Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jason Fitzgerald.
Over the last five years, obstacle course races have evolved from a fringe sport to a normal weekend hobby.
Enter any Warrior Dash and you’ll see athletes of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels on the starting line ready to cross the race off their bucket list. In fact, many of the runners at these events have only done a handful of road races and wouldn’t even classify themselves as “runners.”
And I think this is a great thing! As obstacle course races (OCR) have become more approachable, they’re helping more couch potatoes get in better shape and lead an active lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that.
But of course, it creates a big opportunity for those runners who are in shape and want to crush an obstacle race — those who don’t simply want to finish it or run most of it, but want to compete and see where they stand with the other die-hard OCR athletes.
If you want to push yourself and finish as close to the front of the pack as possible, there are certain elements of obstacle course racing you must consider and prepare for during training. As you can imagine, these events require a more balanced level of fitness and athleticism than a traditional road race.
In 2012, I myself won the Maryland Warrior Dash by over a minute, beating nearly 17,000 other people. I’m not the most gifted athlete, but the chasm between “trained runner” and “average Joe” was wide and I took advantage of it. I think you can, too.
The training, expectations, and race strategy you employ will require a unique approach. And to truly excel at obstacle races, you’ll need to prepare accordingly.
Let’s get started. The hard work begins now.
- Obstacle Race Training 101
- An Example Obstacle Race Workout
- Race Execution: It’s Time to Dominate
- Training Key
- WEEK 1
- WEEK 2
- WEEK 3
- WEEK 4
- WEEK 5
- WEEK 6
- 8-Week Obstacle Course Training Program
- The Obstacle Course Workout
- OCR Permanent Course & Obstacle Course Training Gym Map
- Three Things You Can Do (Without a Gym) To Elevate Your OCR Game
- Top 12 Exercises to Prepare For An Obstacle Course Race
- 1. 2-Kettlebell (or Dumbbell) Front Squats
- 2. Cliffhanger Pull-ups
- 3. Plank Kettlebell (or Dumbbell) Drag
- 4. Kettlebell (or Dumbbell) Suitcase Carry
- 5. Heavy Cable Lift
- 6. Burpees
- 7. Single-arm Kettlebell (or DB) Walking Lunges
- 8. Plank Crawl
- 9. Hanging Oblique Raises
- 10. Box Jumps
- 11. Inverted Rows
- 12. Resistance Band Sprint-in-Place
- Obstacle Course Strength Workout Example
- Obstacle Course Workout Plan Tips
- Be Prepared to Conquer the Race
- The Afterburners
- The Top 11 Exercises for Obstacle Course Racing
- 1. Medicine Ball Burpees
- 2. Deadlift and Deadlift Variations
- 3. Cleans and Snatches
- 4. Hand-Over-Hand Rope Sled Pulls
- 5. Pullups, Pulldowns, Dead Hangs, and Variations
- 6. Push Ups and Dips
- 7. Sandbag Step Ups and Stadiums
- 8. Farmer’s Walk and Atlas Stones
- 9. Kettlebell Swing
- 10. Squats and Squat Variations
- 11. Toes to Bar
- Bonus Tips
- Top 10 Insane Obstacle Course Workouts
- Top 10 Insane Obstacle Course Workouts
- Obstacle Course Workout #1: Butt Burner
- Obstacle Course Workout #2: Battle Rounds
- Obstacle Course Workout #3: The Running Bear
- Obstacle Course Workout #4: Sandy Stairs
- Obstacle Course Workout #5: Row Your Boat
- Obstacle Course Workout #6: Hotel Room Workout
- Obstacle Course Workout #7: The Wrestler
- Obstacle Course Workout #8: 5×5 With Sprint Finisher
- Obstacle Course Workout #9: Hotel / Stairs Workout
- Obstacle Course Workout #10: The Stairmaster
- Obstacle Course Features
- Backyard Obstacle Training a Necessity and Hobby
- Creative Rigs for Home-Based Obstacle Race Workouts
- Evolving Backyard Playgrounds Are for Everyone
- 1. Dumbbell Burpee Cluster
- How to Do It:
- 2. Inverted Row/Pull-up
- How to Do It:
- 3. Bear Crawl
- 4. Ninja Jumps
- 5. Walking Lunge
- 6. Single Leg KB Deadlift
- 7. KB Swing
- 8. KB Goblet Squat
- 9. Push-up (Side to Side)
- 10. Burpee
- Make Your Own Obstacle Course at Home
- Custom Obstacle Course Installation
- What is Obstacle Course Racing?
- What Obstacles Can You Choose From?
- Why Build the Obstacle Course?
Obstacle Race Training 101
Having a versatile skill set of strength, endurance, and speed will help you conquer the challenge of competing in any obstacle race. And being in better shape will surely make the event more fun since you’ll struggle less. Let’s focus on sound training so you can enjoy the race instead of just surviving it.
The most important things to keep in mind:
1. Ask yourself where you’re at, and where you want to be. Before starting to train, assess your starting level of fitness, goals, and what you’d like to accomplish.
You should know:
- Whether you want to run a short race or long race
- How challenging the distance is for you right now
- Your basic level of fitness (how much training do you need to do?)
- Do you have the ability to complete the obstacles?
Identify your strengths and weaknesses and compare them to your upcoming race so you can train appropriately.
2. Give yourself enough time to train. If you’re an active runner or strength athlete, give yourself about 6-8 weeks of specific obstacle race training to prepare to dominate the race. If you’re new to running or fitness in general, you’ll likely need 12-16 weeks to train appropriately.
Remember, we’re training to be competitive, not just finish the race.
3. Run a lot. There’s no getting around the fact that obstacle races are running races first and tests of strength and agility second. If you’re not training for endurance with consistent running every week, long runs, and workouts that build aerobic fitness, you won’t compete nearly as well.
4. Build well-rounded strength. Traversing obstacles requires a basic amount of strength. Thankfully, you don’t need to be the next pro strongman, but familiarity and proficiency with basic bodyweight or resistance band exercises will dramatically help your performance.
Focus on basics like pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and planks. A comprehensive weight-lifting program isn’t necessary, but you may want to do some slightly more advanced medicine ball exercises to help your strength gains.
These exercises will help you meet the demands of the race, including pulling yourself over walls, climbing monkey bars, jumping over barriers, and crawling through tunnels.
5. Increase your overall athleticism. Being strong and aerobically fit isn’t enough to run a successful obstacle race. You also need agility, coordination, and general athleticism to give yourself an edge on a challenging course.
Dynamic flexibility exercises ensure you maintain a full range of motion and are a great way to warm up before any run. But the best way to prepare is to run some of your mileage on challenging trails. Trail running forces you to navigate roots, rocks, fallen logs, mud, hills, and even stream crossings.
Local playgrounds also offer a perfect training ground where you can practice playing like a child. Crawling exercises, climbing, and balancing skills will transfer perfectly to obstacle racing.
These elements of preparation will help you succeed on race day. When you line up before the starting gun, you’ll know you’re prepared — and proper preparation creates the best kind of confidence.
An Example Obstacle Race Workout
It’s always important to train specifically for the race that you’re preparing for. This is why marathoners run long and 5k athletes train fast — they’re building the specific fitness they need to be successful for their race.
Obstacle course races are unique because they combine running and strength components in a stop-and-start environment. It can be incredibly challenging and disorienting to “pure” runners who aren’t use to this type of racing.
Circuit workouts are those that combine running at higher intensities with strength exercises — very similar to what you’ll experience on race day. They provide endurance fitness gains, strength, and confidence to run when fatigue is already present.
This is just a sample of a successful circuit workout and should be modified based on your fitness level and goals. But it shows a template of a sound training session that you can emulate.
Instructions: After a dynamic warm-up and 10-20 minutes of easy running, complete the following circuit 1-3 times, resting only as much as necessary:
- Run 400-800 meters at about 5k race pace
- Perform 10-20 bodyweight squats + 10-20 push-ups
- Run 400-800 meters at 5k pace
- Perform 10-20 walking lunges + 1-minute plank
- Run 400-800 meters at 5k pace
- Perform 2-8 pull-ups + 1-minute side plank (both sides)
- Run 400-800 meters at 5k pace
- Perform 20-30 burpees
Finish with 10 minutes of easy running followed by dynamic stretching to help yourself cool down properly.
- Adjust the distance of the running intervals based on fitness level and the length of your race.
- Feel free to substitute other exercises like squat jumps, box jumps, mountain climbers, push presses, bodyweight rows, farmer walks, or other weighted carries and crawling movements.
- Start with one session per week and gradually work your way up to two sessions once you have the fitness and energy to complete them.
- You can increase the difficulty of this workout by:
- Completing additional sets of the circuit
- Increasing the number of reps for each exercise
- Increasing the number of exercises completed
- Lengthening the running portion of the workout
- Running faster
- If you don’t know your 5k pace, run a “hard” effort that you can still maintain for the duration of the workout. If you’re training for a long-course obstacle race, you can slow down so the effort is moderate.
Race Execution: It’s Time to Dominate
Running a successful race requires more than fitness. You need a solid race strategy and mindset for success.
Focus on what you can control the morning of your race so you can achieve all of your goals and have the best day possible.
Relax! Stress is normal and you’ll naturally experience a small amount of anxiety before an obstacle race. Have fun with your friends, tell some jokes, and breathe normally. Remember: you’ve prepared to compete and it’s time to step up.
Never skip the warm up. Just like with any other race, you need a proper warm-up routine of easy running and dynamic flexibility exercises to get yourself loose and ready. A sound warm-up will also help prevent injuries on the race course. If you’re warm and lightly sweating on the starting line, you’re ready.
Line up in the right spot. Racers with goals of finishing with the top athletes should line up close to the starting line to avoid bottlenecks at the obstacles. But if you’re not confident in your speed, or think too many other runners will be faster, then it’s safe to line up in the middle or close to the back of the pack. No matter where you line up, always remember to give your loudest battle cry before the start!
Safety first. Every obstacle presents risks, but you should minimize them at all costs by covering them slowly and carefully. Races aren’t won on the obstacles — they’re won in-between obstacles with fast running. Assume every wall, barrier, and rope is slippery and covered with mud and proceed with caution. Don’t hesitate to ask another runner for help — it’s common and expected.
Enjoy yourself! Even though you want to compete, you’re doing this to have fun, right? So don’t take the race too seriously. Laugh. Smile. Enjoy the mud. Try to enjoy the electrocution (or something like that…) and remember that you paid money to be here.
There’s a particular type of joy in pushing yourself to your full abilities, so leave everything on the race course and have fun with running hard and seeing what you’re capable of accomplishing.
Obstacle races are unique tests of your physical and mental toughness. With the right training, you’ll set yourself up for success and some major bragging rights.
Remember that most runners at OCRs are beginners. They’re not super-athletes and you don’t have to be, either. But if you want to dominate your next obstacle course race, it just takes a smart approach and a willingness to work hard.
In my case, I didn’t train specifically for the Warrior Dash that I ended up winning. I was just in great 5k race shape and I do a lot of bodyweight strength work; the rest took care of itself. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll surprise yourself at what you can accomplish.
And if you still have any questions, I want to answer as many as possible in the comments below.
Ready? Let’s hear your battle cry!
Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner and USA Track & Field certified coach. Get the latest training tips at Strength Running – or sign up for a free email course on injury prevention and how to run faster..
Don’t just do an obstacle race—completely dominate. Our six-week plan will get you more than ready to conquer the course.
Have you recently run through a finish line caked in mud from head to toe? If so, you’re not alone. More than 2 million people(!) completed an obstacle race in 2012, a number that just keeps increasing.
“Experience is the new luxury good,” says Will Dean, founder of the Tough Mudder series. “This is what people want to brag about on Facebook.” Social media has been a major driver for sure. Who wouldn’t want to post photos of themselves crawling under barbed wire, getting zapped by electrical cords, leaping from 12-foot platforms or climbing cargo nets?
If you’ve never answered the call of the mud, fear not. Although it might seem uber-intimidating to power full speed over miles of ditches and hills, the dirty little secret of these races is that many participants walk the majority of the course.
There’s no shame in walking between obstacles—or even around the scary ones—but you’ll feel best if you’re ready to conquer the event. And we have just the plan to get you there.
Follow this six-week program of integrated workouts that combine running with movements that mimic the challenges and rhythms of an obstacle race. This way, you’ll be prepared to leap over walls, move quickly while carrying logs or buckets of gravel, and wiggle effortlessly through claustrophobic-inducing tubes and freshly dug tunnels. Now go get dirty, girl!
But first a few guidelines…
Warm up before every workout. An active warm-up is important before an obstacle race or training session since you’re using your entire body. Make sure you’re loose and limber going into every workout by completing a few walking lunges and lateral lunges, planks, arm swings and hip circles.
Get in touch with your inner-child. In an obstacle race you’ll be called upon to navigate monkey bars, balance on beams, climb walls and traverse ropes. Chances are you can find all of those things at your local playground. This is a great excuse to play more with your kids. No children? Borrow some nieces or nephews or use the playground during o -hours.
Run off-road. Obstacle races take place on dirt. So why train on concrete or asphalt? Even in urban areas, you usually can run on the grass along sidewalks or through parks. Challenge yourself to stay o of cement as much as possible.
Active Rest (AR): This is an off day, so there’s no formal workout. But if you have time, consider spending 15 minutes in motion on a foam roller or playing your favorite sport.
Interval Run (IV): This speed workout will have you alternating between fast running and walking or slow jogging. A 3-3-2-2-3, for instance, consists of 3 minutes of running at 80-percent effort, followed by 3 minutes of walking, 2 minutes of running, etc.
Obstacle Run (OR): This race-simulation workout will break up a run by mimicking an obstacle every half mile.
Park Bench Routine (PBR): Find a bench (outside, or in the gym if necessary) for this workout, which will have you alternating between sets of pushups and dips, both performed while leaning on the bottom of the bench. If the workout reads “10- 8-6-4,” do a set of 10 of each, a set of 8 of each, etc.
Park/Beach/Playground (PBP): This workout is best performed at a park, beach or playground where you have pull-up bars, park benches, monkey bars and the ability to run on grass or sand.
All workouts are 30ish-minutes, including a 5-minute full-body warm up.
IV 1-mile easy run, 3-3-2-3-3 intervals, 1 mile easy run
PBR 400-meter run, 15 burpees, 400 meter run, park bench routine 12-10-8-6-4-2 (repeat until reaching 25 minutes)
PBP 1-mile run, 20 pushups, 50 mountain climbers, 5 pull-ups, 10 burpees (repeat until reaching 25 minutes)
All workouts are 40ish-minutes, including a 5-minute full-body warm up.
PBP 400-meter run, 20 pushups, 30 mountain climbers, 400-meter run, 20 squat jumps, 20 V-sit crunches (repeat until reaching 35 minutes)
IV 1-mile easy run, 4-3-3-4 intervals, 1-mile easy run
All workouts are 50ish-minutes, including a 5-minute full-body warm up.
IV 1-mile easy run, 4-3-3-4-2 intervals, 1 mile easy run
PBP 400-meter run, swim 50 yards or run 25 minutes and perform 20 burpees, 400-meter run (repeat until reaching 45 minutes)
All workouts are 60ish-minutes, including a 5-minute full-body warm up.
PBR 800-meter run, PBR 12-10-8-6-4-2 (repeat until reaching 55-minutes)
IV 2-mile easy run, 3-4-2-4-3 intervals, 2-mile easy run
PBR 1-mile run, PBR 12-10-8-6-4-2, 30 squats, pull-ups to failure, 2-min plank, 1-mile run, 30 V-sit crunches, PBR 12-10-8-6-4-2
All workouts are 70(ish)-minutes, including a 5-minute full-body warm up.
IV 3-mile easy run, 3-4-2-4-3 intervals, 2-mile easy run
PBR PBR 12-10-8-6-4-2, pull-ups to failure, 20 squats, 2-min plank, 15 monkey bars (repeat until reaching 65 minutes)
All workouts are 40(ish)-minutes, including a 5-minute full-body warm up.
IR 1-mile easy run, 2-3-3-3-2-3-2 intervals, 1-mile easy
PBR 400-meter run, 15 burpees, 400 meter run, park bench routine 12-10-8-6-4-2 (repeat until reaching 35 minutes)
8-Week Obstacle Course Training Program
Read More >>
Preparing for an obstacle course race requires a comprehensive training program that will improve your strength, power, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity. The 8-week program below will accomplish those goals.
This 8-week training program calls for four workouts per week. Each session will challenge you in a different way to prepare you for the various sprints and obstacles you will face during the race.
Train hard for four days, and focus on recovering during your off-days, which should include foam rolling and light mobility work. Train hard and train smart.
Day one is a strength day in the weight room. Getting stronger sets the foundation for improving your other fitness attributes and ensures that you will have the strength to complete any obstacle.
Day two challenges your anaerobic system. In the first four weeks, you will perform Hurricane training, which is derived from the Training for Warriors System. It will improve your ability to sprint and execute short bursts of strength and power, and will even enhance your aerobic system.
Day three is a trail running day, so you can train in the same environment as a race. This will improve your long-duration endurance and prepare you for the ever-changing terrain. It also calls for intermittent bodyweight exercises to simulate random obstacles scattered throughout the course.
Day four builds muscular endurance via density training. During an obstacle course race, your entire body will begin to fatigue, eventually slowing you down. The density day will prepare your muscles to be used over and over again.
The Obstacle Course Workout
- 5 Tips to Survive an Obstacle Course Race
- 3 Unconventional Obstacle Race Training Drills
- How to Prepare for the Spartan Race and Other Mud Runs
OCR Permanent Course & Obstacle Course Training Gym Map
A map of gyms & boxes that provide OCR (obstacle course racing) training and permanent obstacle courses that can be used around the year!
We know that sometimes running gets boring, but the good news is, gyms are popping up all over the world that offer specialized OCR training. The gyms listed here might have sections of the gym with obstacles you might see on the course, or otherwise have a special focus on the things you need to conquer your next obstacle race.
In addition, we have listed some permanent obstacle courses around the country that either offer special training weekends, or are open seasonally or year round for training and getting ready for your next race.
As always, please refer to the gym or course location for latest pricing, hours, and more. If you’re looking to take it to the next level, you can look into online OCR Coaching as well – we have several of the top ones for your review listed!
If your gym or course is missing from this map, simply email us and we’ll get you listed. It’s free!
Three Things You Can Do (Without a Gym) To Elevate Your OCR Game
It seems like when I look around on the Spartan Race/obstacle racing Facebook groups, I see training-related questions pop up almost daily. Obstacle racing is a rapidly growing sport – so much so that there’s even talk of the sport potentially being included as an Olympic sport in the not-so-distant future. And with any rapidly growing sport comes new people who want to try it and learn how to make the most of their experience on the course. I see lots of questions on those Facebook groups about finding local obstacle gyms, or about training techniques for completing certain obstacles, or for help and advice on combating fatigue, exhaustion or dehydration out on the course.
Living in Southern California, I know I’m lucky to have a ton of coaches, gyms and resources available to me as an athlete. And I’m excited to myself be able to help out my fellow racers as a Spartan SGX coach. But the reality is that some, perhaps many, people face a certain amount of limitations when it comes to OCR training. Some examples can include living in a location where there aren’t currently any obstacle training gyms, or facing financial limitations that make it cost prohibitive to train at a gym or hire a coach. For some, it could simply come down to a busy schedule that makes it difficult to put in serious training time specifically for obstacle racing. And if you’re just getting started, sometimes even just the idea of the number of different ways and methods to train for an obstacle race can seem overwhelming.
If any of the above sound familiar to you, I’m here to provide a bit of help. Today I want to share with you three things you can do without a gym and without a significant time investment that can help you prepare for an obstacle race…and quite possibly elevate your game.
HIT THE TRAILS!
Obstacle races are dirty, hilly affairs. And they involve a solid amount of running and/or hiking. You can definitely prep for a race by running in your neighborhood. But running or hiking on a trail will do wonders for you. First, trails better simulate an actual race situation. You’ll be better prepared for the hills, narrow pathways, switchbacks, and uneven terrain. Our bodies adapt specifically to the demands we place on them regularly. What this means is that the more time you spend on a trail, the more natural and less tiring it will be on race day. If you live near even a short trail, hitting that trail at least once a week will be massively helpful for you when it comes to race day. Great thing about trails? They’re usually super free! And friends tend to love hiking. So hit up a trail on a Saturday morning, and go to brunch afterward! Fun for everyone, and you get your race training in!
HANG IN THERE!
A common thread in a number of obstacle races is grip-based obstacles. Monkey bars, multi-rigs and other various and sundry torture devices are scattered around race course, often leaving a trail of tears and ripped hands in their wake.
If you’re new to obstacle racing, it may seem like training for these obstacles is an impossible task, especially if you don’t have a gym. But I have great news for you – the impossible is possible!
The biggest thing you will need to work on is grip strength and shoulder stability. Yes, it would be helpful to be able to do pull-ups and keep a 90 degree bend in your arms when doing these obstacles, but that can come in time. But for starters, you’ll at least want to work on that grip strength. And if you start training your OCR eyes, you’ll find places to do that all over the place.
The easiest first place to check is local parks. Parks have playgrounds and sometimes those playgrounds have monkey bars or other horizontal bars you can hang from. Some parks even have built-in exercise equipment, including pull-up bars. Once you find a suitable bar to hang from, start with some short dead hangs – perhaps for 30 seconds. Make sure your shoulders are engaged as you hang. If you can’t make it the entire length of time. Take a short break and get back on. Every day you train, extend the length of time that you dead hang. As you get better at it, start working on single-arm hangs, and switches from hand to hand. When you start getting REALLY good at it, bring a couple towels to wrap around the bar and hold on to them. Trust me, it will get hard again – but will start preparing you for some of the more weird things you have to grab and hold on to on a multi-rig.
True story: when I started running Spartan Races, I thought the monkey bars were going to be forever impossible for me. I’m short with small hands, and I couldn’t mentally navigate how to hold onto a bar, much less reach for the next one. I thought it was going to be a Forever Fail for me. But then I spent an entire month practicing my grip strength. After that, I was able to accomplish the monkey bars – and haven’t missed since.
So find a suitable bar to hang from (and keep your eyes open for rings, too) and start hanging in there!
I bet you were hoping I wasn’t going to say that, huh?
But it’s time for some real talk. I call burpees Nature’s Perfect Exercise. They do SO MUCH in a really short amount of time. Lower body power, upper body strength, and a cardiovascular and overall conditioning powerhouse all in one little exercise. They can be exhausting, which is why people hate on them so much.
That said, here’s a fun fact – obstacle races are brutally tiring. The course designers purposely try to gas you out. And the simple act of training your body with burpees can give you an advantage against that. Especially if you combine that with your trail running and your grip training.
Plus, burpees are the penalty of choice in a Spartan Race. So if you’re going to fail an obstacle or two, you can at least give yourself an extra advantage by being ready to knock out thirty burpees like they’re no big deal.
Sound like yet another impossible task? I’m telling you it’s possible.
Start with ten burpees a day for a week or two. Then add five burpees each week. Work your way up to thirty burpees a day. Even if you have to take short rests after every ten burpees, you’ll still be conditioning your body. Eventually, you won’t need that rest.
If you really want to give your day a boost right from the very start, do your burpees first thing every morning. You’ll be amazed at how it helps your energy level.
So there you have it – three things you can do for free, out in the world or at home that can help elevate your OCR game. Do them individually, or string them together for maximum race-simulation benefit. Feel free to shoot me a message and let me know how it works for you!
And if you want even more help prepping for your first obstacle race, download my FREE OCR FIRST TIMER’S CHECKLIST. It’s a handy infographic that you can check out, print, put on your fridge and use as a reminder that going outside your comfort zone doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems!
Top 12 Exercises to Prepare For An Obstacle Course Race
Have you done an obstacle course race yet? If you have, then you know these races challenge not only your endurance, but also your strength, agility, and mental grit.
Regardless of which race you do (check out the Top 5 Obstacle Course Races), you’ll likely be required to jump over walls, climb ropes, crawl through mud, hoist weights, carry heavy objects uphill, and more. To do well, you can’t just train linear movement patterns (like standard squats, deadlifts, rows, etc.).
Instead, you have to get creative with your workouts, focusing on full-body movements that increase your power, flexibility, stability, and grip strength. These skills will help you complete, and dominate your next obstacle course race.
These exercises are designed to help you conquer every obstacle. You’re going to load your body unilaterally, asymmetrically, and unconventionally to build an unbreakable core, unshakeable stability, and unbeatable strength. Are you ready?
At the same time that you build endurance, you’re going to want to build your total-body strength. These exercises are designed to help you conquer every obstacle. You’re going to load your body unilaterally, asymmetrically, and unconventionally to build an unbreakable core, unshakeable stability, and unbeatable strength. Are you ready?
1. 2-Kettlebell (or Dumbbell) Front Squats
Goblet squats are an excellent exercise to build leg strength and core stability. This exercise will help you flip tires, and lift and carry cement balls (or other heavy objects). You can perform this exercise using a kettlebell or dumbbells.
Instructions: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and slightly turned out. Holding the weight at your chest, get tall through your spine and pack your shoulders. Keeping your chest tall and core tight, bend your knees and bring your hips down towards your heels. Make sure to track your knees over your 2nd toes (don’t let your knees collapse in). Inhale as you pull your hips down, and exhale as your drive through your feet to stand tall again.
2. Cliffhanger Pull-ups
Rather than a typical overhand pull-up, you’re going to perform a narrow-grip pull-up with staggered hands. In most obstacle races, you’ll have to climb up ropes, traverse ropes, jump over walls, and cross monkey bars. This means you need to be strong enough to hold and pull up your own body weight, usually with an asymmetrical grip.
Instructions: Using a pull-up bar, you’re going to place your right hand in front of your left, with both palms facing into the mid-line. Hang from the bar, keeping your shoulders packed away from your ears. Perform a pull-up bringing your head to the left side of the bar, then lower back down to the start. Now do a pull-up bringing your head to the right side of the bar. Continue to alternate sides. On your second set, place your left hand in front of the right.
3. Plank Kettlebell (or Dumbbell) Drag
Having a strong, stable core will help you conquer so many obstacles – crawling under barbed wire, crossing a cargo net, walking across rope ladders, etc. The plank kettlebell drag will not only build your core endurance, but also anti-rotational strength. The key is to keep your shoulders and hips square as you drag a heavy weight underneath you.
Instructions: Start in a high-plank position – hands on the ground, arms fully extended, and feet about hips-width apart – with one weight outside of your right hand. Get long from head to heels. If you’re doing plank correctly, you should be able to draw a straight line through your head, shoulders, hips, and heels. Maintaining this strong position, reach your left hand underneath your body to grab the weight and drag it along the floor to the outside of your left shoulder. Then plant your left hand, and reach your right hand underneath you to drag the weight back to the right. Keep going, and don’t let your hips or shoulders dip or twist.
4. Kettlebell (or Dumbbell) Suitcase Carry
You’ll probably face an obstacle that requires you to balance, whether that means crossing a balance beam, hopping from post-to-post, or walking across a rope bridge. Your ability to maintain stability is crucial. That’s your focus here. To make this exercise more challenging, step one foot right in front of the other, as if you were walking on a tight rope.
Instructions: Choose a moderate- to heavy weight, and hold the weight in your right hand. Stand tall with your shoulders and hips square, shoulders packed, and core tight. Step your right foot directly in front of your left without letting the weight pull you off-center, and without leaning to the right. You should feel your core working hard to stabilize your spine. After 30 seconds, switch hands and repeat.
5. Heavy Cable Lift
Being able to generate rotational power is hugely beneficial. One obstacle that challenged a lot of people in the Sacramento Super Spartan was dragging a cement block attached to a chain up a muddy, rocky hill, and then back down again. There’s a good chance you’ll have to pull or drag a tire, or some other heavy object.
Instructions: Using a cable machine, select a heavy weight that you can lift with good form. Set the anchor low. Stand sideways with your left shoulder next to the cable machine, holding the handle in your left hand, covered by your right hand. Start facing forward, then pull the cable diagonally upwards toward the upper right as your pivot your feet and hips. Control the weight back to center, and repeat.
Burpees are the bread-and-butter of a lot of obstacle races, but especially Spartan Races. If you miss an obstacle, you get 30 burpees. Sometimes burpees are part of an obstacle, and sometimes burpees ARE the obstacle. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to get really efficient at doing burpees?
Instructions: Start standing tall, then squat down to bring your hands to the floor. Jump your feet back into a plank position as you lower yourself down into a push-up. Press out of your push-up and then jump your feet forward towards your hands. As soon as your feet touch the ground, jump up into the air. Land softly, and repeat – hands down, jump back, push-up, jump-forward, and jump up.
7. Single-arm Kettlebell (or DB) Walking Lunges
Unilaterally loading your body during walking lunges will challenge your legs, glutes, and core in a whole new way. This exercise will help you keep your balance when crossing balance beams or hopping from post-to-post.
Instructions: Select a moderate- to heavy-weight, and hold it in your right hand. Stand tall with your shoulders packed and core tight. Step your right foot forward, bending both knees down to about 90°. Then drive through your legs to step your left foot forward and lunge down. Continue your walking lunges without letting the weight pull you off-center.
8. Plank Crawl
Can you guess what this exercise prepares you for? – Crawling under barbed wire. Yes, the barbed wire is sharp. And you’ll want to keep your body low to the ground while moving efficiently forward. You’ll get muddy and feel your arms, legs, and core burn, but practicing the plank crawl will help you beat this obstacle without a scratch.
Instructions: Start in a plank on your forearms. Keep your body long from head to heels, and your core tight. Crawl your right arm and your left foot forward, then the left arm and right foot. Keep crawling until the time is up. Don’t let your knees, hips, or head drop down.
9. Hanging Oblique Raises
When you have to jump over a tall wall, climb straight up a rope, or cross the monkey bars, you’ll be glad you did this exercise. Hanging oblique raises strengthen your grip while building your core control.
Instructions: Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip. Pack your shoulders, bringing your shoulders away from your ears. Start with your legs hanging straight down. Maintaining stability in your upper body, bend your knees and raise them towards your right tricep. Lower your legs back to the start with control, then bring your knees towards your left tricep. Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed the prescribed number of repetitions. Don’t swing your legs! You want this movement to come from the strength of your core, not from velocity.
10. Box Jumps
In some races, you’ll have to jump over a wall of fire. In others, you’ll be required to jump over logs, or even walls. In order to overcome these obstacles, you’ll need enough power in your legs to get some serious height. That’s where box jumps come in. You can either train this exercise for max speed, or for height. I recommend focusing on height.
Instructions: Choose a tall box that you know you can safely jump onto. Start standing tall facing the box. Squat down, and then drive powerfully through your legs while driving your arms to land softly on top of the box in the squat position. Make sure to land with soft joints, and drive your knees towards your 2nd toes. Don’t let your knees collapse in. Initially, I recommend stepping down. As you build your technique, you can jump down, making sure to cushion your landing with soft knees. Reset in your start position, and then jump back onto the box.
11. Inverted Rows
To prepare yourself to climb an inverted wall out of a muddy water pit, or traverse across a hanging rope, you’ll want to increase your horizontal pulling strength. The inverted row does just that. To make this exercise easier, don’t lean back as far. For a greater challenge, place your feet on an elevated surface.
Instructions: Holding onto a squat bar or a suspension training system (like TRX), step your feet forward so that you’re leaning back. Keep your hips lifted by engaging your glutes and squeezing your abs. Pull your chest towards the bar while keeping your body in a straight line. Lower yourself back to the start position with control. For a greater challenge lean further back, or elevate your feet on a box or bench.
12. Resistance Band Sprint-in-Place
The hardest obstacle in the race might just be the steep, relentless hills. Practicing resisted sprints will build your hamstring and glute power, so you can charge the hills and beat the fatigue.
Instructions: Attach a super band to a solid anchor point. Step into the band so that it’s against the front of your waist, and take a few steps forward. Leaning slightly into the band, begin “sprinting”. You won’t go anywhere, since the band will be holding you in place. Pump your arms and drive your legs as fast as you can, with control.
Obstacle Course Strength Workout Example
Here’s an example of how you can combine some of these exercises into a workout:
Complete 3 rounds of each circuit. Rest for 30-60 seconds between each round.
|Goblet Squats||10 reps|
|Cliffhanger Pull-ups||Max reps|
|Plank KB or DB Drag||30 seconds|
|KB or DB Suitcase Carry||30 seconds, each side|
|Heavy Cable Lift||10 reps, each side|
Obstacle Course Workout Plan Tips
To properly prepare for an obstacle course race, you’ll want to include both running and strength training. The distance of your race will determine how much endurance you want to build. For example, several races are only 3-4 miles, while others can be upwards of 12-14 miles. Whatever the distance, plan on running 3 times per week.
If you’re new to obstacle course races, or to running in general, I recommend starting with a 3-4 mile course. If you’re an avid runner who’s participated in a variety of road races, ranging from 5-Ks to half-marathons, then challenge yourself with a longer course of 8-10 or 12-14 miles.
Don’t underestimate the importance of building your aerobic base. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people crying mid-course. You’re going to face steep uphills and downhills, uneven terrain, rocks, tree branches, and mud. But the hills are what get people. The more you can include hills in your running program, the more prepared you’ll be on race-day. If possible, include one tempo/speed day, one hill day, and one long run per week.
Be Prepared to Conquer the Race
To do well in an obstacle course race, you’ll want to train for at least 3-6 months ahead of time (depending on the distance of the course). Perform these strength workouts in between your running days for best results. If you try these out, let me know what you think! What are your favorite exercises to train for obstacle races?
So you’ve decided you’re ready to run extreme: You’ve entered the big, dirty competition of an obstacle course race (OCR) like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, or Rugged Maniac.
The best thing about training for an OCR? Well, life itself is an obstacle course. Your body needs to be ready for anything life throws at you.
You want to dominate, so you can prep specifically for the brutal challenges you’ll have to pass for victory—but you’ll also need a solid bedrock of general fitness training to put yourself in prime position between the obstacles.
This workout from South African obstacle racer Trevor Lagerwey challenges you with classic calisthenics, sandbag work, and enough cardio to send your metabolism into calorie-burning warp speed. That builds athleticism, strength, and endurance. And perhaps best of all, it requires minimal equipment.
You can do the main workout almost anywhere outdoors, from a playground to your backyard, and it will challenge nearly every muscle in your body.
Follow the instructions below for each move; rest 30 seconds between sets, unless otherwise noted. Stick to that routine three times a week, but don’t stop there. For extra conditioning work, squeeze in some afterburner sessions, shown to the right of the exercises.
The Fresh Air OCR-Ready Burner
1. Weighted stepup
Four sets, 15 reps per leg
Use sandbags, a weighted rucksack, or a sturdy backpack filled with rocks. Place your bag of choice on your upper back (or on one shoulder, if it’s a smaller bag) and do 30 stepups onto a raised platform (15 reps per leg). Raise your non-stepping knee to hip height on each rep. Do four total sets.
2. Pushup & V jump
Three sets, 10 reps
Do two pushups. After the second, while keeping your hands planted on the ground and knees together, hop your legs forward so your knees almost touch your right elbow. Hop back to the pushup position, then hop your legs forward so your knees almost touch your left elbow. That’s one rep; do three sets of 10.
3. Knees-to-elbow & hollow hold
Three sets, 15 reps per side (knee-to-elbow) and 45 seconds (hollow hold)
Get into a pushup position. Extend your right arm and lift your left leg. This is the start. Touch your left knee to your right elbow. Return to the start. That’s one rep; do 15 per side. Flip onto your back and do a 45-second hollow-body hold, arms at your sides. Rest for 15 seconds; do three sets.
4. Sandbag squat & burden run
Three to five sets, 20 reps (squats) and 30 yards (burden run)
Pick up a sandbag, heavy medicine ball, or backpack and place it on your upper back. Keeping your chest up, do 20 squats; then, without shifting the weighted object, immediately and explosively run 30 yards. Don’t rest; immediately begin the next set. Do three to five sets.
5. Toe-to-bar & pullup pair
Three sets, 10 reps
Start hanging from a pull up bar using an overhand grip. Bend at your waist and shoulders and reach your legs upward so your toes touch the bar; then return to the start. Do two pullups, taking three seconds to lower yourself to hanging after each rep. That’s one rep; do three sets of 10.
6. Pullup & bar hang
Three sets, 10 reps
Start hanging from a pullup bar using an overhand grip wider than shoulder width. Keep your core tight. Do just one pullup. Don’t immediately do another; instead, hang on the bar for 10 seconds. That’s one rep; aim for three sets of 10, and don’t be surprised if your grip fatigues near the end of each set.
7. Chinup & half-L sit
Start hanging from a pullup bar using an underhand grip. Do 4 chinups and then lower yourself to hanging. Raise your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Hold for five seconds. That’s one rep; do four. Is that too easy for you? Then hold your legs straight out in front of you during the L-sit.
8. Broad jump & burpee
Three sets, 10 reps
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Throw your arms backward, hinge slightly at your hips, bend your knees, and then leap forward as far as you can. Focus on landing softly; your knees should be right above your feet. Immediately do a burpee, dropping your chest onto the floor, then standing back up and jumping straight upward. Clap your hands over your head to finish off the burpee. That’s one rep; do 10 reps. Aim to do three total sets. Rest as needed between sets, but work hard to push through the fatigue. It’s better to slow your pace down than to stop entirely.
To build endurance and torch a few extra calories, sneak in one of these short, metabolism-spiking workouts two or three times a week.
Helena WahlmanGetty Images
This one’s simple; bring a stopwatch outside and find an area to run. Start the clock and run at an easy pace for two minutes, keeping your speed slow enough to carry on a conversation. Speed up slightly for one minute. Then sprint all-out for 30 seconds. Work through this pattern three times.
Find a hill with a short sprint path. Start at the bottom of the hill and sprint up. Focus on driving your knees upward with each stride, keeping your eyes only a few yards in front of you. Run back down the hill (this is your recovery period), and repeat. Start with three rounds of this; aim to add one round whenever you do this workout.
This one builds stamina. For 10 minutes, you’ll run at a comfortable pace—with a twist. Every 25 seconds, drop to the ground and do three to five pushups; maintain good form on these even as you get tired. Chart how many total pushups you complete; each time you do this workout, try to do more pushups or run farther.
The Top 11 Exercises for Obstacle Course Racing
The various demands of obstacle course racing can only be met with varied training. Unless you’re able to run obstacle course races regularly, getting in the gym or buying a few pieces of equipment to work with at home is going to be necessary. At its core, it is a foot race, but the whole reason for signing up in the first place is to conquer the obstacles. Conquering the obstacles, however, requires much more strength than an athlete can get from endurance training. These are the 10 best exercises for traversing any obstacle you encounter.
1. Medicine Ball Burpees
Burpees are the most love-hated exercise in OCR. Medicine Ball Burpees are a little more advanced and make regular burpees look like a walk in the park. The medicine ball burpee exercise is exactly like a regular burpee, except you do it with a medicine ball. This way, you build upper body strength, core strength, and grip strength while working a primary exercise in obstacle course racing!
2. Deadlift and Deadlift Variations
The deadlift exercise is the best back strengthening exercise available to athletes. It works not only the back muscles, but the arms, core, hands, and legs. Regularly departing from the typical barbell deadlift is what will set the OCR athlete apart from the typical gym bros. When training for obstacle course racing, the athlete should perform standard barbell deadlifts only as often as they perform all of the other deadlift variations because it is the variations that build the most functional strength.
Unbalanced Deadlifts – Unbalanced deadlifts are performed with uneven loads between the left and right side of the body. This practice increases core engagement, and it should be performed for an equal number of reps on the left and right sides to prevent developing imbalances. You can do these with one side completely unloaded or partially loaded. For example, a dumbbell deadlift can be performed with a single dumbbell in one hand for 4 reps before switching to the other hand for 4 more reps. A partial unloading example would be holding two dumbbells simultaneously, but one hand holds 50 lbs while the other holds 75 lbs.
Single-Leg Deadlifts – Single-Leg Deadlifts are exactly what they sound like. Adding single-leg deadlifts (and other single leg exercises) helps improve balance and coordination – essential attributes for cruising through obstacles. Perform an equal number on each leg.
Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Ropes, and … Grenades? – Changing how you hold onto the weight favors the grip training aspect of the deadlift. On a barbell, you’re limited to underhand, overhand, locked, or “switch” grip, but you’re always holding a straight bar. Switching to a dumbbell or kettlebell can displace the load differently across different fingers. Ropes are a malleable handle commonly used in a number of race obstacles. Rope attachments can be hooked up to a form of resistance (like a dumbbell). Grenade attachments are solid metal balls to which you can attach to a form of resistance to change how you work your grip strength.
3. Cleans and Snatches
For many of the same reasons we deadlift, we clean and snatch. The difference is the manner in which the exercise is performed triggers different training adaptations. Explosive, Olympic lifts are used to improve jumping abilities and lower body power in many types of athletes, and OCR athletes are no exception. Much like the deadlift, variations can be used in the clean and snatch. However, partial unbalanced loads in high-intensity, explosive movements may unnecessarily increase risk of injury. Completely unbalanced or single-arm dumbbell or kettlebell cleans and snatches, however, are a great tool.
4. Hand-Over-Hand Rope Sled Pulls
Pulling on ropes is a frequency in many races. Sled pulls are a great way to work the back muscles and increase your strength during all obstacles with rope. To perform the exercise you need a long rope (~50 feet), a sled, and some weights. You can do these seated or standing. Extend the rope in a straight line all the way out from the sled then pull, hand-over-hand, until the sled is at your feet. Walk or run the rope back out, and repeat.
5. Pullups, Pulldowns, Dead Hangs, and Variations
Have you been getting the sense that you need a strong back for obstacle course racing? Being able to hoist yourself up and hang on for a long time are featured components in probably every obstacle course race ever. Perform pullups if you are able, as they will be more specific to what you will encounter on race day. Use different grips, and grab onto different types of materials/objects to become well-rounded in the exercise. Even if you can do pullups, consider adding dead hangs for time on bars, rings, and ropes. Take advantage of sturdy door frames with a short lip – just big enough to get your finger tips on. If regular door frames are too narrow and you happen to have access, industrial building ceiling frames often have a bit more of a lip to grab, probably can get 2/3 of a finger on one.
6. Push Ups and Dips
Pushing exercises are here to help balance out all the pulling. After all, OCR requires all muscle groups. After the back muscles pull your shoulders up just over the top of the wall, the chest and triceps push the rest of the body up to create leverage in bringing the legs up and over. You are definitely not limited to regular push ups, and you should vary your style of push ups. You can do the standard straight up, straight down, hands shoulder width apart. You can also move your hands around during or between sets, use uneven surfaces, go side-to-side, and do them one-handed! Between two stable objects, athletes can perform dips to really help with the vertical aspect of getting up and over a wall.
7. Sandbag Step Ups and Stadiums
The simple, yet grueling step up exercise gets an upgrade in the form of an unbalanced, shifting sandbag (or pancake). Just getting a hold of this heavy neoprene sack is a challenge. Common carrying strategies are to put it on one shoulder and switch back and forth as the arms tire out or to hold it with two hands on the upper center of the back and move somewhat unnaturally with your head facing down instead of forward. Find something to step up on that is equal to 1-4 times the size of an average house step. If you want a more aerobic based approach, take the sandbag to the nearest stadium and run stairs!
8. Farmer’s Walk and Atlas Stones
These are heavy loaded carry exercises. The Farmer’s Walk involves holding weight at your sides and walking for distance or time. Simple concept. Pick up heavy object, walk, and put object down. The difficult part? Guessing which object you will have to carry. On one hand, the traditional dumbbell Farmer’s Walk could be the obstacle, so training that way will be more than adequate. However, if you have to carry round stones, that’s a big difference. You may have a hard time finding stones to carry, and while the round aspect is difficult to replicate, you can still replicate the front loading part with a heavy bucket or a log, which might be another obstacle!
9. Kettlebell Swing
The Kettlebell Swing is a great exercise for the posterior hips and thighs. However, most people end up doing this one wrong. You’re not supposed to lift the weight with your arms, they are just there to hold the weight. To perform the exercise correctly, grab each end of the kettlebell’s handle, keep it out in front of you, squat down, then explode up while pushing your hips forward, let the momentum generated from your legs transfer into the kettlebell and send it upwards.
10. Squats and Squat Variations
Squats are the ultimate exercise for developing leg strength. You can, and should, do back squats, front squats, goblet squats, zercher squats, and more. All are great and worthwhile exercises. In all cases, make sure you’re loading the posterior chain. Many athletes make the mistake of moving just up and down. This causes them to place too much load the knees and quadriceps without hitting the primary locomotion and power muscles, the hamstrings and glutes. Think of squats as a forward and backward motion of the hips, the further you push your hips back, the lower you will go. Keep your chest up and stand up at the right time, and you will be good to go!
11. Toes to Bar
This list wouldn’t be complete without an abdominal exercise. The core will be engaged on many of the 10 exercises already reviewed, but none will help you get up and over obstacles the way that the Toes to Bar exercise will. Don’t just kick your feet up as fast as you can. If you can do it slowly, that requires much more strength and abdominal activation. Also, don’t limit yourself to bringing your legs straight up. Bring them up to the left side and to the right side. Try to incorporate holds at different points in the range of motion. Let the legs come down slow, and feel the burn!
As an added bonus, you can perform 9 of the above exercises on unstable surfaces (exclude Olympic lifts). Unstable surfaces like sand, mud, foam pads, etc. help build balance, ankle stability, and core strength. For most athletes, 3-5 sets of 3 or 4 exercises per body part are recommended to get stronger and build strength endurance. A more detailed guide to OCR training can be found here. If you start doing all of these exercises and keep them varied with the suggested alternatives, you will be an elite in no time!
Top 10 Insane Obstacle Course Workouts
In case you hadn’t noticed, obstacle course races and mud runs like the Spartan, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash are sweeping the nation. From 20,000 participants in it’s 2010 debut year, the Tough Mudder logged nearly 700,000 participants in 2013. With 350,000 participants in 2012, 60+ events in 2013, and featuring over 100 events in 2014, Reebok Spartan Race is one of the fastest growing events in the world.
Obstacle racing is a sport in which, traveling on foot, you must overcome various physical challenges. Obstacles include, but are not limited to, climbing over walls, carrying heavy objects, traversing bodies of water, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping through fire.
With a history of heavy military influence, it’s no surprise that many obstacles are similar to those used in military training. But other obstacles are unique to obstacle racing and test endurance, strength, speed, mobility, and mental toughness. Races vary in both distance and challenge level, combining trail running, road running, and cross-country running in distances ranging from 1 mile arena sprint events to 26.2+ mile “death races”!
When you train for an obstacle race, you not only build full body fitness that allows you to hoist heavy sandbags over your head, but you also build the mobility to crawl under barbwire, the resilience to dive into cold mud pits, and an overall uncanny ability to conquer the unknown and withstand just about anything that gets thrown at your body.
In this article, you’re going to get 10 slightly insane obstacle training workouts that will spice up your workouts like nothing else, and completely redefine the way you train. You don’t need much equipment for these – just some heavy stuff and the willingness to tolerate physical discomfort. Ready? Let’s jump right in. If you can tackle a few of these a week, you’ll be ready to race obstacle courses – or at least be a helluva lot tougher.
Top 10 Insane Obstacle Course Workouts
Obstacle Course Workout #1: Butt Burner
A simple workout that requires just you and your body.
- 400M walking lunges
- Run max distance for 5 minutes
- 400M walking lunges
- Run max distance for 4 minutes
- 400M walking lunges
- Run max distance for 3 minutes
- 400M walking lunges
- Run max distance 2 minutes
- 400M walking lunges
- Max distance run for 1 minutes
Obstacle Course Workout #2: Battle Rounds
Perfect when you have one set of dumbbells and you want a lung-sucking workout that includes some significant load lifting.
Preferably wearing Elevation Training Mask, do 3-5 rounds for time of:
- 50 leg levers
- 40 mountain climbers
- 30 burpees
- 20 kettlebell or dumbbell swings
- 10 dumbbell manmakers (40lb men/25lb women)
Obstacle Course Workout #3: The Running Bear
It’s called the bear because it feels like you have a bear on your . Enjoy that feeling.
- Do 10 Bear complex using 95lbs for females or 135lbs for males. Then run 1 Mile.
- Then 8 Bear Complex, followed by running 800M.
- Then 6 Bear complex, followed by running 400M.
- And finally 4 Bear Complex followed by 200M and a final 2 Bear Complex.
Obstacle Course Workout #4: Sandy Stairs
All you need for this is something heavy to carry and a flight of stairs. You get to work your core during your “rest periods”.
- Find a flight of stairs, preferably 3-5 flights
- At bottom of stairs, do 5-10 sandbag, rock or dumbbell clean and jerks (here’s how to make your own sandbag)
- Carry sandbag to top of stairs. Carry sandbag back down stairs.
- Set sandbag down and hold plank position for 60 seconds.
- Repeat for as many rounds as possible in available time.
Obstacle Course Workout #5: Row Your Boat
Don’t have a rowing machine? Then use a bike. But double the distance if done on a stationary bike.
Row 1000m, rest 2 minutes, row 800m, rest 90 seconds, row 600m, rest 60 seconds, row 400m, rest 30 seconds, and finally row 200m for an all out effort. Finish by hopping off the rowing machine for 30 burpees.
Obstacle Course Workout #6: Hotel Room Workout
I travel a ton and do body weight workouts like this quite a bit. I’ve also done similar workouts (without the cold shower of course) in airport terminals, parks, etc.
As many rounds as possible of:
- 10 lunge jumps per side
- 15 burpees
- 20 box jumps onto bed
- 25 chair dips
- 30 jumping jacks
Finish with a 2-5 minute cold shower
Obstacle Course Workout #7: The Wrestler
You’ll feel like you’ve been in a wrestling match after this one.
Complete 3 rounds of:
- 75 burpees
- 30 squat tosses with sandbag
- 10-30 pistol squats each leg
- 10-30 pull-ups
- 5 rope climbs
Obstacle Course Workout #8: 5×5 With Sprint Finisher
very good combination of strength, speed and muscular endurance.
5 sets of 5 reps of:
- Shoulder Press
- Power clean
Finisher: 10×30 second sprint at 8-10mph on 8-10% incline
Obstacle Course Workout #9: Hotel / Stairs Workout
very good option for when the hotel gym is crappy.
- Run one flight of stairs one step at a time. Stop on landing for 20 second isometric squat.
- Run next flight of stairs two steps at a time. Stop on landing for 20 push-ups.
- Run next flight of stairs by box jumping as many steps at a time. Stop on landing for 20 mountain climbers.
- Repeat for as many flights as possible.
Obstacle Course Workout #10: The Stairmaster
If you really fancy yourself as fit, try going from 5 to 1 minute, and then back up.
- 5 minutes hard stair climb, 100m walking lunges with 40lb dumbbells
- 4 minutes hard stair climb, 100m walking lunges with 40lb dumbbells
- 3 minutes hard stair climb, 100m walking lunges with 40lb dumbbells
- 2 minutes hard stair climb, 100m walking lunges with 40lb dumbbells
- 1 minutes hard stair climb, 100m walking lunges with 40lb dumbbells
Want over a hundred more workouts just like this? You can get them, along with Onnit’s Unconventional Guide To Obstacle Course Training, a complete 12 week nutrition plan from Ben Greenfield, obstacle how-to training videos with top Spartan athlete Hunter McIntyre, a guide to making your own backyard obstacles, top-secret interviews with the world’s top obstacle racing athletes and much more! Just head over to https://www.ObstacleDominator.com.
For athletes entering the ever-popular obstacle course racing (OCR) scene, a performance advantage could be a backyard monkey bar away.
Coloradan Andrew Adamowski regularly podiums in regional OCRs like the gritty Spartan series. The 44-year-old former Ironman competitor finished second twice in the Elite Masters category at the race’s world championships.
Handmade backyard training grounds might have something to do with his success.
Adamowski has transformed his front yard, backyard, and even living room to host obstacles and strength trainers. He has a pegboard next to his TV, a series of grip trainers beneath his porch, and a nearly 20-foot climbing rope in the center of his living room.
“It has definitely helped diversify my training. If anything, it works to build confidence when approaching obstacles during a race,” he said. “And it definitely has made training more interesting.”
Obstacle Course Features
Obstacle course races come with lots of prefixes like “Spartan,” “warrior,” “ninja,” and “mud.” And they can include a wide variety of physical feats.
Common obstacle racing challenges include ladder and wall climbs, monkey-bar moves, sled drags, heavy ball carries, cargo net scales, and the almost-upside-down Tyrolean traverse on a rope. Serious upper and lower body strength is required.
It’s not possible to train for all of these techniques in a regular gym or convenient class. So having OCR training gear right out the back door can be helpful.
Backyard Obstacle Training a Necessity and Hobby
Adamowski’s DIY setup is more than two years in the making. It started with an old sleeping bag stuff sack filled with sand. Just carrying that around the yard built better upper body strength. But inventing a yard’s worth of mostly recycled training tools has become a hobby for Adamowski, a landscaper by trade.
Like many working parents, Adamowski finds time limited. Moving some of his training into his home helps streamline his workout regimen.
Sometimes he rides bikes to and from the city, some 50 miles both way. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He also stashes weights in the woods so he can pump iron on the hilly walk to church.
“I have a ‘proving ground’ on a little trail loop up the road, where I’ve stashed some logs and cinder blocks, and there’s a sturdy tree branch for pull-ups,” he said. “I will grab stuff to carry on the way.”
Creative Rigs for Home-Based Obstacle Race Workouts
Adamowski applies the same DIY mindset to constructing training obstacles inside and outside his home.
“One day I was looking at the joists under the deck and thought it would be a good framework for adding a pull-up bar. Things just evolved from there,” he said. “When I got the swingset for the kids it seemed logical to add some more supports to create monkey bars.”
Modifications to the weathered swing set make for a sturdy setup for “ape hang” training. The decking that overhangs the front of the garage contains an old pipe pull-up bar, rope-hung baseballs, gymnastics-style rings, a used fingerboard, and other under-mounted devices ideal for body-weight resistance training.
Adamowski’s training gadgets span a wall in the basement as well as the deck, carport, garage, front yard, and backyard. His home is petite, so there’s a climbing rope hanging above the couch. At $60, it was his most expensive piece of warrior training equipment.
Adamowski also bought a $25 slackline on Craigslist. “Most everything else I found or is a leftover from other household projects,” he said. “The indoor pegboard required the most ‘engineering’ because it needed some big drill bits, but I think it may be one of the best training tools.”
The narrow pegboard rests above a room joist within earshot of a downstairs TV. Adamowski literally hangs out here a lot.
Outside, Adamowski drills and anchors used baseballs for grip-strength handholds and uses old duffels for sandbags. There’s a manhole cover in the front yard for dragging across the driveway, and a solid wood station for vertical box jumps. A friend was throwing away a perfectly good wooden cube.
A few haystacks make a safe backdrop for javelin-throw practice. Adamowski fashioned that device from an old shovel handle and a yard tool prong.
Adamowski found a firehose on the side of a highway that works perfectly for a full-body rope-slamming move. An industrial-grade rope strung between two trees in the front yard creates a horizontal expanse for practicing the Tyrolean traverse.
Evolving Backyard Playgrounds Are for Everyone
But the household warrior training platforms are not just Adamowski’s playground. His wife, Chris, a competitive endurance athlete, dabbles as well. She won her age group in the one Spartan sprint race she entered.
Her friends also show up once a week at 6 a.m. for an outdoor circuit-training workout — a few rotating exercises starting with under-the-deck pull-ups — with one-mile neighborhood run repeats in between.
The Adamowski kids use the living room climbing rope while making pancakes or during “American Ninja Warrior” binge sessions.
So what’s next for Adamowski’s backyard setup? As he prepares for summer Spartan races in Utah and Colorado, a big wall would be nice, he said.
“I’d like some walls to climb over and for throwing heavy stuff back and forth. I don’t think the barbed wire crawl would go over very well with the kids.”
1. Dumbbell Burpee Cluster
By Mark Barroso, NSCA-CPT, Spartan SGX
Congratulations. You committed to your first-ever Spartan Race. You’ve already done what most people are too afraid to do. Now comes the next stage: preparation.
While training for your first Spartan Race isn’t exactly brain surgery, I recommend mastering a few specific movements before stepping on the course. Do these simple moves a few times per week for 1-2 months prior to the race.
Muscles Targeted: Full Body
How to Do It:
Stand holding one light dumbbell in each hand with your arms by your sides. Get into push-up position while gripping the dumbbells. Next, do a push-up (optional) and stand up into a squat clean. That is, stand so the dumbbells are at shoulder height and your hips are below your knee creases (below parallel). Now, press the weights overhead as you stand fully erect. Return the weights back to your sides. That’s one rep.
2. Inverted Row/Pull-up
Pull-ups are a key exercise in training for a Spartan Race, but if you can’t do one yet, that’s OK. Try the inverted row instead.
Muscles Targeted: Back, Biceps, Abs
How to Do It:
Set up a Smith machine bar (or a barbell in a power rack) so it’s 3-4 feet off the ground. Lie down supine (flat on your back) underneath the bar with eyes under bar and your feet away from it. Reach up and grab the barbell with a pronated (overhand) grip, and position your body so your arms are extended straight, feet are on ground, and your body is rigid (in a straight line) with about six inches between your body and the ground.
Keeping your elbows straight, pull yourself towards the bar until your chest touches or is close to bar. Pause at the top, then return your body to the starting position under control. That’s one rep.
3. Bear Crawl
Muscles Targeted: Full Body
From the top of a push-up, step the right foot forward but not outside of the right arm as you simultaneously move the left hand forward in front of you. Next, do the same with the opposite arm and leg. Continue this for 50 yards prior to a cardio or weightlifting workout to work on functional strength and get warmed up.
4. Ninja Jumps
Muscles Targeted: Legs, Abs.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with arms extended in front of you at eye level. Jump both knees vertically so your knee caps touch your palms. Land softly in a quarter squat position. That’s one rep. Repeat for as many reps as possible in 30-45 seconds. This plyometric exercise develops the adequate power necessary to scale walls, do box jumps and climb stairs quickly.
5. Walking Lunge
Muscles Targeted: Glutes, Legs, Abs
You can do this as a bodyweight exercise, use a dumbbell/kettlebell in each hand, place a barbell on your back (not in front of you), or put a sandbag on your back or on top of one shoulder. Stand with your feet hip-width apart then step forward with the right leg so that your left knee is 1-1½ inches off the ground. Step your left leg forward and next to right leg as you stand fully erect again. Repeat on other side. To increase difficulty, don’t step the trailing leg next to the lead leg: keep moving it forward and step past the lead leg. This is a continuous motion and requires good balance.
6. Single Leg KB Deadlift
Muscles Targeted: Legs, abs
Stand while holding a kettlebell in your right hand in front of your right leg. Flex the hips and lift your left leg off the ground behind you, raising it as high as you can while keeping your balance. As you do this, lower the bell in front of your right leg, keeping it close to the body. Return your left leg to your right leg and bring the bell back to the starting position. Do 10 reps on the right leg then switch the left leg. To increase difficulty, don’t step the leg that’s off the ground back to the floor: balance on one leg throughout the entire movement. This is a great stability exercise that readies the ankles, knees, and hips for the demands of uneven terrain on a mountainous Spartan course.
7. KB Swing
Muscles Targeted: Lower back, legs, abs, shoulders
Grab a bell that’s in front of you on the ground. Drag the bell back between your legs, hinge at the hips, pop your hips forward and swing the bell to eye level. That’s one rep. Bring the weight back down between legs under control and repeat the motion.
8. KB Goblet Squat
Muscles Targeted: Legs, Abs
Stand while holding one kettlebell with two hands, one hand on each side of the handle, in front your chest. Elbows should be bent, meaning your arms are not extended straight in front of you. Keeping the bell close to front of body, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Explosively push your hips vertical until you reach the starting position. That’s one rep.
9. Push-up (Side to Side)
Muscles Targeted: Chest, Triceps, Shoulders
Do one push-up. Then, from the top of push-up position, move your left hand horizontally out about 3-4 inches. Do another push-up. Return hand to starting position (shoulder-width apart), and then do a standard push-up. Now, move your right hand out 3-4 inches and do another push-up. Return to the starting position and do a push-up. The best way to do these is to set a timer for 30-60 seconds and do as many possible, going from middle, left, middle, right.
Muscles Targeted: Full Body
To do a burpee, get on the ground in “chest-to-deck” position. Your chest should be touching the ground, your legs should be straight, and your palms should be on the ground as if you’re going to do a push-up. Next, do a push-up while moving your feet under your body so that you end in a squat with your hands on the ground. Finally, jump up with a straight body and your hands over your head. That’s one burpee.
I think the most attractive thing about Spartan Race is that you don’t have to follow a specific training plan to prepare. Everyone starts at a different fitness level and brings their own strengths and weaknesses. That said, these movements represent the “universals” that I guarantee will help you on any Spartan course, be it a Stadium Sprint or the Beast.
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Make Your Own Obstacle Course at Home
Teresa HoganFrom Health magazine
Pull out a stopwatch and try your hand (or feet!) at these fun, family-friendly obstacle course ideas from Krystin Swift, fitness manager at Ethos Fitness and Spa for Women in Midland Park, NJ.
Combine any of these station ideas for a one-of-a-kind family obstacle course. Encourage each other to finish the whole course, or make it a race and time everyone to see whos the fastest.
For walking or crawling stations, 25 yards is a good distance to start. Be sure to measure it out before the race begins and mark it with clear signals; a cone or sidewalk chalk is best. As your family masters the course, change the stations around or increase times and distances at each station for a challenge.
*Ok for kids under five
Forget banged up knees. Instead crawl across the yard with your hands and feet like a bear.
Instead of your belly facing the ground (like in the bear crawl), flip over and face the sky. Use your hands and feet to scurry across the yard like a crab.
High knees marching*
March like a marching bands leader, pulling the knee up and parallel with the ground as you walk forward.
Channel your inner frog and squat low to the ground, jump forward into the air, and squat back to a hovering position. Do it again and again until youve crossed the finish line for that station.
Using sidewalk chalk, draw boxes at an angle, two feet apart from one another. To start, stand in the first box and jump sideways to the next box and then sideways again to the next. Think of it as skiing across the driveway. For an added challenge, vary the distance between boxes. If you dont land with both feet in the box, you have to go back to the last box and try again.
Using a medicine ball (or a small ball no heavier than four pounds), partner up and toss the ball back and forth. After each toss, take a step back until you reach markers without dropping the ball. If you drop the ball, start over. (Good distance between markers: 30 yards.)
For a good cardio station, keep a hula-hoop going for 20 seconds. If you drop it, start over. For an added challenge: try keeping a hula hoop going for 20 seconds in one direction and then for 20 more seconds going the other direction.
If you have a few jump ropes, you have a ready-made station. Each person has to jump 15 times before going to the next station.
Set up cones and dribble a soccer ball through the cones and back. Use however many cones you have. Its best to start with three cones and increase as it gets easier for everyone to complete. This exercise works on agility as well as side-to-side motion.
If you have a jungle gym in your backyard, use the monkey bars as a stop in the race. Every one must cross the bars before continuing to the next station. If someone falls off, she must start again before continuing on.
If you have a basketball goal in the driveway, mark three spots (or more for an extra challenge) from which everyone must shoot and make a basket. Its best to number the spots so everyone starts in the same place. Move spots back or at angles from the goal. When a basket has been made from every spot, you can go to the next station.
A great way to round out the whole obstacle course is to end with a 50-yard dash (or smaller distance if you dont have the space). Mark off the dash starting with the end of the previous station and let everyone run to the finish line. It could come down to the wire!
Custom Obstacle Course Installation
Want your very own custom obstacle course at your school, park, playground, camp or other facility? Pick from our menu of 26 Ninja Warrior/Mud Run style obstacles and customize your course based on the space available, age of participants, your budget, and your obstacle preferences (all obstacles are appropriate for participants ages 7+). The cost of the obstacle course depends on which obstacles you choose for your course, how many obstacles, and travel/lodging arrangements for our crew.
What is Obstacle Course Racing?
Obstacle course racing is one of the fastest growing sports in the US and beyond, largely due to the fact that people find it more fun, challenging, and rewarding than a typical trail run or road race. It combines high intensity running through diverse terrain with fun and challenging obstacles. Examples include Spartan Race, American Ninja Warrior, and Tough Mudder. In OCR, you run, climb, crawl, jump, and balance your way over, under, and through a wide variety of terrain and obstacles. Whether you’re a top competitor or a casual adventurer, you’ll leave with a feeling of accomplishment and self-improvement, along with the desire to improve and continue growing, not to mention the physical benefits of running through a high-intensity fitness course.
What Obstacles Can You Choose From?
And many more! Visit our A La Carte Obstacle Menu for a full list of all the obstacles you can choose from as you design your very own custom obstacle course, or ask for a free consultation by emailing us at [email protected]
Here’s an idea of what you can build for your Obstacle Course:
Why Build the Obstacle Course?
Obstacle Courses provide a fun, safe, and challenging place for participants of all ages and fitness levels to play, exercise and compete with one another. Here are a few great reasons to build an obstacle course at your camp, school, park, or organization!
- Safety First – Our obstacle courses are built with safety as our #1 priority. Unlike climbing walls and high-ropes elements that require participants to use a harness, all of our elements are under 8ft tall and provide the same level of fun and challenge without the risk.
- Fitness – Obstacle courses are a primary feature of military training facilities all over the world, proving that these courses are the gold standard for fitness training. The obstacle course will train participants in all aspects of their fitness (upper, core and lower body strength, balance, agility, flexibility, coordination, aerobic speed and endurance), and can be modified based on age and fitness level.
- FUN! – You’ll hardly even notice you’re exercising, and you’ll keep coming back for more. Participants consistently report having memorable experiences playing on the obstacle course, and ask to run it multiple times!
- Team-Building – Obstacle courses are great for competition, but they’re even better for cooperation. Relay races, team races, and cooperative missions are great ways to get your campers and counselors working together and building team chemistry and friendship.
- Motivation – Obstacle course racing is one of the best ways to motivate people to run and get in shape. The sport has already changed countless lives by inspiring people to get in the best shape of their lives, no matter their age or fitness ability. Give participants of all ages a positive experience with fitness, and they’ll stay with it for life.
- Self-Esteem – When you conquer an obstacle, you feel a sense of accomplishment. When you fail, you have something to work towards. Self-esteem is a natural result of seeing yourself overcome adversity and succeed
- Novelty – Parents, kids, teens, and adults that love the outdoors are becoming aware of American Ninja Warrior (TM), Spartan Race (TM), and other obstacle course races. How cool will it be when participants get to have their very own course!
Eddie Kovel’s Obstacle Course Experience:
Eddie has worked as a course manager for Spartan Race (TM), raced and placed top 5 in 12/14 obstacle course races, started and coached the Emory University Obstacle Course Racing Team and has built obstacle courses and consulted for a variety of organizations around the USA, including the 2017 Crossfit Games, Camp Cheerio, Atlanta Jewish Academy and Beaver Creek Resorts. Eddie and his team of skilled and dedicated builders will make any obstacle course vision you have become a reality!
What is the cost of delivery and construction of the obstacles?
Cost of delivery and installation of obstacles depends on exactly what obstacles you choose, how many you’d like to install, and where your facility/event is located. Obstacles can be found in our A La Carte Obstacle Menu. Keep in mind that we can customize any of these obstacles to meet your needs, and/or build obstacles that aren’t on the list. Courses typically cost between $20,000-$100,000.
Does a representative from your company do the construction or are we responsible for that?
We offer consulting as well as installation services. An on-site consultation starts at $2,500 for a full assessment of your property and a detailed report on our professional recommendations for how to optimize your space for an obstacle course, which obstacles will best suit your participants, how to run your events/programming, and safety. We also provide installation services, bringing in the top builders in the industry to build your obstacle course with maximum durability and safety.
How long does installation take?
Installations generally take about 5-10 days, but could be longer for a course of more than 12 obstacles. For larger installations, we pre-fabricate obstacles off-site to minimize on-site build time.
How many obstacles do you recommend for a starter course?
We recommend 12 obstacles as the ideal number for a starter course, but you can still have a fun course with 7-8 obstacles, and add more obstacles year by year if you find the course is a success.
Please contact Eddie at 203-499-7060 or by email at [email protected] for a quote or to schedule an on-site consultation.