Win Your First Obstacle Race with These 7 Training Tips

Win Your First Obstacle Race with These 7 Training Tips

Is competing in an obstacle course on your bucket list? I know it is on mine.
Obstacle course racing is increasing as a popular international sport. In fact, in the US alone, seven million people participated in an obstacle course race in 2017. Most of them signed up for the more popular "big three" companies:

  • Warrior Dash
  • Tough Mudder
  • Spartan

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Why Compete in an Obstacle Race Course?

There are a lot of reasons that someone would want to join a race.

You are an adrenaline junkie. An obstacle course will push you mentally and physically — unlike you've had before.

You've had a friend, coworker, or family member ask you to join them in a race.

  • You want to improve your physical fitness.
  • You are a former military member and love obstacle courses.
  • You'll have bragging rights when you win.

The obstacle course racing community is very friendly and will help you make some friends.

Spartan has a "Stadium Series" where the events are held at football and baseball stadiums without any mud. You will climb walls, crawl under barbed wire, climb across monkey bars, climb ropes, and much more. It's simply not a "mud run."

You compete for the feeling of accomplishment.

There is a race type for pretty much everybody, so training for a race can be difficult.

Here are seven tips to improve your ability to finish and win an obstacle course race.

7 Obstacle Course Training Tips

1.) Know How Long the Race Is

If you haven't signed up for an event yet, consider what distance you are willing to race.

An obstacle course race that is a 5K is much different than running a 5K on the street — the obstacles will take time to complete. Be sure to take into account how long you want to be outdoors racing under strenuous conditions.

A good estimation on how long your race could take is to take your normal 5K time and add two minutes per number of obstacles in your race, plus an additional five minutes to factor in the incline.

Going with This Estimate, a Race That Has 20 Obstacles Would Take:

  • Your 5K run time = 30 minutes
  • Add two minutes x 20 obstacles = 40 minutes
  • An additional five minutes for hills and stairs = 5 minutes
  • Total = 75 minutes

It can be safe to say that if you've never run in an obstacle course race, a three to five-mile distance is the safest choice.

2.) Break down Your Training

Now that you know the length of the race, we can start to train for the race by doing more than steady state cardio.

Obstacle course races use every energy system — the glycolytic, oxidative, and the phosphagen system. This is why steady state cardio needs to be coupled with some bodyweight, kettlebell, sandbag, and dumbbell exercises.

A training routine from an obstacle course athlete pushes you hard while keeping a moderate heart rate.

Here's a Sample Cardio Workout Training Routine:

  • 0.25-mile run
  • 5 burpees
  • 0.25-mile run
  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 0.25-mile run
  • 10 push ups
  • 0.25-mile run
  • 15 walking lunges
  • 0.5-mile run
  • 20 sit-ups

3.) Find Hills and Inclines

Even if where the obstacle course will be is flat, the race director is going to find a way to torch those legs and lower back. You will be traveling up an incline.

Speaking of mountains, did you know that some obstacle course races happen at a 9,000-foot altitude?

Incorporating incline training into your program will allow you to acclimate your body to this demand. Find a huge set of stairs to run, do incline treadmill walking, or go hiking.

Try training with the treadmill at a 2.5 to 4.0 speed with a 5 to 10 incline — it will torch your legs and lungs and prepare you for the race.

4.) Get Your Grip Up

Grip strength can make or break your race performance. Some of the most common obstacles involve needing at least one of three grip types — crushing strength, supportive strength, and pinch grip strength.

Crushing strength means power we have that come from our four fingers, not including our thumb. Rope climbs and monkey bars are some great examples.

Support grip means you will need to hold something for a long time like water jug carries, bucket carries, and sled drags.

Pinch grip is the grip we have between our fingers and palms. This is necessary for traversing the wall and throwing a spear.

Towel pull ups, dead hangs, farmer's carry, plate holds, and dumbbell wrist curls are all great for building grip strength.

5.) Start Training With Intervals

Training with a predetermined work and rest duration rather than aiming for sets and reps are a great way to change up your training. You can accomplish more work in a shorter amount of time with a higher intensity.

A sample interval workout with a 1:3 work to rest ratio would look like:

  • 1 minute on the Stairmaster or incline treadmill
  • 3 minutes of rest
  • 1 minute running at your 5K pace
  • 3 minutes of rest
  • 1 minute of dumbbell squat presses
  • 3 minutes rest
  • 1 minute of kettlebell swings
  • 3 minutes rest

6.) Get Stronger at Pull-Ups

Pretty much every obstacle is going to require a strong back. Scaling walls, traversing across walls, monkey bars, and the Hercules Hoist all will push your back to the limit.

If you can't do pull-ups yet, start with dead hangs or inverted rows on the squat rack or Smith machine.

Heavy deadlifts, lat pull downs, and seated rows will all build back strength.

7.) Most Importantly, Have Fun

I know it may seem like it's important to win, but the whole point you joined this race is to enjoy yourself. Approaching your race with a specific set of expectations can put a lot of anxiety and stress on you.

Adequate training, hydration, and preparation can make your race go by much easier. Doing your best in your race is the only thing you should focus on — it's a direct reflection on how well your training has impacted you.

Challenge yourself with the training, but make it enjoyable. If you aren't smiling and having fun while training, you may want to rethink performing in an obstacle course race.

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