by Joe Vennare
Individuals preparing for an obstacle course race must equip themselves with a unique skill set. Cardiovascular stamina, muscular strength, and mental toughness are attributes that an obstacle athlete must train and possess if they expect to be successful. However, the start and stop nature of an obstacle race combined with the numerous impediments encountered along the course requires racers to go beyond general fitness preparation. Your training program should imitate the specific demands and elements of your upcoming race.
In Lungs and Legs, Part One of Dominate Every Obstacle, I presented a number of training techniques for improving cardiovascular endurance that translate directly to obstacle course racing. In this post, I will outline how you can design a comprehensive strength training program based on exercises that are functional, compound, and dynamic.
With respect to obstacle course racing, the strength segment of your training should be designed to improve functional, total body strength. Aim for maximum strength relative to your size and bodyweight. Using bodyweight exercises, derived from gymnastics, to train functional movement patterns and mobility allows the body to move more efficiently.
In order to acquire this type of relative strength, you should feature exercises like push-ups, squats, lunges, pull-ups, ring dips, and muscle-ups in your workouts. After mastering the basics of each movement, consider adding resistance or explosive components to each exercise. For example, perform pull-ups with a weighted vest, add jumps to the squat for height or try clapping between push-ups.
Other obstacles encountered along the course will assess a racer’s strength by requiring the ability to transfer force from the ground to the fingertips in order to lift or transport an asymmetrical object. With that in mind, be sure to train compound Olympic movements using a barbell. Using Olympic movements to train major muscle groups and the core enhances a racers capacity to move, bear, or transport heavy weight. Be sure to use a heavy load that is challenging, but do-able. Place proper form and the quality of each repetition ahead of the total weight or number of repetitions performed.
Begin incorporating back squats, dead-lifts, bench press and overhead press into your workout. When you become comfortable with those movements, include front squats, thrusters (front squat-to-overhead press), and power/hang cleans.
Because you will be expected to maneuver your own body weight up, over, or around various barriers, it is not necessary to train until failure every workout. Instead, devote a portion of your efforts to developing dynamic strength and power that will enhance your ability to execute athletic movements in an explosive manner. Utilize equipment like kettlebells, a weighted vest, or a sandbag to create hybrid strength; wherein explosive hip drive is used to generate force.
In an effort to build hybrid strength, start with kettlebell exercises along with medicine ball slams and throws. By including movements that require jumping, hopping, or bounding (e.g. box jumps or burpees), you will strengthen the glutes, hips, core, and lower back while preventing injury and protecting the knees.
Strength training for an obstacle course race should not be confined to power lifting or circuit training alone. While CrossFit will certainly prepare you to qualify for the CrossFit games, it may leave you lacking some of the skills required to take on an obstacle event. To ensure that you dominate your upcoming race, build the type of strength that will best serve you on race day. Use bodyweight exercises to build relative strength, compound movements for brute force and dynamic, hybrid exercises to increase athleticism and agility.
(Author Joe Vennare is a successful entrepreneur and accomplished fitness professional. As the co-founder of Hybrid Athlete, www.thehybridathlete.com, Joe develops innovative fitness programming for endurance, multi-sport and obstacle race athletes. Joe is also the co-creator of Race Day Domination,www.racedaydomination.com, a training manual designed to prepare competitors for success in any obstacle course race. In addition to his professional pursuits, Joe is a sponsored endurance athlete competing in triathlon, ultra-marathon, and adventure racing. Joe’s motivation to train and compete in endurance sports is fueled by a desire to test his physical abilities and mental toughness.)