Obstacle course racing (OCR) has gained significant popularity over the past decade. Records date back to the appearance in Ancient Greek times right through to current use in the military for training and war preparation. Nowadays, professional obstacle course racers take to courses in the forms of True Grit, Tough Mudder, Canungra Combat Course, and Spartan Race. These types of races contain common themes; multiple obstacles or challenges interspersed with running legs performed in a group setting with the goal for most to finish the 45 minute to 2+ hour long events. Preparation for these events is vital and it can be difficult to know where to start.
Depending on the available time, individual background, and race type, training should be aimed at aerobic conditioning as this is reflective of the endurance nature of most OCRs. Aerobic training can be achieved through both resistance (weights) and cardio. Cardio training has traditionally been popular through riding or running approaches but is also achievable with resistance training through manipulating reps, sets, weights and rest periods. To appropriately measure intensity, the Talk Test can be used to achieve aerobic conditioning; consider your ability to maintain speech with some difficulty up to speech limited to short phrases. (Reed & Pipe, 2014)
Ideally, the longer the preparation time given, the greater the physiological benefits for the body. However, as with any form of exercise, something is better than nothing and changes can be seen from as little as 6 weeks of training. In this time, these changes occur largely from an efficiency perspective. The body becomes better at the delivery of oxygen to the working muscle and the processes associated in making ATP (energy).
A reasonable component of the resistance training should be targeted at upper body conditioning as many people will struggle in this area. It is commonly stated that grip strength will inhibit climbing and hanging abilities which is true and so training should look to improve this. However, posterior shoulder complex strength is arguably as important during climbing activities. To maximise training, look to incorporate both elements of grip and posterior shoulder complex strengthening. This could include exercises such as Farmers Carries, Pull ups, or Bent Over Row, as well preference dumbbells during lower body movements.
Putting aside the obstacles, the in-between running distances easily total up to several kms and the majority will be spend running. When considering the elements of running, this modality is a single leg-based movement and so should be reflective within your training. Improving your single leg strength will benefit you greatly in your running efficiency but also have carry over to certain balancing and unstable surface obstacles.
If you’re looking to make a real difference on the day and have the time available to properly train, 3 sessions per week for at least 6 weeks is an achievable starting point and gives you enough time for some improvement in aerobic efficiency. Regarding the session layout, 2 sessions involving resistance exercise and 1 session involving cardio based training is solid starting point. Resistance exercise should look to maintain a constant rep range (10-12) and gradually increase the intensity (via weight or speed of movement) over the 6+ weeks. Similarly for cardio training, volume should first increase through increases in distance and then the intensity increases to match the distance.
Our Accredited Exercise Physiologists at START Training are looking for both groups and individuals to commence training in the lead up to OCRs later in the year. We are particularly interested in True Grit in August as we have a team entering, but are more than welcome to other groups or individuals interested in commencing effective and tailored training. If you or anyone you know are interested, give the clinic a call on 3356 9119!
Reed, J. L., & Pipe, A. L. (2014). The talk test: A useful tool for prescribing and monitoring exercise intensity. Current Opinion in Cardiology, 29(5),475-480.