10.25.17

The Crossfitter’s Guide to Obstacle Course Racing

Constantly testing and challenging your fitness in new ways is a principle that lies at the heart of self-improvement. OCR trails are a perfect way to do this.

Obstacle course races take your fitness out of the Box and into a totally new realm. The combination of running and conquering an assortment of rope swings, water pits, tunnels, walls, barricades and many other objects is both an enjoyable and challenging achievement for anyone that enjoys pushing their limits and enabling their full potential.

They demand a mixture of using the right equipment, a positive mental attitude and the right physical capabilities.

Annie Thorisdottir powering over the cargo net.

Each race will require and develop all of the following aspects of your fitness in training and on race day itself:

  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Agility
  • Core strength
  • Adaptability
  • Endurance
  • Mental strength

OCR can be used as a great way to develop all-round fitness for improving your CrossFit® performances. Simultaneously, you can also use CrossFit® as an effective way to train for an obstacle course run.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OBSTACLE COURSES AND THE CROSSFIT GAMES®

In 2012 an obstacle course was featured as an event at The CrossFit Games® for the very first time. Earlier this year, Dave Castro programmed an obstacle course once again for the 2017 competition. The event proved hugely popular with both athletes and spectators alike, and was a successful way to test the fitness of the competitors in a new context. Both of these events were short sprints, so for longer OCR trails you will need to adapt your training and approach slightly.

Grip and upper body strength, coordination and muscular endurance are all required for rope swings.

CrossFit Games® and Rehband Athletes such as Annie ThorisdottirTia-Clair ToomeyCamille Leblanc-BazinetJosh Bridges and Rich Froning all incorporate obstacle course work into their training. If you want to start or get better at OCR, try the following tips.

Get Used to Operating Outside Your Comfort Zone

OCR will put you in uncomfortable situations. Bruises, cuts, cold water, wet hands, mud, fatigue, stones in your shoes etc. Luckily for you, CrossFit® is designed to make you comfortable with the uncomfortable, and every WOD that you have ever done has helped to prepare you for any OCR trail you want to enter!

Run a Lot

Most OCR courses tend to be roughly around 80% running and 20% obstacles. This means that if you want to do well then you need to have a good base of endurance and decent running technique. It’s also a good idea to build up your endurance with longer runs. If you have the chance, go for trail runs over hills, mountains and rough ground, as this will help your body adapt to tougher conditions.

Take your fitness into new environments.

You can program WODs with running into your training. This will also enable you to practice tackling obstacles or exercises at a high heart rate, which is what you will be doing on the OCR itself.

Work on Your Technique

Watch how others tackle objects and see what works. Take the best ideas  and apply them to your competition races. When Rich Froning was interviewed about the O-Course at The CrossFit Games® about his strategy, he replied that he simply watched where other people messed up and made sure not to make the same mistakes. Clear and effective advice.

He also answered with a smile:

Taller is better but when other people fall down it helps you too.” Rich Froning.

Rich Froning using his agility and speed.

Wear the Right Gear

Protecting your joints is a must. Knee Sleeves are a great way to keep your knees warm throughout the full race and reduce the risk of injury. They will also shield your ligaments and joints from the stress of steep downhills and relentless pounding of running on rough, uneven surfaces for longer distances.

When Rehband athletes Annie Thorisdottir and Tia-Clair Toomey trained and took part in the O-Course Event they used the thicker 5mm Knee Sleeves in order to absorb the shocks from jumping down from height on the wall, cargo net and other objects on the course.

3mm Knee Sleeves are advisable for longer OCR trails that take many hours to complete and have much longer stretches of running.

Annie Thorisdottir stretching.

Annie Thorisdottir stretching.

Gloves and wrist sleeves can be a good idea if you are competing at a time when the weather may be unfavourable and make the conditions tougher. They help with grip on wet objects such as logs or monkey bars. They also help when your hands get cold after obstacles like ice pools.

Make it Social and Have Fun

This is a principle that lies at the heart of CrossFit® and OCR. Choose a good group of people to go with and enjoy yourself. Whether you choose to compete hard and try to win prizes and medals, or you simply do it for fun, adding a social aspect will make the achievement and experience even more enjoyable.

Race Day Nutrition

When it comes to race day, don’t add anything new into your diet. This is not the time to experiment. The obstacle courses that have been featured in CrossFit® events generally tend to be sprints, but if you are taking part in a much longer OCR, then fuel yourself with dried fruits, bananas, dates and other snacks that will supply quick energy along the way. It is a good idea to stock up the day before with a couple of big meals that are high in quality sources of carbohydrates, as these energy reserves will quickly be burned off during the race itself.

HOW TO USE CROSSFIT™ TO TRAIN FOR OBSTACLE COURSE RACES

CrossFit® is an excellent way to train for OCR as there are many crossovers between the two sports.

Mental Toughness

 “I could do this which is easier or I could choose that way of doing things which is harder. Once you start to choose the hard decisions over and over again then it stops being a decision and starts to become a habit. Doing one more rep, going the extra mile, adding a little more weight will then become a part of you and who you are.”

In this quote Josh Bridges explains how seeking the difficult route will help to make you a tougher and more resilient individual. This idea is constantly drilled into you through CrossFit®, and transitions perfectly across to OCR.

Josh clambers over the beam on the cargo net

“Once you start to make the hard decision every time you start to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable and enjoy what you’re doing. You also become a better athlete,”  Josh Bridges continues.

Bodyweight Exercises

OCR doesn’t require massive strength numbers, but you do need to be able to haul, lift, drag and move your body over many different kinds of obstacles. Bodyweight workouts involving running are an excellent way to train your general conditioning for OCR. Add this one into your programming:

5 rounds for time

  • 400m run
  • 75 Squats
  • 50 Push Ups
  • 25 Pull Ups

Simply improving your bodyweight strength, technique and movement will also be hugely beneficial for OCR trails. This WOD will push you very quickly towards muscular fatigue and force you to work hard when you are tired, highly applicable for OCR conditions.

25 min EMOM

  • 5 Pull Ups
  • 10 Push Ups
  • 15 Squats

Core and Stabilisation Work

A strong core is essential for any OCR. The variety of obstacles that you will face require pulling, twisting, lifting, jumping and swinging in different ways through all three planes of motion. A strong core will enable you to attack and conquer all objects with confidence.

Thankfully all the overhead squats, hollow holds, gymnastic work and other core work that you do regularly will be a huge help when it comes to tackling the obstacles that stand in your way on the OCR!

Tia demonstrating her excellent core strength and lifting skills.

Core strength WOD from Tia-Clair Toomey

4 rounds

  • 30 sec Hollow Hold Rock
  • 5 V-Ups
  • 10 Hollow Rocks

HOW OBSTACLE COURSES CAN HELP YOU BECOME A BETTER CROSSFITTER

A big part of CrossFit® training is adaptability. This is often overlooked but it is an important concept within the sport of fitness.  Any obstacle course race requires many characteristics and physical abilities that are focused on and developed in CrossFit®, and any OCR will force you to use them in a different way.

OCR can also be a great way to find and expose weaknesses within your fitness. Tackling unknown obstacles when you are physically and mentally fatigued is difficult, and you may find that the new conditions reveal gaps in your strength, endurance, power or willpower.

If you limit your training to the Box then you are missing out on a big part of what CrossFit™ stands for. As outlined by Greg Glassman, “Constantly learn and play new sports” is an important mandate within its principles. OCR will bring you in direct contact with new physical and mental challenges to overcome. Time to put your fitness to the test.

Enable your full potential

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