How to Train For an Obstacle Race

By Joe Decker

Obstacle races are the fastest growing trend in the fitness industry. Unless you live under a rock I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed that or most likely have done one yourself. Ok so they’re out there, everyone is doing it but how do you properly train for an obstacle race?

Good question. Having been in the fitness industry for many years and having done many myself, I get asked this question all the time. Like any other event, say a marathon, triathlon, you name it, to finish strong and do your best you must train specific to your event. This principle is called ‘specificity’ which basically means if you’re going to do a running event you should run more, the same with swimming, etc.

Obstacle course races generally involve a good amount of cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance and some strength and a decent amount of flexibility. Basically you need to train all the components of fitness.

My first recommendation is you get on the trusty ole internet and do some research on your particular course. The most popular races are the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Races. All vary in distances, from a 5k up to 15 miles and in amount of obstacles from about 5 up to 25 or more. At least get a good idea of the distance you will need to cover and the amount of obstacles you will need to overcome. Once you’re done this now it’s time to train.

I generally like to give myself 12 – 16 weeks to train for an event. This is really up to you and how well you want to do or how much time you want to put into it. It’s your call. If you are out of shape and just signed up for a Super Spartan or Tough Mudder, you had better give yourself this amount of time. Trust me on that one.

So what are some things you should work on to get ready for your race?

  • Trail running – Almost all the OCR out there are on trails. If you’ve never run on trails before it is a different animal. You certainly want to get used to the uneven ground and many times rocky surface. With experience you gain confidence and will most likely have a better time.
  • Race distance – The Warrior Dash is generally a 5k with Tough Mudder and Super Spartan being around 10-15 miles. So with the WD you would probably want to get fairly comfortable with running a 5k distance. With TM and Spartan you’re going to want to put in more miles and I’d even suggest being able to do a half marathon on the road because the trail courses are certainly going to be more challenging.
  • Hill Repeats –You’re longer and tougher courses love to throw lots of hills in there to beat your legs up and make their events that more challenging. Trust me this will come in handy for the big boys. Don’t put any hill time in and it could make for a long day.
  • Strength training – Whether you do Crossfit, hit the gym a couple days a week or workout at home, being strong will help out. Spartan throws strength obstacles in like boulder dragging, tire carrying, rope climbing and more. TM just has so many challenging obstacles to tackle that you certainly will be glad you were strength training prior to the event to avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Flexibility training – All the up and down plus over and under can certainly take a toll on your body. Having a good degree of flexibility from incorporating yoga, pilates or your own daily stretching will not only help you overcome these obstacles but most likely help keep you injury free.
  • Obstacle Specific Workouts – With OCR becoming so popular you are seeing numerous OCR training programs pop up around the nation to help get individuals ready for the demands of the events. My own company Gut Check Fitness, here in San Diego has been doing just that for about 15 years. It recently got selected as one of the “Top 10 Most Creative Camps in the Nation” and is the only World Record Breaking, 2 x Death Race winning program in the world. We can help you get ready for any OCR there is. In addition you can find Beginner OCR programs on our very own – to help you get pointed in the right direction and on your way to having a great event.

Obstacle course racing is here to stay. If you haven’t tried one yet I certainly recommend it. There are so many different options to choose from. While proper training is important and will help you enjoy your event more, the most important thing is that you have fun while doing it. When we were third grade the best part of our day was recess. Even though your 23 or 43 now why shouldn’t this be true? Get out there, climb over things, get muddy and have a great time doing it with friends! Enjoy!

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