- be it slippery mud, loose grave, or soft sand -- so you’ll want to look for a pair of trail shoes that can really dig into the earth and keep you on your feet even in the softest or slipperiest of conditions. 

Gloves

You might also want a pair of gloves to help you grip better on the various obstacles you’ll be presented with, whether they’re heavy weights you need to lug around or monkey bars. 

Sunglasses/protective eyewear

Sunglasses are a must during outdoor events. Not only can they help you see your obstacles clearly, but they’ll also protect your eyes if you’re doing a particularly messy competition that puts you in the way of mud, dirt, and grime.

Athletic wear

Next up: the clothes you’ll wear on competition day. While people wear a variety of athletic gear for OCRs, keep in mind that you’ll want functional gear that dries quickly and won’t weigh you down during the race. For example, cotton may not be the best choice since it absorbs so much moisture, whereas synthetic and moisture-wicking fabrics can keep you cooler and more comfortable. In addition, compression gear is a good choice since it’s less likely to get caught by obstacles as looser-fitting clothes. 

Whatever you choose to wear on race day, just make sure it’s something you don’t mind getting a little dirty! 

Supplements

Good nutrition can make or break your performance and recovery during both your training and the competition itself, so having certain sports nutrition supplements on hand can be hugely beneficial. For example, if you tend to suffer from muscle cramps during endurance competitions, taking HOTSHOT For Muscle Cramping prior to your workout counteracts the neurological causes of muscle cramping, which could slow your progress at best and be dangerous at worst when it comes to certain obstacles. 

Your muscles will also have gone through a fair amount of strain and fatigue during the race, so it might also be a good idea to take HOTSHOT for Muscle Soreness to prevent any pain after the fact.

Post-race clean-up

After your race is over, you can expect to be tired and -- let’s face it -- dirty. Bring a waterproof bag (or even a garbage bag) to store your dirty clothes, plus something clean to change into if you don’t want your car to be covered in mud and grime. You might also want to bring some baby wipes and a towel to give yourself a quick tidying up post-race, especially if your event doesn’t provide showers or a place to hose down. 

Other things you might need: 

  • Sunscreen to protect your skin 
  • Water-resistance watch to keep track of your time and speed 
  • Mid- or post-race snacks, focusing on protein and complex carbohydrates 
  • Large water bottle to stay hydrated 

Conclusion

Whether you’re charging your way through a muddy field, launching yourself over tall walls, or swinging your way through monkey bars, participating in an obstacle course race is one of the most exciting and challenging ways to push your physical strength and endurance to its limits. With the right training and the correct gear, you’ll be on your way to conquering some of the most fun sports competitions out there! 

Featured image credit: Photo by Marc Rafanell López on Unsplash