Training for your first Obstacle Course Race April 19 2017, 1 Comment
Spartan. Tough Mudder. Obstacle Course Races are becoming popular among elite athletes, casual runners, and everyone in between. Everyone wants to feel like the next American Ninja Warrior. Plus, the athletes we see competing in the “big leagues” are incredibly fit and BEASTS. So it’s not wonder why more and more people are hitting these start lines for the first time. Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is an event that tests your strength and stamina. And just like an other endurance event, it takes some training and practice.
I started training for my first Spartan Race because it would not only change up my routine, but force me to work on upper body strength. Boy were both of those an under statement! I did much better than I thought I would after just two months of training. I saw improvement on my strength, as well as in my overall running. The high-intensity OCR workouts are great, even for just a cross-training workout. I'm by no means an OCR elite athlete, but from one amateur to another, I'm sharing my OCR Training Story to help make your Spartan Adventure more fun.
First off, if you're a runner there's good news--you do have an advantage. You have some endurance already and a lot of stronger OCR athletes will admit they suck at running. But because we all want to do as well as we possibly can, you're still going to need to train like you would any other race. For Spartan, you need to build your grip strength and your upper body strength. You'll also need to learn some technique to save your energy as you go.
To give you an idea, here's the common Spartan elements and obstacles you'll want to prepare for:
If you miss an obstacle, you'll have to do 30 burpees. Yes. That's per obstacle you fail. And you don't get multiple tries. Most likely you'll be doing quite a few burpees unless you happen to complete EVERY single obstacle. I myself ended up doing 120.
BURPEE TRAINING: The hard part about the burpees is it jacks your heart rate way up, and you have to keep running (usually up hills) and then hit another obstacle. It's pretty high-intensity. So the best way to train for this is to do some high-intensity workouts that incorporate burpees. Or even just go for a run and stop every mile to do 20-30 burpees. Practice makes perfect!
There will be walls of varying heights. Some 6', others 8' or higher. You'll need to learn how to jump and hoist yourself over. Check out this Spartan Wall Video for tips on the best techniques for climbing these walls.
WALL TRAINING: Lots of explosive exercises, boxes jumps, squats, etc will help give you the power and boost you need to get up and over.
You will encounter a "rig" or two, consisting of rings, bars, ropes, or a combination of all the above. This will take a lot of grip strength and technique.
RIG TRAINING: Lots of monkey bar practice at a nearby park, pull ups, etc to build your upper body strength. Also, a great way to train for any Spartan race is to visit your local rock gym. Rock climbing is a great way to learn technique and build the strength needed for Obstacle Course Racing.
Are you afraid of heights? Me too. But you'll want to practice getting used to heights so you don't panic or freeze on any obstacle on race day.
HEIGHTS TRAINING: Besides getting over your fear, how do you "train" for heights? Well, get up high! I go back to the indoor rock climbing wall. This will do wonders for building your confidence while training at the same time.
Climb the rope or take the 30-burpees penalty. The height won't make it easier either.
ROPE TRAINING: The biggest part to learning to climb the rope is getting the "wrap technique" down. Then it just becomes about using your feet. Check out this Spartan Rope Climb video to learn all about the "wrap". Some rock wall gyms will have a rope you can practice on as well.
TIRE FLIP, SAND BAG CARRY, and BUCKET CARRY
I group all three of these because they all involve one thing: simple strength. Not a whole lot of technique involved, besides proper form so you don't throw out your back. All three will be heavy (400lb tires for the guys, and buckets full of rocks up and down a hill aren't for the faint at heart!)
STRENGTH TRAINING: You may not have access to tractor tires or sand bags, but you can lift at a your gym to build upper body strength, and the bucket carry is fairly simple to replicate. Find some heavy rocks, fill up a 24-gallon bucket and practice carrying it around a parking lot or up and down a hill.
BONUS BUCKET TIPS: Check out this video on the Spartan Bucket Brigade for tips on how to hold the bucket, and proper rest form when you need to take a breather.
There will be some water stops, but you'll likely want some sort of hydration with you that frees up your hands and doesn't impede you from jumping, crawling, or rolling.
WHAT I USE: For Spartan Race hydration, I use my Orange Mud Endurance Pack. It's a small bladder pack, light weight, holds 2L of water, and stays close to my body with little bounce and no chafing. Plus, it washes off very well (b/c trust me, you're going to get muddy!)
There will be a lot of crawling on your hands and knees in sand, rocks, dirt, and mud. A good "buffer" for this is gear like arm sleeves, compression sleeves/socks, and good trail shoes.
WHAT I USE: Everyone is different when it comes to shoes. I recommend checking out this Sports Illustrated article on The Best Shoes for OCR and checking them out at your local shoe store to see which one is the best fit for you.
I love my Orange Mud arm warmers. They kept me warm in the chilly weather and from getting too sun burnt. However, during the summer Spartan races, arm warmers may not be ideal. Compression sleeves/socks are plentiful and can be found in a number of places. But make sure you look for a pair that's heavy duty and won't tear from crawling around on rocks.
Now that you’ve got an idea of how to train, it’s time to get to work on your first Obstacle Course Race! It’s going to be a tough journey ahead, but you can do it. Good luck!