The latest fitness trend right now is Obstacle Racing. People are choosing to get down and dirty vs. those boring 5k/10k runs. People want to be challenged! They want to cross that finish line and feel good about accomplishing something they’ve never done before! I love that this is a growing trend because I LOVE OBSTACLES! I have competed on American Ninja Warrior, Team Ninja Warrior, and in a few Spartan Races, and I want to help YOU learn how to complete an obstacle race for yourself!!
So you’re friends have all signed up for the next Tough Mudder or Spartan race and they are trying to persuade you to join them. But you’re hesitant, those obstacles look so intimidating…and you think, "how the heck am I supposed to be able to do that?!" The easy answer is to say “no thanks, I’m good” and keep on staying in your comfort zone. BUT, that is NOT what you’re going to do is it?! Nope! You’re going to meet with someone to help you build the strength and the confidence you need to take on that obstacle race! You’re going to learn how to train for it, and you are going to join your friends crossing that finish line!!
I am going to give you a few basic tips on what you need to know when training for an obstacle race. Having the right training is key to having a successful race, especially if you don’t want to end up doing 100+ burpees that day! I don’t know about you, but I HATE burpees so let’s try and avoid them shall we! These tips will help you prepare for your next obstacle race, but I highly suggest you work with a personal trainer about 6-8 weeks before your race to really be confident and ready for your race.
Step 1: Pick your race and give yourself ample time to prepare for it.
The amount of time you give yourself to prepare is dependent on your current level of physical fitness in addition to the length of the race. If this is your first time signing up for an obstacle race, and you are a beginner, I would give yourself a minimum of 12 weeks to train your body. If you have already been training your upper body and your endurance, or this is not your first time racing, then 6-8 weeks may be enough time for you to be ready.
Step 2: Research the obstacles and figure out what you’re up against. Determine your strength and weaknesses with regard to those obstacles.
Most all obstacle races will have a list of the potential obstacles you will face in the race. It’s good to know what these are so you can make your training as specific as possible. For example, if there is a rope climb, it’s important that you find a rope to practice on. Holding onto a rope is very different than holding onto a bar. Decide which obstacles will be easy or hard for you and plan your training accordingly. Maybe you regularly strength train your lower and upper body but you never do cardio. Then one of your weakness would be your endurance to make it through the race. That would then be made a priority in your obstacle race training preparation. Or, maybe you’re an avid runner but you have a hard time doing a pull-up, then grip and upper body strength would be your focus for your race training, and so on.
Step 3: Develop a Training Program for your Obstacle Race
A training program for an obstacle race should consist of: upper body/lower body resistance/strength training, Full-Body HIIT, grip specific training, and endurance training.
- Upper Body:
The majority of the obstacles you will see are very upper body intensive. Therefore, working on both your pull-ups and push-ups is a MUST. If you can’t do a pull-up, start with band-assisted pull-ups and negative pull-ups. These are drills that will help build that upper body strength and improve your muscle activation. The same goes for push-ups, if you can’t do a proper push-up, do both knee push-ups and negative push-ups. In addition to these, you should be lifting weights and utilizing resistance training to strengthen the muscles you use in both pull-ups and push-ups.
- Lower Body:
Most obstacle races usually also have something you will need to jump or climb over. The Spartan Race, for example, typically has an 8-10 foot wall. To train for this you will need to improve the power and strength in your legs. You can do this with heavy resistance training (squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc) and plyometric training (box jumps, squat jumps, lunges jumps, etc.)
- Grip Strength:
Your grip is very important when it comes to obstacle training and can be easily overlooked in your training program. A very simple way you can improve your grip strength is with dead hangs. Just find a bar and hang as long as you can. Start adding 10 seconds every time you do it, and you’ll begin to see improvements.The next step is to start hanging from other things like a rope, rings, or a ledge. Get your grip strength ready to hang on anything the race will throw at you.
- Muscle Endurance:
Your endurance is what’s ultimately going to get you across that finish line. For obstacle races, your training plan should include BOTH HIIT and cardio.
HIIT circuits are your best friend for improving your muscle endurance. Pick a combination of exercises that work similar muscles to what you’ll need during the race. (For example, band pull-ups, box jumps, push-ups, step-ups, line sprints)
You should be able to run at least 1-4mi under the distance of the race. For the Spartan sprint (3.1mi) if you can run 2miles without stopping you should be good to go. For an 8-10 mile race you should be able to run about 5-7miles to be successful during the race. And so on. This is in addition to the HIIT circuits and strength training.
Step 4: Plan your nutrition accordingly
It’s not enough just to physically train for an obstacle race. You also need to make sure your nutrition is giving you the energy you need for the training, the race, and injury prevention. Your diet should have an adequate amount of proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Supplements can be very helpful when you increase your training. Some of the ones I recommend taking include: Pre-workout (with or without caffeine), BCAA, Whey Isolate Protein, Fish Oils, and a Multivitamin. All of these together will help your body function like a well-oiled machine as you train for your race.
The week leading up to your race, you’ll want to dial in your nutrition even more. No junk food or excess sugar. No alcohol. Drink lots of water (~128oz/day aka 1 gallon). Make sure you’re eating enough complex carbs to fuel your body (but don’t over do it). Brown rice, Whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, and quinoa are great choices for your carbohydrates. Make sure you're taking in enough calories based on your training. Under eating will drastically effect your athletic performance.
Step 5: RACE DAY!!
- Check the weather before you head to your race. Make sure you’re in layers if it’s cold outside. Your muscles don’t operate well in the cold weather
- If competing in a longer race, make sure any snack your choose to take during the race you have taken before. The last thing you want is to have to stop your race for unexpected bathroom breaks….if you know what I mean.
- WARM-UP!! Go for a short jog, and do some dynamic stretching before your race begins. This is a great way to prevent injury and get your mind ready to go.
- HAVE FUN!! You’ve trained hard to get to this point, and now the only thing you have left to do is enjoy the experience! Obstacle races can be challenging and also a lot of fun! Get your first one under your belt, and then train your weakness to be even better in your next one!!
YOU'VE GOT THIS!!