Obstacle races have grown in popularity over the past few years. Participating in these types of races can be a great way to break up the monotony of going to the gym with the same routine week after week. But with all of the different races to choose from, it can be challenging to pick the right one for you.
Races vary in difficulty, obstacle style and purpose. If you like the camaraderie of overcoming challenges with a group, races like the Warrior Dash or Muddy Buddy that require teamwork may be the way to go. If it’s fierce, no-holds-barred competition you’re after, races like the Spartan Series or Tough Mudder could be a better fit.
It’s also important to consider your own fitness level. Races vary greatly in levels of difficulty and distance, ranging from 5k fun runs to intense 13 mile treks. Understanding how far you can run or how long certain races may take to complete will help you decide which would suit you better. One thing that all obstacle races have in common is that they pose a challenge to your entire body, from head to toe. Whatever race you choose, here are some tips to help you train safe and smart:
- Work on different body weight movements to avoid isolating muscles, since these races require upper body, lower body and core strength. Doing a bunch of bicep curls may not benefit you in the same way as full body movements like squatting, jumping, pushing and pulling. Being comfortable getting down onto and back up off of the ground, crawling, and climbing will come in handy for obstacle races.
- Link the body like a chain. Work on exercises that develop a connection between the lower and upper body. Focusing on transferring strength through the entire body with exercises like a push press, medicine ball throw, or sled push and pull will help build that total body connection.
- Intervals and circuits are the way to go while training for this type of challenge. Focus on full body circuits that cover a wide variety of movements. Set up circuits of exercises that are opposite of each other. For example, if you do push-ups, you should follow by doing pull ups. Work on 3-4 different exercises, rest, and then repeat 2-3 times.
- Gradually take shorter breaks between sets as the circuits become easier for you. Start with a 60 second break, and then move to 45, 30, and finally 15 seconds. As you take shorter breaks, your overall conditioning will improve, allowing you to recover more quickly and move on to the next obstacle!
Jamie Osmak, certified strength and conditioning specialist, is a member of the Sports Rehabilitation team at Hospital for Special Surgery’s James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center. Jamie is a USA Track and Field Level 1 coach and corrective exercise specialist with a degree in Exercise Science from Rutgers University.