So You Want To Get Into Obstacle Racing?

Obstacle racing has taken the mainstream! NBC Sports is now featuring Spartan Races where competitors fiercely rush through various obstacle courses such as crawling under barbed wires, spear throwing to charging against one another towards the finish line at the end of either 3+, 7+ or even 13+ mile long courses!

More and more people are buying into the hype because this type of sport is being promoted all across the spectrum; from the elite ex-military athlete to the office/soccer mom/weekend warrior. If you’re reading this, obstacle racing might just be in the horizon but you must be wondering how and where to start?

Having done several obstacle races myself, including two Spartan Beasts, let me share with you four key obstacle racing tips to help the beginner racer build a strong foundation!

Cardio is King:

I don’t care how much you can lift or how buff you look, if your focus is size, mass, and ultimate strength, you will have a tough time during an obstacle race. I am not saying stop lifting. On the contrary, you should still continue working out with weights to help build strength within your joints and increase your bone-density and structural integrity needed to conquer these obstacles, however you will need to apply slightly more emphasis to your cardio performance in order to have enough stamina to dominate the course as a whole.

Granted you may smoke through some of the courses such as lifting buckets of rocks or pulling chains with cinder-blocks at the end, the kicker are the miles between each obstacle that will end you. These races range from 3.5 miles to over 13 miles in length and these are not your typical flat courses you find in most 5K’s and Half-Marathons. We are talking about hills, mountains, ditches, valleys, and potholes; basically terrain that will make your heart rate hit quadruple digits!

Exercises such as medium to long distance jogging (3 to 12 mile
s) and interval sprinting will be the movements of choice for training for a race. I highly recommend training on hilly terrain. 99.9% of the courses will be hilly, trust me.

I would also highly suggest starting to train for your race at least 6 months to a year before race date if you’re a beginner. This will give your body time to adapt and change to the copious amounts of stress you will be placing on it on race day.

Aim for starting out with 2 to 3 mile jog/run 3 times a week with one long run of 6 miles+ at least once a week. You can build up the miles as you get stronger and faster!

Clean Your Diet

You need to be able to clean up your diet leading up to your race day. You can’t eat like junk and expect to breeze through an obstacle race, not as a beginner at least. Think more greens, less sugar, more lean meats, and less fried goodness. I’m being very vague, but the bottom line is you have to stop eating garbage and start eating well if you want to dominate and enjoy and obstacle course race.

I would also start looking into your water intake. Chances are you should start drinking more than you are right now. How much more? There are tons of formulas to figure it out, but a common notion is 10 to 12 (8oz) cups of water a day. Another technique for more active people is weighing yourself before an exercise session, then weigh yourself again to see how much water you lost and drink the appropriate amount to get back up to your starting weight.

Getting a jump start in improving your diet and hydration will help you avoid being a citizen of Cramp Nation, which grows in population every race day.

Want to bring a camelbak or hydration belt during a race, don’t make the mistake I did of just adding it on right before race day. I spent a good portion of my race trying to move through some obstacles trying to awkwardly position my camelbak so it doesn’t get pierced or in my way! I highly recommend to train with any accessories you will wear on race day at least 4 weeks prior to allow you to get used to them and make final adjustments.

Lift Your Body

You need to be able to lift your body through narrow areas, crawl through random openings and lift yourself off the ground using a rope. If you have trouble doing push-ups and pull-ups, you need to start doing them now. Who cares if you can only do one rep of each, the point is to get started. Weightlifting is beneficial, however body weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, rope climbs, bear crawls, lunges and squats will be the lifts of choice in my book in order to prepare your body to take on the obstacles.

Three times a week minimum of body weight training is what I would recommend. Set and rep range would be three sets of as many reps as you can in thirty seconds for each exercise (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and bear crawls). I would also add loaded carries such as farmer walks in the mix. This is just a basic lay out for a beginner, but feel free to add more and do more as you get stronger!

Mental Fortitude

Get ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Obstacle races leave you muddy, cold, and irritated. At some points you will have to go under murky water and crawl through questionable terrain. You will also feel tired and hot with the sun beating down on you while you push yourself towards the end. You have to mentally ready yourself for all of this because the temptation of giving up will only get stronger as the race goes on.

Solution: Race with a buddy or buddies. Taking on an obstacle race along can be a very daunting task, however if you have a couple of other buddies fighting along side with you, your determination and tenacity will hold strong against the massive waves of adversity. Training together will be that much more fun and consistent, which will boost your confidence and will to win ten fold before race day!


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