Last time, we talked about how the ten best exercises for you to start training for your first Obstacle Course Race (OCR). And it was a pretty solid list, but probably not anything you hadn’t read before. Pretty standard stuff.
Well, that changes today, and the reason for that is that we’re getting into some of the more racing-specific stuff – the movements and muscles that are going to help you in specific places in a race. Crawling and climbing are the main focuses here, but the exercises you’ll learn are going to boost your strength and endurance for the entire experience.
But the thing to remember on these is that they’re not just about being ready for a race. Obstacle course races are awesome because they test you from head to toe – making you move your body more completely than pretty much any sport out there. And any conditioning and training you have to do for them is going to benefit you even without doing a race.
So, with no further to-do, I give you…
The Mudlife Crisis Top Ten Exercises for Obstacle Course Racing, 6 through 10
6. Bear Crawl
Okay, as I said, now we’re starting with some of the racing-specific stuff. Bear crawls are a great conditioning exercise but are also a good skill to have in general due to the presence of obstacles that require it. It can be invaluable for going up steep or treacherous climbs (over scree or rocks or what have you).
The key things to remember for an effective and efficient bear crawl are as follows: keep your back straight, and as parallel to the ground as possible. Doing your best to look forward in front of you and to concentrate on that flat back is the best practice to start. Keep your arms under your shoulders, not out to the side. And push your legs out behind you. When you move you will alternate moving forward with the left hand/right leg and the right hand/left leg. Stay off your knees – to avoid scraping and bruising them.
7. Crab Walk
Another one of those gym teacher favorites, but you’ve probably not been taught to do them efficiently.
Squat down and put your hands on the ground behind you, with your fingers facing out at a 90-degree angle to your body. It’s okay if your butt sags in the middle of your crawl, as long as it stays off the ground. As in the Bear Crawl, move your left hand with your right leg and vice versa. Instead of trying to describe this one, the video will just make it clear. Make it as efficient as possible by concentrating on watching where you’re going and doing that alternating hand/foot movement. As the bear crawl is handy for ascending treacherous slopes, the crab walk is essential for descending them – it’ll spread your weight out and give you great balance.
8. Low crawl.
This is a favorite of OCR designers – low crawls under barbed wire or ropes or what have you – usually in the mud.
There are a couple ways to do these and you should practice each. First, there’s the back crawl. Lie on your back, with your hands up in front of you and one leg cocked up toward your groin, the other straight our. Your shoulders should be touching the ground. You’ll push with your cocked leg and pull the straight leg up into the cocked position, while “walking” with your shoulder blades. It looks a bit like this:
The downside of this technique is that you can’t see where you’re going as well, but if you can see that the mud isn’t too deep ahead on the obstacle or what have you, it can work and save you save energy.
Otherwise, you’re going to have to belly crawl it. You’ll be on your belly, with your hands out in front of you and your head low (so that you’re not hitting barbed wire!). Your legs will be cocked similar to the back crawl. You’ll push with one leg and pull yourself forward with one or both hands. And your head will be up high enough to see where you’re going but not so high that you’re going to hit the wire. Practice this a lot as this one is pretty common in races – and it’s a great conditioner.
9. Pull-Ups (Jumping Pull Ups)
Pull-ups are another famous gym class exercise. You’re going to want to get pretty good at these for two reasons – they’re just great upper body pulling muscle conditioners, and they’ll increase your grip strength and aid you in pretty much all the climbing obstacles.
Hang from a bar with your hands perhaps slightly more than shoulder width apart. Do your best to pull yourself up so that your chin is above the bar, and try to do it without “kipping” – which is where you kick with your legs to give you some momentum going up. Good form on your pull-ups will reduce the chance of elbow injury (which sucks a lot and hurts, trust me on this one) and also make you stronger. You won’t be able to kip when you’re doing wall climbs in a race… Also, don’t do them with your palms facing toward you (that’s a chin-up) because that movement isn’t as useful in real life – in a race, climbing, etc.
If you can’t do a full pull-up, you can start with bodyweight rows. Hang under a bar that is waist-high or so, with your legs out in front of you and your body straight, and pull yourself toward it. If that’s too tough to start, find a slightly higher bar or brace your feet closer to the bar as you pull.
Huh? Hanging? Seriously, Jamie?
Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. I want you to go out and find a place where you can hang by your hands without your feet touching the ground, and do it.
Here’s what’s happening: humans spent a lot of time “brachiating,” which is the act of Tarzan-like swinging around on tree branches and the like. Remember, we evolved from creatures that were a common ancestor with apes, and a lot of our health and mobility comes from our arms. Sure, we are evolved to run, but we’re also evolved to run and get into a freaking tree if the saber-toothed tigers are chasing us.
Keeping mobility in our shoulders and upper backs is an unheralded key to good health. So we’re going to hang like this:
Grab a bar/branch/window sill/whatever – something you can hang from. Then relax your shoulders and backs until most-to-all of the effort is being done by your hands and forearms. This blog post from Ido Portal has the details.
If you’re on a bar or branch, you can even swing a bit forward and back.
Try to relax into this exercise as much as possible. This is as much a stretch for your upper body as it is a grip exercise for your forearms and hands.
As you get better and stronger at it, you can swing more, and add forward-to-back and side-to-side swinging. See Ido Portal’s hanging link again for these movements.
This will translate really well into many of the hand-over-hand/monkey-bar type obstacles you’ll see. And it’ll make your upper body more functional for all life’s tasks.
So, what have I missed? Any details you’d like me to go over with regard to these exercises? Share below, or contact me directly. And as always, we’d appreciate a share on your favorite social media sites !