It seems like when I look around on the Spartan Race/obstacle racing Facebook groups, I see training-related questions pop up almost daily. Obstacle racing is a rapidly growing sport – so much so that there’s even talk of the sport potentially being included as an Olympic sport in the not-so-distant future. And with any rapidly growing sport comes new people who want to try it and learn how to make the most of their experience on the course. I see lots of questions on those Facebook groups about finding local obstacle gyms, or about training techniques for completing certain obstacles, or for help and advice on combating fatigue, exhaustion or dehydration out on the course.
That is why I put together my OCR First-Timer's Checklist. I like helping OCR newbies feel more confident when they make the awesome decision to try their first race!
Living in Southern California, I know I’m lucky to have a ton of coaches, gyms and resources available to me as an athlete. And I’m excited to myself be able to help out my fellow racers as a Spartan SGX coach. But the reality is that some, perhaps many, people face a certain amount of limitations when it comes to OCR training. Some examples can include living in a location where there aren’t currently any obstacle training gyms, or facing financial limitations that make it cost prohibitive to train at a gym or hire a coach. For some, it could simply come down to a busy schedule that makes it difficult to put in serious training time specifically for obstacle racing. And if you’re just getting started, sometimes even just the idea of the number of different ways and methods to train for an obstacle race can seem overwhelming.
If any of the above sound familiar to you, I’m here to provide a bit of help. Today I want to share with you three things you can do without a gym and without a significant time investment that can help you prepare for an obstacle race…and quite possibly elevate your game.
HIT THE TRAILS!
Obstacle races are dirty, hilly affairs. And they involve a solid amount of running and/or hiking. You can definitely prep for a race by running in your neighborhood. But running or hiking on a trail will do wonders for you. First, trails better simulate an actual race situation. You’ll be better prepared for the hills, narrow pathways, switchbacks, and uneven terrain. Our bodies adapt specifically to the demands we place on them regularly. What this means is that the more time you spend on a trail, the more natural and less tiring it will be on race day. If you live near even a short trail, hitting that trail at least once a week will be massively helpful for you when it comes to race day. Great thing about trails? They’re usually super free! And friends tend to love hiking. So hit up a trail on a Saturday morning, and go to brunch afterward! Fun for everyone, and you get your race training in!
HANG IN THERE!
A common thread in a number of obstacle races is grip-based obstacles. Monkey bars, multi-rigs and other various and sundry torture devices are scattered around race course, often leaving a trail of tears and ripped hands in their wake.
If you’re new to obstacle racing, it may seem like training for these obstacles is an impossible task, especially if you don’t have a gym. But I have great news for you – the impossible is possible!
The biggest thing you will need to work on is grip strength and shoulder stability. Yes, it would be helpful to be able to do pull-ups and keep a 90 degree bend in your arms when doing these obstacles, but that can come in time. But for starters, you’ll at least want to work on that grip strength. And if you start training your OCR eyes, you’ll find places to do that all over the place.
The easiest first place to check is local parks. Parks have playgrounds and sometimes those playgrounds have monkey bars or other horizontal bars you can hang from. Some parks even have built-in exercise equipment, including pull-up bars. Once you find a suitable bar to hang from, start with some short dead hangs – perhaps for 30 seconds. Make sure your shoulders are engaged as you hang. If you can’t make it the entire length of time. Take a short break and get back on. Every day you train, extend the length of time that you dead hang. As you get better at it, start working on single-arm hangs, and switches from hand to hand. When you start getting REALLY good at it, bring a couple towels to wrap around the bar and hold on to them. Trust me, it will get hard again – but will start preparing you for some of the more weird things you have to grab and hold on to on a multi-rig.
True story: when I started running Spartan Races, I thought the monkey bars were going to be forever impossible for me. I’m short with small hands, and I couldn’t mentally navigate how to hold onto a bar, much less reach for the next one. I thought it was going to be a Forever Fail for me. But then I spent an entire month practicing my grip strength. After that, I was able to accomplish the monkey bars – and haven’t missed since.
So find a suitable bar to hang from (and keep your eyes open for rings, too) and start hanging in there!
I bet you were hoping I wasn’t going to say that, huh?
But it’s time for some real talk. I call burpees Nature’s Perfect Exercise. They do SO MUCH in a really short amount of time. Lower body power, upper body strength, and a cardiovascular and overall conditioning powerhouse all in one little exercise. They can be exhausting, which is why people hate on them so much.
That said, here’s a fun fact – obstacle races are brutally tiring. The course designers purposely try to gas you out. And the simple act of training your body with burpees can give you an advantage against that. Especially if you combine that with your trail running and your grip training.
Plus, burpees are the penalty of choice in a Spartan Race. So if you’re going to fail an obstacle or two, you can at least give yourself an extra advantage by being ready to knock out thirty burpees like they’re no big deal.
Sound like yet another impossible task? I’m telling you it’s possible.
Start with ten burpees a day for a week or two. Then add five burpees each week. Work your way up to thirty burpees a day. Even if you have to take short rests after every ten burpees, you’ll still be conditioning your body. Eventually, you won’t need that rest.
If you really want to give your day a boost right from the very start, do your burpees first thing every morning. You’ll be amazed at how it helps your energy level.
So there you have it – three things you can do for free, out in the world or at home that can help elevate your OCR game. Do them individually, or string them together for maximum race-simulation benefit. Feel free to shoot me a message and let me know how it works for you!
And if you want even more help prepping for your first obstacle race, download my FREE OCR FIRST TIMER'S CHECKLIST. It’s a handy infographic that you can check out, print, put on your fridge and use as a reminder that going outside your comfort zone doesn't have to be as scary as it seems!
If you live in the Los Angeles area and are looking to find a local OCR community, join the TOUGH TRIBE free Facebook community! I post almost daily with training, nutrition and mindset tips to help you perform at your best on the course and in life. Connect with local OCR enthusiasts to train and to race and join the TOUGH TRIBE!