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How to Train for an Obstacle Course Race (OCR): Schedule and Tips
8/3/2022

How to Train for an Obstacle Course Race (OCR): Schedule and Tips

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How to Train for an Obstacle Course Race (OCR): Schedule and Tips
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OCR races are incredibly demanding on the body. That’s no secret. Racers have to be well trained and mentally prepared to endure one of these exciting events. Also known as Spartan races, they consist of a series of obstacles, like rope climbs, weight carries, and wall scaling - designed to challenge competitors to the utmost.

They require the ultimate in fitness and mental fortitude.

We know because we’ve done ‘em.

Hot Ground is an obstacle course race training gym.

And we’re here to help prepare you for one of the most heart-pounding days of your life. Contact us for all your OCR race training needs.

Why Try an Obstacle Course Race?

ocr races

There’s nothing quite like an OCR to motivate you to get fit. These competitions are famously challenging, and they require the utmost physical fitness.

OCR races differ from running events like marathons in that you need agility, upper body strength, and great athleticism in addition to endurance and stamina.

They’ll push you to your limit - and get you in the best shape of your life. And that’s only half of it. OCR races prevent a serious mental challenges as well. They are great opportunities to test your mental toughness. To explore your ability to see things out when the going gets grueling.

If you complete your race, you’ll have a newfound confidence in yourself. And bragging rights at work.  

Spartan race training can also be great with a buddy or a group, creating a bonding experience that will drive everyone forward. You’ll encourage and motivate one another, all the while gaining fitness and fortitude.

Oh, and they’re fun as hell.

What To Expect from an Obstacle Course Race?

Every OCR presents its own unique set of trials, and a lot depends on the length and the terrain. A desert race might be very different, for example, then one in the mountains. And obviously, a 10-mile race requires more endurance and contains more obstacles than a quick 5K.

But you can expect some similarities. Races typically feature 12-20 obstacles in a 3-5 mile course and upwards of 30 in routes over ten miles. The types of obstacles can vary from cargo nets to mud pits to monkey bars to rope climbs. Some might require more skill than others, and some might leave you dirtier than others.

None are likely to be easy. Below are some of the types of obstacles you’ll encounter.

Rope Climb

Rope climbs might be the most common obstacle in the world of OCR. They require upper body strength and courage in the face of heights. Many involve climbing over walls or up to platforms to ring a bell at the top. Practice climbing ropes that are slippery, doing pull ups underhanded, and squeezing medicine balls to work on leg strength.

Rigs

Rigs are climbing obstacles that might include Olympic rings, hanging balls, dangling nets, or steel bars, usually hanging from metal towers. Like ropes, they require a great deal of upper-body strength, so doing pull ups, training on the monkey bars at schools, and bringing ropes and towels to hang from will get you ready in no time.

Barbed Wire Crawl

obstacle course race training

Straight out of basic training, barbed wire crawls test your ability to stay low and move fast. These obstacles generally stretch for 100-200 feet and can be grueling if you don’t prepare right. They require core fitness, mobility in the hips, and strong calves and ankles. Burpees, planks, supermans, and hand walks will stand you in good stead.

Bucket Carry

Many OCR courses feature bucket carries, especially in mountainous areas. These challenges see racers lug five gallon buckets filled with rocks or sand for a quarter mile or more. The buckets can weigh 50-75 pounds for men and 40-50 pounds for women, and training regimens should include lower back strength exercises. These might include pull ups, arm hangs, and lower trap exercises.

Workouts

Spartan obstacle training works all parts of your body. From running to lifting to crawling, you have to be prepared to do it all. The following training exercises for obstacle course races will prepare you for whatever a course throws at you.

Running Endurance

While OCR races are all about the obstacles, they’re still races. In other words, you’ll be running most of the time. Training for an obstacle course race should always include building up your endurance. Stamina is absolutely critical.

Not only will cardiovascular fitness help you run and run and run, it prepares you for every other aspect of the rest, too.

A mud run workout will look much like traditional marathon training. You’ll want to combine long runs with intervals, to keep yourself in top shape and to ready yourself for the varied nature of OCR. Most competitors do at least 3-5 sessions a week, alternating their days of running with strength and event-specific training. Some elite OCR athletes bump up to 5-6 times a week.

Runs should be in the hour to two-hour range at a moderate pace. Work on good form and breathing.

Once you have a strong cardiovascular base, add in sprinting. And consider carrying weight, as well, to get yourself prepared for sandbag and bucket hauling.

Upper Body Strength

how to train for spartan race beginner

Many of the events in OCR require a strong back and rugged arms. These include things like rope climbing, rigs, and monkey bars. Any obstacle course training workout should include days of strength training for the upper body to get your arms and torso ready to haul you around.

Upper body strength doesn’t mean simply sitting at the weight machine and doing bench presses. While this can help, you’ll want to focus more on pull ups, climbing, rowing, and deadlifts which target the muscle groups you’ll use most in OCR.

When planning your workouts to train for Spartan race, figure out doing upper body resistance training a couple of times a week, at the least, and allowing three days of recovery between sessions.

Because OCR races are all different, it’s wise to be ready for anything. Make sure to utilize a variety of types of resistance, from barbells to kettlebells. Work in ropes or towels when you’re doing pull ups or rows to enhance grip strength. Do 10-15 sets per exercise.

Core Strength, Balance, and Coordination

Modern strength training features a lot of work on your core muscles. Everyone wants ripped abs, of course, but torso strength goes far beyond that. You’ll want to focus on your obliques, your pelvic floor muscles, and your diaphragm, too.

Obstacle course race strength training should always feature work on the abdominal muscles, balance, and coordination. A strong core will keep you going during those grueling barbed-wire crawls and cargo net hauls. And it will also improve your balance.

Core exercises can include basics like sit ups, pushups, and planks, but you’ll also want to incorporate more specialized training for OCR. Medicine ball squats, weighted lunges, and step ups with weight will all help strengthen the muscle groups that obstacle events challenge. Unbalanced deadlifts are another great idea.

While you’re working on your core strength, take time out to walk on a balance beam, run on the beach, and use stability balls to work on your balance.

Lower Body Strength and Power

Many of the obstacles in OCR require real strength in your legs. Climbing over walls, carrying weights for distance, and jumping all put your lower body strength to the test. You’ll build a lot of strength here doing many of the exercises mentioned above, but you’ll want to focus on your lower body strength at least a couple of sessions a week.

Spartan race training typically features a lot of reps rather than a lot of weight. You don’t want to build mass, which can slow you down in the runs, you simply want strength and explosive power.

Lower body exercises might include weighted squats, lunges, and burpees. You can also add in loaded carries and Powerball slams.

Make sure to take rest days between heavy leg workouts. These are a great time to work on flexibility, breathing, and mental strength.

The Weekly Training Plan

spartan obstacle training

Obstacle course races are known for their variety and the best way to train for a mud run is by varying your workouts. A weekly fitness class should mix in cardio, core strength, upper and lower body training, and balance exercises – with rest in between each session.

Monday

Each day of the week should focus on a different aspect of obstacle course race strength training and you can vary week to week to allow for rest. On your first Monday consider beginning with upper body strength training.

Tuesday

After a Monday of upper body work, move to high-intensity-interval-training. This means running sprints, doing burpees, and other short burst exercises. HIIT training builds both strength and endurance.

Wednesday

Today’s the day for lower body strength. Work the leg machines. Do those weighted lunges. Carry heavy stuff around. Tackle the dreaded weighted squats.

Thursday

Focus on the core. This means planks, pull ups, push ups, sit ups, and other exercises that target your abdomen and lower back. Climb walls, work the sandbags, and do hanging knee raises.

Friday

In this example, Friday is flex day. That means a little bit of everything – cardio, weights, coordination - but not too much of any one thing. Try not to work on your core too much, since you had such a hard day on Thursday.

Saturday

This is the day for the big run. The goal is to hit the road or the trail for at least an hour. Find a route you like and push yourself.

Sunday

In this example of how to train for Spartan race beginner week, Sunday is the day of rest. That doesn’t mean you have it off entirely. Yoga or tai chi or some other form of flexibility and balance training could go here. Or work on your mental strength. You’ll need it.

Obstacle Course Race Mistakes to Avoid

mud run workout

Obstacle course race training involves more than just exercise. It also requires strategy. Here are a few common mistakes to avoid:

  • Underestimating: many beginners think an OCR will be a good time running through the mud when in reality they are grueling challenges. Know that going in.
  • Thinking of it like a marathon: OCR races share some things in common with long runs, but they require so much more obstacle-specific training. Don’t just ready yourself for an endurance run.
  • Starting hard: don’t overdo it in the beginning, tearing into the race with all you’ve got. Pace yourself. These are long hauls.  
  • Skipping stations: make sure you take care of your hydration and calorie needs. This is a very demanding event. It’s not the same as that 5K you did.

Obstacle Course Race Tips

OCR vets will tell you that it’s important to be well-prepared and ready to get dirty. Here are a few other tips beginners often miss.

Get the Right Shoes

You plan on digging out your old trail runners because they’re just going to get muddy anyway, right? Bad idea.

Yes, you’re going to get dirty, but you want a solid, comfortable pair of shoes on your feet. Nothing worn and beaten. OCR races are incredibly taxing on your body and you’ll need the support, stability, and flexibility of a good pair of trail running shoes.

Your shoes should be broken in – to avoid blisters – but not beaten down. Waterproofing is a good idea, or at least the ability to shed water rather than hold it and weigh you down.

Don’t skimp here! Make sure you have a pair of kicks you can count on.

Dress Right

Just as newbies tend to grab their ratty old shoes, they often throw on a beaten up cotton T-shirt. Again, it’s just going to get dirty or snagged on barbed wire, so why wear anything nice?

First, most T-shirts are largely cotton, which is generally a no-no outdoors. When cotton gets wet it stays wet and clings uncomfortably. You want something tight and form fitting, on both the upper and lower body. Some men even go shirtless, because there’s less for the mud to cling to.

Get the Right People

obstacle course race training or workout

Though it might naturally seem like a solo pursuit, and OCR race is great for bonding and teamwork.

Having buddies makes the training easier – you’ll be there to motivate one another. And it also helps when you’re up against a difficult obstacle. Someone building you up can be the difference between getting over the wall or not.

But you don’t want to ask just anybody from work.

You should form an obstacle course race training group with people of similar fitness and abilities. You don’t need someone holding you back, either.

Leave Your Expensive Stuff at Home

While you want serviceable gear, you might want to leave your favorite shoes and shirts for another day. There is a good chance something will rip or tear in an OCR event.

Your Fitbit or Apple watch won’t help you, your inspirational locket might get ripped off, and anything can get damaged.

Race Smart

It’s not only the most physically fit or the most athletic that wins OCR events. Those attributes help, of course. But a good OCR racer also uses their mental strength.

You need to think your way through the course. Common sense goes a long way. Strategy is key. Many competitors find that setting the right pace is crucial. And so is your approach to obstacles. Use your head!

Conclusion

OCR races are the real deal, and you want to be sure you’re ready. They can be daunting and punishing. But they’re also incredibly rewarding and will get you into the best shape of your life. At Hot Ground Gym, we’re here to help. Contact us with any of your training needs!