In recent years interest and participation in obstacle course racing has grown at an impressive rate, appealing to both recreational and elite athletes. Weekend warriors, former college athletes, and general fitness seekers have taken to obstacle course racing as a source of competition and camaraderie. Having entered the race circuit as somewhat of a novelty, obstacle course racing has quickly morphed into a fitness subculture that combines components of CrossFit, endurance sports, and adventure racing. As individuals from varying fitness backgrounds and ability levels tried their skills at obstacle course racing, one thing has become clear; success in these types of events requires a unique skill set.
While individuals who possess general strength and average cardiovascular capacity are able to complete the race, those seeking to compete need to focus on general fitness as well as race specific skills. There is no benefit in being the first racer to an obstacle if you lack the upper body strength to complete a rope climb. Likewise, the ability to press 315 lbs. off your chest will not allow you to traverse a hill 5 mile course any faster.
With that in mind, throughout a series of articles, I will outline an inclusive approach to training for an obstacle course race. I will discuss the specific training methods your will need to incorporate into your training program in order to increase strength relative to bodyweight, cardiovascular and muscular stamina, durability, and mental toughness. To kick off the series let’s take a look at cardiovascular fitness.
It is important to have or build a solid base of cardiovascular fitness. While you do not have to be a runner, you should be able to cover the distance of your race with little effort. To obtain this level of fitness try to incorporate 2-3 days of run specific workouts into your training program. Look to include one long run, high intensity intervals, hills sprints, and Tabata workouts.
Long Runs: This effort should be, at minimum, equal to the distance of your event. If you are capable of running further distances keep pounding the pavement, but don’t overdo it. You do not need to log 20 mile runs for a 5K event. Try to increase this distance 1-2 miles every other week until you are able to complete the race distance at a conversational pace.
High Intensity Intervals: Train at or near maximum effort to fatigue the lungs and legs. Alternate between periods of all out effort and shorter periods of rest. For example, head to the track and complete a 400 meter all out sprint, followed by a rest period that is half the amount of time it took your to complete the 400 meter sprint. Repeat 8-10 times
Hill Sprints: Train at an intense effort while allowing your body to recover during a period of low or reduced output. Find a hill sprint that takes 60-90 seconds to climb and run to the top at maximum effort. After reaching the top walk or jog to start line. Repeat 8-12 times.
Tabata: Use high intensity working sets for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Set the treadmill to a 10 percent to 12 percent incline and ramp up the speed to a sprint. Sprint for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for 8 to 12 sets. Training using the Tabata technique increases stride frequency and encourages forefoot running.
Advanced Cardio Techniques: After you have developed a foundation of cardiovascular endurance begin to add more advanced training methods into your program. Adding weight or resistance to cardiovascular efforts will improve the body’s ability to transport a load, while training multiple energy systems at one time. Wear a weighted vest or incorporate a push/pull sled into an interval workout for an added challenge. Better yet, load a backpack down with weight and climb stadium stairs or set out on a hike.
If done properly, the cardiovascular component or your obstacle race training program will build leg strength, train the lungs, and prepare the mind to sustain a maximum effort over a prolonged distance or time interval.