How to Train for an Obstacle Course Race Without Running
Obstacle course racing (OCR) is becoming increasingly accessible to the everyday fitness enthusiasts—and more visible.
There have been multiple TV shows like Broken Skull Ranch, Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, and America’s Toughest Mudder showcasing the world’s best obstacle racers, and shows like Million Dollar Mile and American Ninja Warrior capture the same challenging spirit of OCRs. Race companies have also introduced shorter courses in quick 1-mile and 3-mile distances to attract newcomers and elites alike.
Most strikingly, there has been an obvious trickle down effect from OCR racing to commercial gyms and fitness studios. Many big box gyms offer some type of OCR training class or have Spartan SGX Coaches (the official training certification of Spartan Race). Tough Mudder started to open Tough Mudder Bootcamps, which are tech-driven group fitness classes designed to train for obstacle courses. Indoor rock climbing, ninja, and CrossFit gyms have taken notice too, with many offering group OCR training classes.
Why You Should Sign Up for an Obstacle Course Race
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Signing up for an OCR gives you a specific training goal, which is key to any training program. When people think of “obstacle course race” they either focus on either the “obstacle” part or “race” part too much and forget that ultimately the experience will be what you make of it. Bodybuilders and other strength athletes might think they’ll never finish because they lack the endurance, while endurance athletes think they lack the upper body strength to complete the obstacles.
That’s not exactly the case. A typical 3 to 5 mile OCR requires balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, endurance and mental grit. You don’t actually have to run to train for an OCR, according to Dominick Delli Paoli, co-founder and Head Coach at Vita Athletics in Summit and Jersey City, New Jersey.
“Obstacle racing has evolved so much over the last eight years, and part of that evolution was to tie into CrossFit and/or high intensity interval training (HIIT) studio communities,” says Paoli. “Cardio has taken on a new identity. Group HIIT, rowing, cycle, Versa Climber, treadmill and Spartan SGX classes are much more dynamic and prepare a well-rounded athlete to compete in an OCR.”
Running might be the predominant reason people don’t try OCRs—but it’s the most natural thing a person can do. “Running for a human is intuitive and the most accessible form of exercise, so when anyone exclaims, ‘But I’m not a runner” it usually means one of two things: Their current regimen doesn’t support it (bodybuilding), or they probably lack the motivation/game plan to start,” Paoli says.
Injuries might also play a role, and Paoli advises against trying an OCR if you have any conditions or nagging pains that actually make running a non-starter. Still, there are plenty of low-impact options to help increase your aerobic fitness to meet the cardio demands of running an OCR. Specifically, VO2 max, resting heart rate, cardiorespiratory performance and other performance metrics can be improved by bodyweight HIIT, low intensity steady state cycling or swimming, and cross training (combining any of these modes), according to Paoli.
The No-Run Obstacle Course Race Workouts
Try these three run-less OCR workouts designed by Paoli to get ready to conquer any obstacle race on your own terms.
Workout 1: Endurance
Complete 4 rounds of the following circuit without any rest between exercises or sets. Pace yourself and take breaks within the set as needed.
Duration: 2 minutes
Duration: 2 minutes
Duration: 2 minutes
Workout 2: Strength
This is a dumbbell-only workout where the top priority is never letting the weights hit the floor. If you break this rule, do 30 burpees. Use 25-pound dumbbells if you’re more of a beginner; if you’re advanced opt for 35-pound dumbbells. Complete 4 rounds of the following circuit.
Distance: 100 meters
Workout 3: Race Ready
This workout is designed in the AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) format. Repeat the circuit of exercises in order as many times as possible in 16 minutes. Use a 35-pound kettlebell to start, then move up to a 53-pound kettlebell if you’re advanced.
Note: You may substitute this with stepups onto a box.
Note: You may substitute this with 3 pullups or 5 inverted TRX Rows.
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