Obstacle course racing (OCR) is one of the fastest growing recreational and professional sports on the planet! As more and more people get involved with this sport, the most common question becomes, “what is the best way to train for an obstacle course race?” Proper training for an OCR will not only have you ready to perform well out on course during your race but it’ll have you in the best shape of your life!
This kind of race will challenge you both mentally and physically to face and conquer obstacles that will test you in most, if not all, of the following areas:
- Running – From the start of the race until you arrive at the first obstacle, and transitioning between each obstacle, you’ll be running.
- Steep Terrain – Many races take place in hilly and mountainous areas. Ascending and descending technical terrain is required at some race locations.
- Grip and Pull Strength – Numerous obstacles will test your grip & pull strength and endurance (i.e. monkey bars, traverse walls, multi-rigs) Lack of training in this area causes the majority of obstacle failures out on course.
- Carrying heavy objects – You will most likely encounter one or two obstacles that require you to carry heavy items for various distances. The race directors always seem to place these obstacles in areas with steep terrain so you must carry the weight up and back down the required distance.
This list is not all inclusive, but training these skills will have you navigating OCR courses with speed and proficiency.
Let’s take a look at one of the skills that seems to be the limiting factor for most during an OCR – grip & pull strength. No matter what OCR you sign up for, grip strength is going to be extremely important. As I stated above, the lack of both strength and endurance in this area will cause of the majority of obstacle failures. Farmers and factory workers have some of the strongest hands you’ll ever see. The reason for that is because they work long hours with their hands in a variety of applications.
Typical strength training exercises in the gym involving barbells and dumbbells will develop static grip strength. In order to conquer more obstacles out on course, you must develop dynamic grip strength by choosing exercises that require you to open and close your hands with each rep for numerous sets.
Along with developing grip strength, you must improve pull strength. The muscles of the back and biceps are considered the “pull muscles” and the primary movers when it comes to pull strength. Below I have broken down a few of my favorite exercises will improve grip & pull strength and endurance.
EXERCISES TO IMPROVE GRIP & PULL STRENGTH
Sandbell or Sandbag Rows:
- From a squat, reach down and grab the bag from the ground.
- Stand up from the squat as you row the bag up to waist height.
- Release the bag and quickly switch to grab it with the other hand as it is dropping to the ground.
- The moment it touches the ground repeat the row with the opposite arm/hand.
This movement will work the grip muscles in your hands and forearms as you must open and close your hand with each rep. The rowing motion will work your back and biceps. It becomes a great full body movement because it also incorporates the squat.
Ball Slams: (using a “dead ball” like the Power Systems Premium Slam Ball)
- Squat down and snatch the ball from the ground and briefly release the ball as the ball rises above your head.
- Transfer your hands to the top of the ball and slam it down to the ground. This completes one rep.
This movement has you gripping the ball numerous times throughout the reps and you also work the back muscles with the snatch off the ground and the slam back down to the ground. Like the sandbag rows, this is also a full body movement because you lift the ball off the ground with each rep. *Full body movements that require many muscle groups to perform the movement are great for maximizing your training time.
Pull-ups and Assisted Pull-Ups: (using various grips)
Traditional pull-ups are great for developing upper body strength and endurance, but in OCR you are challenged with many obstacles that provide different modalities for hanging and pulling our way through the obstacles. To provide a variety to my pull-up grip, I throw a Power Training Rope over a tree limb or other horizontal structure and complete rope pull-ups. This puts my hands in a vertical grip position just as they will be when completing a rope climb, a rig traverse, and various other obstacles.
You can also complete assisted rope pull-ups by grabbing the rope with your feet still on the ground. This method will allow you to add a light jump off the ground which will assist the pull muscles to complete the pull-up. These type of assisted pull-up reps are a great way to work yourself up to completing full body pull-ups.
When doing traditional pull-ups, get in the habit of moving your hands to different positions between each rep. Some pull-up stations will have 3-4 different hand positions. Work your way through all the various positions with a quick release and re-position technique between reps.
Superset – Burpee to a Clean/Squat/Press followed Assisted Pull-Ups:
This is one of my favorite methods of combining full body movements with a big focus on both grip & pull strength and high intensity interval training. This will improve both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
I perform the first exercise with the PowerWave because the sand is tightly compact within to allow for a quick transition between exercises and it provides a variety of grip options.
- From a standing position, drop down to start the burpee. Your chest will make contact with the PowerWave as you grab the straps.
- Pop up out of your burpee as you clean the PowerWave to a resting position on the inside of your elbows, cradled in your forearms.
- Squat down and press the PowerWave above your head as you stand up.
- Squat back down and return the PowerWave to the ground.
- Quickly transfer to the Power Training Rope and complete three assisted pull-ups.
Adding these exercises to your training routine will have a direct impact on your obstacle completion rate. The sport of OCR is a ton of fun, so be careful, you might just find yourself with the same healthy addiction I have. Keep your eye out for more OCR training tip blogs coming your way – follow Power Systems on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter for more. Want more on OCR Training? Check out Part 2 and Part 3 for more info.