The Ultimate Obstacle Course Race Training Guide

Looking to start training for an obstacle race course, but are unsure how to begin?

Then, buddy, you have come to the right place.

Today I’m going to share with you the guidelines you need for an amazing obstacle race course adventure.

Note: This guide is relatively long, but it’s worth your time. Hence, please give it a try and don’t give up on it.

So are you ready?

Then here we go…

Enter Obstacle Racing Course…

Unless you have been living under a rock for the few last years, then you should be already familiar with obstacle course races.

Some of the famous ones include the Tough Mudder, The Spartan, and The Warrior Dash.

In fact, these remarkable events are gathering steam like nothing else.

So what is obstacle racing?

An obstacle course race is an event in which, while traveling on foot, competitors have to go through a set of different physical challenges. These outdoors competitions are designed to test your physical, and mental fortitude to the breaking point.

Said otherwise, OCR events are the perfect marriage between footrace and Navy SEAL-style challenges.

And truth be told, in my experience, obstacle course racing is the cleanest dirty fun you’ll ever have.

The Distance and Obstacles

OCR distance tend to vary from one event to the next. In fact, they can range from three to 25 miles (or even more), with 10 to 40 death-defying obstacles.

Some of the obstacles include:

  • Wall climbs,
  • Greasy monkey bars,
  • Cargo nets climbs,
  • Rope climbs,
  • Swimming through frigid pits of waters,
  • Carrying heavy objects,
  • Jumping through fire,
  • Crawling under barbed wire or through pipes,
  • Tackling slippery hills,
  • Smudgy pits

and other gut-busting military-inspired obstacles, designed put you through the ultimate ordeal.

It’s open for Everyone

And this is not an exclusive sport.

Au contraire, enter most obstacle course races, and you’ll see people of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels on the starting line.

Training For OCR – Total body Awesomeness

Most OCRs mix elements of adventure racing, trail running, and gut-throbbing military-inspired obstacles—all of which can offer you a one-of-a-kind fitness experience.

Unlike training for a traditional race, the ideal OCR plan touches on every aspect of functional movement.

For instance, most presume that athletes with a running background excel at this type of events.

Wrong!

Road runners often score low on upper body strength. Thus they do not always shine in the sport.

Likewise, strength athletes such as powerlifters, wrestlers, and football players often lack the endurance needed to finish strong.

The Skills Needed

To make it to the finish line of an OCR event, you are going to have to develop a broad range of fitness skills.

For starters, you’d need massive amounts of endurance—most OCR events are running based after all.

Not only that, as a racer, you’d also need to increase total body strength. ( I hate to break it to you, but traditional weight lifting routines will only get you so far).

Furthermore, you’d also need to have high levels of mobility, speed, agility, as well as an uncompromising mental game.

In other words, you will have to become the ultimate athlete.

Where are you at?

But first things first. Before I get into details of OCR training, I need you to do one thing first: Assess your current fitness level and needs.

Hence, before you take your first steps, make sure to evaluate your current starting point as well as your ultimate goal.

So please a grab piece of paper or open a word office document and answer the following questions. (be honest)

  • What type of OCR are you planning to tackle?
  • How long is the race?
  • Can you already run the course distance? How hard from a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Do you consider yourself mentally tough?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how fit are you? (check my post here for a well-rounded fitness assessment guide)
  • Do you have any current injuries? Are you recovering from any?
  • Do you do any sort of regular strength training?
  • Do you mind paying good money just to get dirty and muddy (even have your own a$$ handed to you)?
  • Do you have a sense of adventure?

If your answers are mostly positive, then you might proceed to the next section.

How much Time you need to train?

Disclaimer: Proceed with the training program prescribed below once you’ve had enough cardio and strength level.

In other words, you have to be fit.

To make it to the finish line of most OCR events, I highly recommend that you should be able to run at least 6 to 8 miles without much trouble. If you are not already a runner, then please check my beginner running programs here and be sure to start from there.

There is no skipping fitness levels when it comes to OCR. Of course, you don’t need to be in tip-top athletic shape, but you gotta at least to be fit enough. Otherwise, you’ll fall short, and be wasting your own time, money (and a set of good shoes) in the process.

The Ultimate Obstacle Course Race Training Guide

For a complete beginner, train for at least three to four months (even more). This, of course, depends on the type of race you are planning to partake.

Aim for three to four workouts a week, increasing training volume gradually from one week to the next.

If you are a regular runner and have ample total body strength, then give yourself at least 4 to 8 weeks of specified obstacle race training.

As an intermediate or advanced athlete, aim to train 5 to 6 times a week.

With all that being said, whatever you do, please give yourself plenty of time to train.

Training Program

The majority of workouts you’ll do must target the precise movements needed to overcome the military inspired obstacles, as well as increasing overall body stamina and conditioning.

In my opinion, the ideal OCT training program is a mix of trail running and CrossFit WOD type of workouts.

To give a rough idea on the type of workouts you need to do, here are 10 must-routines  to try out.

Endurance

As I have already stated, most OCR includes running distances that vary from one event to the next.

But it ain’t your typical 10K road race.

During an OCR event, expect to run on trails, up and down hills, across mud, and through obstacles.

Hill and Speedwork

To get ready for the OCR, you need to do plenty of speed work and hill reps to develop the explosive power needed to go through the whole course unscathed.

Here are the workouts you’ll need to do:

1. Interval Run Workout

Obstacle race tends to take place in in full-out-efforts or intervals, typically alternating between running and the obstacles.

In other words, they are like fartlek training on steroids.

Build your explosive power and stamina for the OCR by doing plenty of interval running workouts.

Here is how to proceed on your (first) interval running workout.

Start off the workout with a warm-up for 10-minute. Doing so helps you get prepared for the intense work ahead and prevents injury.

Sprint at 80 percent of your maximum speed for a full of 30-second. Jog slowly for a full minute for recovery.

Repeat the process six to eight times

Finish the workout with a cool down. Reduce your running into an effortless jog, then perform a few stretches.

The intensity and length of each interval depends, mostly, on your fitness level and training goals. Just be careful not to hurt yourself. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.

2. The Hill Workout

Hill training increases both lungpower and lower body strength.

This combo is going to help you overcome many of the obstacles like the steep incline, the stairs and so on.

Here is how to proceed with your interval hill workout

First of all, you need to locate the nearest steepest hill, preferably with a gradient of 5 to 10 percent. This hill should take you up to one to two minute to climb at maximum running speed.

Start with a warm-up. Run slowly for 5-to 10-minute on flat terrain to get your blood pumping and raise body temperature. This gets you ready for the workout ahead, preventing injury and premature fatigue.

Go for your first sprint at about 80- 90 percent of your maximum cardio power.

Walk down slowly to the starting point.

Repeat the cycle four to six times—and PLEASE stop when you start losing either speed, form, or both.

End your workout with a cool-down. Jog slowly for 5-minute and gently stretch your body afterward.

For more hill workouts, check my post here.

3. Long Run Workout

To increase your lung power and endurance, do, at least, one long run per week.

How much is enough?

Well, as I have previously said, you’ll need to be able to run, at least, for 8 miles non-stop at a slightly challenging pace.

Nonetheless, if you are not there yet, then aim to be comfortable running a 10K without panting for breath, before race day.

To make the most out of your long runs, make sure to do them on trails for at least 90 minutes at an easy pace.

For the full guide to long runs, check my post here.

Simulate the Course – Bonus Tip

If you are an elite athlete, then consider simulating OCR experience by training in similar conditions.

Do this also if you are serious about dominating the race.

For starters, be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Do plenty of rainy runs, muddy hill and cold morning workout.

Also, do the bulk of your running outdoor, preferably on trails or under conditions similar to OCR day.

Want more? Then run in wet clothes and shoes to simulate real racing conditions.

Simulation Options – Advanced Workouts

4. The Interval Sprint Body Weight Workout

If you are looking to take your interval runs one step further, then try adding bodyweight exercises into them.

By doing this, you’re teaching your body to keep on moving, even when you feel utterly exhausted.

Doing this also increases muscular endurance in a similar fashion to OCR.

Here are is a sample workout to try:

After a 10-minute dynamic warm-up, complete the following circuit two to three times, taking as little rest as necessary

  • Run 400m at a 5K pace
  • Perform 40 walking lunges, then 30 standard push-ups.
  • Run 400m slightly faster than your 5K pace
  • Perform 40 bodyweight squats, then hold a plank for 90 to 120 second.
  • Run 400m slightly faster than your 5K pace
  • Perform 30 burpees, followed by 40 mountain climbers
  • Run 400m at the fastest pace you can sustain.
  • Jog for 10 minutes for cool-down.

5. The Tempo Obstacles Simulation Workout

After a 10-minute dynamic warm-up, perform the following

  • Run for one-mile at a tempo pace
  • 7 ten-foot wall climbs
  • Run for one-mile at a tempo pace
  • 5 ten-foot wall climbs
  • Run for one-mile at a tempo pace
  • 3 ten-foot wall climbs
  • Run for one-mile at the fastest pace you can sustain
  • 7 ten-foot wall climbs
  • Cool-down

6. Long Runs 2.0

To take your long runs one step further, do the following exercise every 10 to 15 minutes of running:

  • 25 lunge steps
  • 25 pushups
  • 25 (or more) air squats.
  • 25 burpees.

Or any other convenient bodyweight exercise that you can do safely in the outdoor.

Total body Fitness

Strength is the other major component.

In fact, running will only carry you so far.

The right strength training strategy must have 5 primary goals:

(1) increasing your total body conditioning,

(2) grip strength,

(3) agility,

(4) explosive power and

(5) balance.

These skills are going to help you dominate every one of the obstacles you are going to have to tackle.

Compound is King

To increase your explosive power, compound movements are vital.  Also known as multi-joint exercises, these target lots of muscles and vital for increasing full body strength.

Here are the moves you need to do:

  • Deadlifts,
  • pull-ups,
  • standing overhead presses,
  • squats,
  • back squats,
  • power cleans,
  • thrusters
  • push-ups,
  • dips, and
  • bench presses.

Be Stable

Also, most OCR events are going to force your body to use muscles you didn’t know you had. And in ways, you are not used to.

That’s why you’ll also need to work on increasing strength in your stabilizing muscles. These are vital for keeping balance on slippery surfaces as well as sliding around in the mud.

Agility

To increase your agility, do plenty of plyometric exercises such as jump squats, kettlebell swings, box jumps, and burpees.

Grip Strength

For the grip strength, one of the best exercises you can do is the kettlebell swings. This grip strength will help you get you over the wall and be able to grip and climb a rope with relative ease.

Without further ado, here are the workouts you need:

7. The Dynamic Strength Workout:

Purpose: Increase total body conditioning

After a thorough 10-minute dynamic warm-up, perform Five sets of the following exercise:

  • 50 bodyweight squats,
  • 50 mountain climbers,
  • 30 push-ups,
  • 30 lunges,
  • 20 burpees, and
  • 8 pull-ups.

Please keep going strong throughout the workout and take as little rest possible between each exercise.

Your goal here is to keep your heart rate soaring high throughout the workout with the aim of building endurance and strength at the same time.

8. The agility and Speed Workout:

Purpose: Boost speed

After a thorough 10-minute dynamic warm-up, do at least three to four sets of the following exercises

  • 30 kettlebell swings,
  • 30 med ball slams,
  • 25 box jumps,
  • 15 jumping burpees and
  • 30 jump squats.

Please keep in mind that plyo exercises are the epitome of intensity.

So, take at least 30- to 45-second of rest between each exercising, then one to two minute between each set.

And whatever you do, please perform the exercises with good form. Bad form will only lead to injury and limited growth. And you don’t want that.

For more challenge, feel free to strap on or add some weights to the workouts.

9. The total body strength workout:

Purpose: Increase total body explosiveness and power

Here is the mother of all strength training workouts. To complete this beauty workout, do four to six sets of the following exercises:

  • 8 to 10 back squats,
  • 8 to 10 deadlifts,
  • 8 to 10 bench presses,
  • and 8 to 10 chin-ups.

Make sure to pick the right weights. For instance, I highly recommend that you Perform the deadlift and bench press at, at least, your current bodyweight. If you are not there, then work on getting there.

Take at least one minute of rest between each exercise and as much recovery as needed between each round.

10. Bodyweight Workout

Purpose: boost total body strength using nothing but your bodyweight

Here is a workout to try:

  • 10-15 military Push-ups
  • Bear Crawl 15-25 yards
  • 10-15 Squats
  • 8-10 Pull-ups
  • 10-12 Burpees with a jump
  • 20 Spider Lunges.

The weekly training plan

  • Monday – The total body strength workout

  • Tuesday – Sprint workout
  • Wednesday – The agility and speed workout.
  • Thursday – Rest or short recovery run
  • Friday – The dynamic strength workout
  • Saturday – Long trail run
  • Sunday –  Rest

On the Big Day

Here a few tips to help make sure that you are well prepared, logistically, to tackle an OCR event.

1. Get the Right Shoes

As I have already stated, expect to spend a lot of time on muddy, greasy trails, and murky grassland.

Therefore, you are going to have to race in the right shoes. Otherwise, you’ll be falling short.

Why is the typical running shoe a bad choice?

Regular running shoes is bulky. Thus, they tend to hold in too much mud once they’re soaked.

This will only interfere with your racing experience and might end up slowing you down.

The best shoes for OCR must be well-fitting athletic models to avoid getting blisters and other troubles.

In my experience, minimalist shoes are, by far, the best option.

Why?

Well, minimalist shoes have, typically, less padding on the bottom. Thus they don’t hold in too much mud and/or water. Not only that, most of them are made of water-resistant fabric.

Some of the best minimalist trail shoes are the Brand X, and Brand Y (Inov-8’s X-Talon 190s).

Hold’em Tight

During the race, your feet will get slick and soaked in muddy water. Hence you risk losing your shoes on the course.

hence, make sure to tie your shoes firmly.

You can duct tape the top of your shoes to your ankles.

Nonetheless, PLEASE leave enough wiggling room for your toes; otherwise expect pain, even injury.

2. Dress Right

Although most OCR events do not state a specific dress code like other races, the type of clothing on the big day can be a deal maker or breaker.

Dress wrong for the event, and you’ll end up slowing yourself and wasting a lot of valuable energy.

As a rule of thumb, the less clothing you wear, the better. You can even go shirtless if that suits you.

Why is that?

Well, the fewer the clothing items you have on, the less mud to cake onto.  Also, a shirt will get soaked, mucky, and might chafe your skin.

If it’s not the case, race with something light and tight.

So what is the right clothing? And what is it made of?

Make sure to wear moisture-wicking, breathable clothing that’s made from technical fabric.

This type of technical fabric is designed to keep the body dry and warm.

Think swimwear. This type of clothing dries faster and grants more mobility to tackle the race with ease.

And please whatever you do, DO NOT wear cotton. It tears easily and gets waterlogged, keeping you cold and weighing you down in the process.

You might consider investing in tight-fitting, synthetic materials like Under Armour’s HeatGear compression shirts.

3. Get the Right People

According to my experience, OCR is more of teamwork than a solo effort. In fact, the sense of camaraderie is at the heart of many OCR event ethos.

Also, teamwork can come in handy when you need help overcoming the tough and challenging obstacles.

Therefore, on the OCR course, do not expect to be a lone wolf.

Better still, I recommend that you form your OCR team beforehand and tackle the race together. It’s more fun that way.

Just make sure to pick your teammates wisely.

Or, at least, get yourself a crew of fit friends to race with you.

As a general guideline, the average team size is between four to 8 people.

If you can’t get anyone to join you on your crazy adventure, then don’t lose sleep over it worry.

Why? You’ll end up teaming up with a group at the first obstacle anyway—even if you are not a people person.

4. Race Smart

Slow and steady wins the race. This may sound like a cliché, but only because it’s true. Going full throttle from the get-go will only leave you prematurely fatigued and disappointed. Instead, get a good start and gradually build tempo and speed.

5. Handle Obstacles Properly

Note: Go out and try as many of the obstacles as you can. This helps you hone your technique and save you the guessing afterward.

Here are some of the most common obstacles and how to overcome them—unscathed:

  • Tunnels: Don’t crawl on your knees, instead, opt for the bear crawl as it’s more efficient that way.
  • The Stairs: Think stutter steps as you get up by taking small quick and small steps.
  • The Wall: Jump up and grab the edge of the wall,  then kick your leg over it.
  • Mud pits: Run towards the edges at maximum speed. Running through them will only make you slower as the heavy traffic can cause the middle to be the deepest and difficult to tackle.
  • The Tires: Keep your head down and knees up. Take one tire at a time while keeping your knees high and staying on your toes.
  • Barbed wire: Most opt for the military crawl, but it’s far better effective to roll sideways rather head on.
  • The Monkey Bars: Use the momentum to carry you forward by keeping your arms straight and swinging your legs just like a monkey will do.

6. Have Fun

Remember to have fun.

In the end, that’s what it is all about. If ain’t fun, then you shouldn’t bother with it.

Sure, these OCR events are go-to venues for serious athletes looking to test their fitness resolve to the breaking point.

But if you take it too seriously, then you’ll be missing out, big time.

So please, whatever you do, make sure that both training and racing is fun.

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David Dack

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