“Obstacle Course” brings visions into my mind of soldiers soaked in mud, struggling to climb over walls as muscle-bound drill sergeants scream at them to go faster. In truth, it’s pretty close to that. Obstacle courses are the latest craze in alternative fitness, coming close on the heels of boot camps. The only real differences between these courses and the ones on military bases is the lack of guns, and of course, the knowledge that you can head home once you finish. Otherwise, they can be gruelling for both your mind and body, and are not recommended for people who aren’t ready to push themselves to the edge. One of the main reasons they are so successful borrows from boot camp itself – the pack mentality. As you push through a course, you do it as part of a team; positive peer pressure is a big pull.
There are several different styles of courses, and a few of the most popular races are the Warrior Dash, the Spartan Run, and the Tough Mudder. Courses can be as short as 5k, with some going as far as 20k and as long as 24 hours, and the amount and difficulty of obstacles varies. Most OCRs (Obstacle Course Races) are about getting to the end before anyone else, but others, such as the Mudders, are more focused on teamwork and simply finishing. Getting ready to run an OCR is unlike any training you’ve ever done. Other than running the course itself, there are no specific muscle groups to focus on, and no “perfect” routine that I can give you. What’s important, is driving yourself hard, on all planes. If you’re already a fit rabbit, capable of running kilometres on end, start looking at managing upper body feats. How many pullups can you do? How far can you climb up a rope? If you’re a body builder, used to pressing double your own weight, consider how far and fast you can run.
To exceed in OCRs, you need you be a lean, mean, fighting machine… well, you get the point. Mainly, they’re all about strength, agility, confidence and stamina; your ability to run and jump, and climb, and then run some more. The fun part, depending on your perspective, are the obstacles themselves.
Take for example the Funky Monkey of the Tough Mudder. Not only do you need to climb a set of upward-angled monkey bars – hard enough, but at the top you need to transition to a set of spinning wheels, grappling from one to another over a moat of water. Obviously, to get past this beast, you’re going to need some serious arm and grip strength. The same goes for the Fisherman’s Catch from Warrior Dash.
If you want to win, or for that matter, even finish, you’re going to need to do some serious all-around body work focusing on exercises for strength, power, balance, coordination, and agility. Following are six proven exercises to help you do just that. Spend some time mastering each one, and once you have, build some combinations into a circuit.
Put a 15 pound sandbag on your shoulders and then walk up an incline, or a set of stairs. You’ll quickly see how difficult it is to maintain a load. Now go back down and head up again nine more times. Be careful.
This builds almost all of your muscles. Stand over a kettlebell between your legs. Keeping your back straight, bend at the knees and grab the handle with both hands. Now using your legs and core, pull it off the ground. Stand up straight and then return to starting position. Repeat 5x. For a great guide on kettlebell mastery, go here.
Picture yourself in a rowboat. Now flip it over, and keep rowing. This one’s tough, but important. Grab hold of a chin-up bar and lean your body backwards, keeping your body straight all the way down to your feet. Now pull your body up so your chest hits the bar. Lower yourself down and repeat 9x.
This is for stamina. Run 400 meters and then get down and do 10 burpees. Rest five minutes. Repeat the circuit 5 more times.
This exercise will build strength, stability and explosiveness. Stand in front of a platform (make sure it’s solid and can’t move). Now jump up onto the box, with both feet together, landing softly. Return to the floor and do it again, at least 10 more times.
This works your back and biceps. Grab a bar with your hands facing away from you, slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Starting from a complete hang, pull up until your chin passes the bar. Pause a moment and slowly let yourself all the way back down. Don’t swing! Try to do as many as you can but don’t push it – start slow.
If you can, I recommend speaking with a personal trainer. They have the skill and experience to guide you down the right path and to make sure your body is exactly where it needs to be, before you register for an OCR. Otherwise, always remember that the point of OCRs is having fun. If an obstacle is too much, it’s ok to go around. Safety first!