How to train for an obstacle course (and what it is all about)

Have you ever participated in an obstacle course?

Whether yes or no – this article is written for you anyway.

Find out what the obstacle course trend is all about and find out how you can train for it.

And who knows, maybe you will learn to love the obstacle course as much as my guest author.

In March 1977, the first modern obstacle course called “Tough Guy” took place in Wolverhampton, England. Founder and initiator was a former soldier who all because of his typical twisted beard “Mr. Mouse “.

A few hundred brave runners tried their hand at the course in the freezing cold and the number of failures was very high. Because this course had everything to offer that makes athletes weary. A long run, a lot of mud, ice-cold water, heavy weights to tow, high obstacles to overcome, narrow dark tubes to crawl through and even electric wires made life difficult for the runners.Mr. Maus and his team built huge wooden obstacles on their own private agricultural property. They also dug deep trenches and had them filled with water. After all, they also used what was in abundance anyway: mud!

In England the sport was called “Obstacle Course Racing”, OCR.

What began there has now become one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Hundreds of organizers in almost every country in the world offer the exploding number of OCR runners wonderful races in the most beautiful areas of the world with creative obstacles, a great community and an incomparable atmosphere.

And the OCR virus grabbed me after my first race and I stubbornly refuse to be cured.

Obstacle Course Racing – A short obstacle course presentation

Even if the Tough Guy grounds in Wolverhampton look very martial and still retain their charm, the OCR sport has changed a lot in recent years.

The former “mud running with obstacles” has now become a modern sport that demands everything from its athletes.

But they run in unsurfaced terrain, have to walk through water, mud and undergrowth, carry loads, overcome wooden walls, pull themselves up on ropes and overcome obstacles only with the strength of their hands. During the race, the athletes move forward by running, crawling, swimming and handing, often up a mountain.The rules are easy to explain. The athletes have to cope with a running route (length of 5 km on the short distance to over 50 kilometers in the ultra range) from start to finish in the shortest possible time.

Dozens of new, creative providers attach great importance to attractive running routes, challenging obstacles and professional planning. Some top athletes have long been earning their living with OCR and the interest in the media and sponsors is growing steadily.

A good OCR athlete must be able to run well, have extremely good aerobic and anaerobic endurance, be trained in strength and endurance and have coordinative and mental strength. Anyone who values ​​standardization is wrong in OCR, because depending on the provider, the length of the route, the type of obstacles and the terrain on which one is running constantly changes. Athletes have to constantly adapt to the situation and that is exactly what makes me so appealing.

It’s like in life …

You plan and yet things always turn out differently than planned and you have to be fit enough to react flexibly.

Obstacle course training

As described, an obstacle runner must train his skills as widely as possible, because the races demand all physical and mental skills equally.

A high level of running competence forms the basis of OCR training.

In addition to good stamina, the ability to deal with strenuous interruptions in one’s running rhythm in the form of obstacles plays a role here. While the runner in a road race usually knows his route length, the expected gradient and the nature of his run route, an OCR athlete must have the physical ability to improvise.

He has to be a good mountain runner, mud and unpaved roads shouldn’t bother him and then there are the obstacles.

In order to pull yourself up on a rope, overcome a high wooden wall or pull heavy weights towards you on a rope, you need a lot of strength and sufficient endurance in the upper body. An obstacle runner mainly trains his muscle chains with functional training, one of the core exercises being the pull-up in all variations.

But strength and stamina are not enough. An OCR athlete needs a good balance, because this helps him to balance over horizontal tree trunks, master slacklines and overcome balance beams. Balance training with balance pads, slacklines etc. should be integrated into every training session.

But even if the physical abilities are right, an OCR athlete has to have extremely good mental strength, because in almost every race there comes a point where the head says “Why are you doing this? “. Fatigue, cold, heat, dehydration and injuries caused by the obstacles must also be endured mentally and must not cloud motivation.

There are few sports where mental training is as important as in OCR.

Training tips from the Obstacle Course Racing

As a long-time OCR trainer, I would like to introduce you to a few training tips from OCR that will also bring you advantages in all other sports.

Functional instead of isolated training

An OCR training is always functionally structured.

Imagine you have to climb a rope and ask yourself what skills you need to do it. You need the necessary strength in your arms, legs, back and chest, but that is not enough.

For an OCR athlete, performance comes before the appearance of his body.Even the strongest Biceps won’t help you if all of the muscles in question don’t work together as a “chain of muscles” to perform the desired movement. Exercises such as pull-ups, rowings, push-ups and training with the battleropes are standard. These are preferred to isolated training in the strength machine.

The burpee pull-up as an example of a functional OCR exercise: Stand under a pull-up bar and do a burpee. So you lower yourself into a push-up position in one flowing movement. Then do the push-up, get up dynamically and hold on to the pull-up bar at the end of the stretch jump. There you do a pull-up, lower yourself back down and repeat this movement.

The point of such an exercise is quickly apparent: In addition to training the entire body by using all the muscles required for a burpee and pull-up, the exercise demands even more. In this way, the athlete also trains his jumping ability, his coordination when grasping the bar and his grip strength for holding on to the bar. He will need all of these skills later in the race.

OCR training is therefore a targeted training that fulfills a specific function.

Combination of aerobic and anaerobic endurance

There is a lot of running in OCR training, because running is the basis of our sport.

Obstacle runners also need good aerobic skills, i.e. the ability to generate energy in connection with oxygen. This is done by running at a moderate pace in long units, supplemented by regular mountain runs. But unfortunately that’s not enough …

Because obstacles, mountain climbs and difficult terrain also require good anaerobic endurance. In other words: The ability to achieve full performance for as long as possible despite a high pulse and a high breathing rate.

For this reason, OCR athletes train running intermittently. A running unit is interrupted by many “interruptions” in the form of functional exercises (burpees, pull-ups, push-ups, abdominal muscle exercises, dips, etc.) and then continued without a break.

After a few months of getting used to it, you can feel the progress, because the body gets used to this unusual stress. This increase in performance is not only beneficial for obstacle courses.

Exercise varied and fun

The great advantage of OCR is the variety of training and the possibility of meaningful integration of other “satellite sports” into the OCR training.

It doesn’t matter whether an athlete trains in the gym or crossfit or whether his passion is mountain running, triathlon, hiking, swimming, cycling, running or even football. He will improve in OCR by practicing these sports.

Due to the diverse requirements in OCR, almost all satellite sports practiced deliver real added value on the way to becoming a successful obstacle runner. For example, an athlete can play soccer with his friends with a clear conscience without having the feeling that he has missed an OCR training.

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