Five Exercises to Get You Started Training for an OCR

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting back into the hard-core swing of things as regards my workouts – creating the plan and getting myself back into the regular morning habit of a good, tough workout.

Now, I’m a dad.  I work a full-time job.  My wife is a swim coach for our local YMCA and her team’s practices are after HER day job, ergo I’m responsible for meals and homework with the kids who aren’t swimming, so time is at a premium, to be sure.  I have to get the most out of my workouts in the least possible amount of time.

So what I’ve been pondering and studying is this:  what are the most effective exercises for an OCR athlete?

I’ve looked at my strengths, my weaknesses, and the things that I’ve done over the past couple of years that have worked best and not worked at all.   For me, what has worked best is bodyweight exercise – using as little equipment as possible.  And I’ve come up with a list that reflects that, for sure.

There are ten total, but today we’ll just hit numbers one through five (because as I was writing, this was turning into a really long post).

When I say bodyweight exercise, I am talking about exercises where the resistance involved comes primarily from two things: your own body weight and gravity.  You’ll see what I mean as we get into this list.

So, without further ado, I give to you:

The Mudlife Crisis Top Ten Exercises for Obstacle Course Racing, 1 through 5

1. Burpees

Ah, yes, burpees – the exercise that your gym teacher in high school (the one who would really have rather just been coaching the football and wrestling teams full time) used to give you as punishment.

Burpees are simple, but far from easy.  They’re handed out in groups of 30 in the Spartan Race as “punishment” for missing an obstacle.  The reason for that is, as race founder Joe DeSena says… “It’s simple.  Burpees suck.”

To do burpees: stand straight up.  Then squat down and put your hands about shoulder width apart in front of you so that you’re in what looks like the start of a leapfrog game.  Then, instead of jumping, kick your feet back into a push-up position and drop down and do that push-up.  As  you come back up, kick your feet back up toward your chest and into that squat.  Then stand back up and at the top of the exercise, give a little jump, like you would if you were jumping rope.  Then do the whole thing again.

They are awesome for full-body coordination and conditioning.  They force you to use all the major muscle groups from the neck down, and also that important part of your body above your neck – your brain.  You have to keep focusing on your form to get the most out of them.

2. Running

This is a no-brainer, right?  Obstacle Course races are not American Ninja Warrior – you have to go at least a 5K in most races, and longer distances for some of the big ones like Tough Mudder, Spartan Super and Beast Races, and that sort of thing.  You’re going to need to run, and you’re going to need to run over various types of terrain.

I recommend doing runs where you stop frequently and do a few reps of an exercise – burpees, pushups, squats, pullups, lunges, crawling, what have you (basically any of the exercises in this list).  That’ll get you used to the stop-and-start of an OCR – as you run from obstacle to obstacle and stop do it it.  Increase your distance, work in some hills and various types of terrain, even running through streams and the like from time to time.

3. Sprints

Sprints are great for a couple of reasons:  first, they will increase fat-burning by turning on your human growth hormone production; and second, they will increase not only your speed but also your endurance.

Do your sprints like this:  walk, or jog, to your sprint location, to get warmed up a bit.  Do some light, active stretching, and then do your first warm-up sprint at about half-speed.  Depending on your fitness level, go about 50 yards or so and work up to 100 yards.  Walk back to the start.  Then do a second warm-up at 75-80% speed.  Again, walk back to the start.

Now you’re going to do five to seven full speed, all-out sprints.  You’re not going to get the benefit of this if you don’t do it to the absolute maximum that you’re capable of.  Each time you finish one, walk back to the start and rest long enough to catch your breath.

This is a quick, effective workout that will have great results.  Don’t feel like you have to time yourself or anything like that – just go as hard as you absolutely can every time.  It’ll hurt (the right way), but it’ll make you feel great, too.

4. Push-ups

Ah, push-ups.  You knew I was going to say it, right?  Well, there’s a reason that push-ups keep popping up in the annals of exercise:  they work.  Push-ups, when done correctly, benefit the entire body.  You’re obviously getting work on your upper body, but also by keeping your back straight and immobile as much as possible, you’re working your core and hip-flexor area and even down into your legs as you work to keep your knees straight.

The idea place to start push-ups is with your hands at shoulder-width apart.  If you can’t do full regular push-ups, do not do knee push-ups.  Instead, do them with your hands on the wall and your feet as far back as you can manage.  Then graduate to doing them against a counter, then a park bench or couch, then slowly move your way down to the floor or ground.  Your core and legs will get much more benefit than they will if you go to your knees and take your lower legs out of the equation.

5. Lunges

I heard about top obstacle racer Hobie Call and the massive number of lunges he does on an episode of the Obstacle Dominator Podcast.  That was good enough for me.  And it makes sense, too.  Lunges are great exercise for anyone who’s doing lots of leg work such as an obstacle race involved – the climbing, in particular, both on obstacles and the hills that race organizers like to throw at us when possible.

Lunges are another simple-but-not-easy exercise.  Stand up straight, put your hands on your hips or behind your head (there are reasons to do either, but in this case do what’s comfortable for you until you get more advanced with these).  Step back with one leg, and lower yourself down to your knee with that leg – so that you’ve got one leg in front of you and you’re nearly kneeling on the leg that went back.  Then step back up straight.

You can alternate legs, or do a set with each leg, or whatever you’d like.  If you’re just starting with lunges, please take it from me and start out slowly… these are going to make your whole upper leg and particularly your buttocks extremely sore the next day. Seriously – one set of five or so on each leg is plenty to start.  Add one or two to each leg during each workout and you’ll progress just fine.  Once you’re doing ten on each leg, you’re ready to start doing multiple sets, or working them into interval running like you read about in #2 above.

Next time we’ll get into some equally effective exercises that are going to give your some crucial strength, endurance, and functional ability in a race.

Thoughts? Please share below, and tell us about your favorite exercises for a race! And don’t forget to come back Thursday for the next five. And please share this on Facebook, Twitter, etc.