Have you always loved the idea of running in an obstacle race but have no idea of where to start? Read on to discover what you need to do to successfully train for and complete your first event.
Increasingly popular over the last few years, obstacle races, or mud runs, have become the new bucket list social event as participants flock to venues all over the world to compete with their friends and overcome a series of physical challenges.
It’s also sparked new life into a community of runners that are looking for something different.
If you’re looking for a way to make your runs more exciting and add another element of difficulty to your events then this could be the thing for you.
On the face of it, they can appear daunting, but once you break them down and take a closer look at what each event entails, you soon realize that they are more manageable than people realize and with the right type of training, something that almost everyone can do.
If you’ve ever thought about tackling a course and seeing what you’re made of but were scared that you wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to gym-based training, then read on, because in this article I am going to breakdown exactly what you need to do to successfully train for and complete an obstacle course race.
How to Train for an Obstacle Course
The obstacles you will encounter are will test your body, both mentally and physically as you tackle a wide range of obstacles, including monkey bars, climbing over walls, carrying heavy logs or diving into icy-cold water.
Some of the larger obstacles are designed to intimidate you as you climb over 30ft nets or crawl through tight-fitting tubes, however when you take a closer look the movements are often straight forward and by working on a few simple concepts, you can ensure success on any course you tackle.
Let’s take a look at the ‘must-haves’ in your training program if you’re going to complete a race.
Running an obstacle course isn’t like any other type of run you will have encountered. The course is littered with obstacles that break up the course and make the distance more manageable, however, that doesn’t mean you can afford to relax when it comes to your cardio ability.
A 3k, 5k, or 10k course might sound easy enough and if you’re a regular runner, you might even cover that distance multiple times a week, but the thing to remember here is that each obstacle that you face will drain you emotionally, physically and mentally, making the actual run that bit harder.
Some events include carrying heavy logs or moving through freezing water and anything like this is going to take a toll on your legs and make the running components that bit harder.
When training for your race, ensure you can comfortably cover the race distance, but also use interval training to give yourself an advantage.
1k intervals interspersed with physically taxing exercises is going to give you a taste of what the race is like.
Whether its pull-ups, hangs, or trying to climb over something, you’re going to be using the muscles in your back and biceps, your pulling muscles, a lot during an obstacle race.
The obstacles are dressed up to look extremely difficult and some type of traveling gauntlet of monkey bars and hangs (a favorite for most courses) is surely going to be challenging, but when you take a closer look, all you really need is a strong back.
Most people fail an exercise because their upper body isn’t strong enough but that’s where you can improve.
Lat pulldowns, pull-ups, and rows are the perfect way to build your back and develop the ability to pull your way through any obstacle you encounter.
The stronger you become and the closer you can get to lifting your body weight, the more chance you will have of completing the obstacle.
Whilst many courses involve pulling yourself up, dragging an item, or moving something heavy, you will also find your fair share of push movements that require a strong chest and powerful shoulders.
You may not encounter as many ‘push’ dominant exercises as you do ‘pull’ but you will still want to prepare for them. Not only can you build a stronger frame in anticipation of the course but it will also help you to strengthen the paired muscles that will be working a lot during the race.
Push-ups, planks, bench press, and shoulder presses are recommended here to help you prepare for the big day.
Possibly one of the most under-trained areas when preparing for an event is grip strength.
Hanging, monkey bars, or simply pulling yourself up, all require grip strength and no matter how strong you might be, if you can’t keep your grip it will count for nothing as your hands' tire and your grip fails and if it happens to rain on the day of your event, it’ll become even harder.
One way to improve your grip is by practicing the moves that require a strong grip, such as rows, pull-ups, and pull-downs. But there are also other things you can do, like upside-down kettlebell carries, farmers walks and plate pinches. All will test your grip strength and will help you to improve.
Most obstacle courses are upper-body focussed, meaning you won’t have to spend too much time worrying about your legs, and you can scale back the lower body training. However, there are some exercises that you should continue to do as they will relate directly to the courses and will help you immensely.
Walking lunges, Step-ups and squats are some of the best exercises you can complete when preparing for an obstacle race and you’ll be thankful you trained them when you need to pull yourself out of water or mud and your legs become heavy, tired and weak.
Some courses will also require you to carry heavy loads (or other people) for a specified distance, further putting strain on your lower body.
The legs are a huge muscle group and once they fatigue you will find yourself in trouble, so be sure to prepare your lower body for what is about to come.
A 3 or 4-day training split, completing 3 sets of 10 per exercise, using the exercises above will be more than enough to prepare you for the big day, the only other thing to work on is your attitude and mindset.
If it’s your first time completing an obstacle race it can be daunting and you might feel nervous but that’s expected, your job is to do the best you can and fall back on your training.
The distance should be an issue as a regular runner but you must also remember that the obstacles are designed to intimidate you and you can’t let that happen. By breaking them down and recognizing what you’re really being asked to do you can start to approach each obstacle with a more pragmatic approach.
Be confident, think about how you’re going to tackle each obstacle, then go out and do your best.
Although they look difficult, obstacle courses aren’t as challenging as you might think. By training the right muscle groups and following a plan that is based around the obstacles (if you know what they are) you can become very competent, very quickly, and will be able to handle your run with ease.
There are countless stories of people that are fit and healthy, who enter an obstacle course unprepared, and suffer as a result but there are countless more stories of people that would never consider themselves ‘in shape’ that complete a course with ease due to the right type of training. The key is to give yourself enough time to prepare and do the right type of training.
With a structured plan and the right mindset, you will be more than ready to conquer the course in no time at all, and with it, build a stronger, fitter body that can handle way more than you thought possible.