Obstacle racing is bigger than ever. With the benefit of combining fitness, fun and adventure with friends or colleagues, obstacle races are a fantastic way to challenge yourself and have a blast!

One of the best things about obstacle races is the preparation and training you’ll have to do before race day. If you think it’s just a matter of turning up on the day, think again. These races are just like any other, they require planning, preparation of your mind and body.

And it’s not only physical exercise, you’ll also need to do some meal planning too. An unhealthy diet in the lead up to the obstacle race is a sure fire way of letting your team down and potentially even risking injury.

Unhealthy foods drain energy from your body due to it having to work overtime to process the unhealthy fats, synthetic ingredients, sugar and whatever else they put in it.

In this article I’m going to discuss strength training as a vital part of your obstacle race preparation because cardiovascular fitness is just one component of fitness. But strength training exercises will compliment your cardiovascular fitness to help you overcome obstacles (literally) throughout the race.

Let’s get into it…

Matt Adams
Co-Founder Exercises.com.au, Health Hacker, Work Stress & Anxiety Expert, Digital Nomad

Are You Strong Enough For An Obstacle Course Race?

Sometimes it may look too wacky or fun to be an adventure race but make no mistake about it, an Obstacle Course is a tough way to test your fitness.

An Obstacle Course race is not just about endurance. It will test your strength, agility, balance and overall conditioning.

With objects to carry, mud to sludge through, walls to climb and natural formations to overcome, an Obstacle Course race may resemble more of a functional challenge than an Adventure Run. This is a race whereby the ability to run long distances will not guarantee you a top placing.

Have you ever seen an Obstacle Course race? Many of the participants are toned, fit and muscular.

If you want to perform well, your training has to extend beyond road work and the treadmill. Don’t abandon your cardiovascular training regimen; instead you should include 3-4 days per week training for strength.

Key Areas For Strength Development

1. Grip/ Forearm Strength

The obstacles you face will vary on the type of course you are challenging. But for sure it will feature obstacles that will test your grip strength.

You could find yourself hanging on your hands, rope climbing over walls or pulling heavy loads. The weight may not be a factor but performing tasks that require grip and forearm strength will be very taxing.

Recommended exercises:

  • Pull Ups
  • Barbell Wrist Curl
  • Hammer Curl
  • Reverse Barbell Curl
  • Dumbbell Wrist Curl

2.   Hip And Leg Strength

You will need strong and stable hips and legs to maintain balance, agility and mobility. You could be climbing walls or military nets or you could be pulling heavy objects up a steep climb.

Balancing on rocks, logs and slippery surfaces will be quite a challenge. All of these activities require strong and stable hips and legs. You need your legs to initiate the first pull then the hips come in when your knees are about to extend.

Recommended exercises:

  • Power Clean
  • Sumo Deadlifts
  • Low Bar Squats
  • Barbell Lunges
  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Push Press

3. Functional Strength

When doing an Obstacle Course, expect your body to perform functional movements in many of the challenges. These activities include crawling, jumping, pushing off the ground, squatting and sitting up off the floor.

You should be able to direct your body where it has to go when you want it to. Functional strength means having total command on how your body moves.

Recommended exercises:

  • Burpees
  • Turkish Get Up
  • Push Ups
  • Dips
  • Plank
  • Oblique Twist
  • Ball Slams

Strength Training Workout Schedule For Obstacle Course Race

In this schedule, you will be training for strength 3 days a week. The days for resistance training will be spaced 3 days apart to allow you time for proper recovery.

Your day for functional training will be sandwiched between 2 distance run days. You still have to get in at least 3 days of long distance runs because cardiovascular fitness remains an important component of the Obstacle Course.

A few notes on some of the exercises listed below:

Dead Hang – This is great way to develop grip strength and to stretch out the shoulders, back and arms.

Take a shoulder wide grip on a pull up bar, keep your legs together and your feet straight down. Hold on for as long as you can. The standard should at least be 30 seconds.

Grip Holds – Grip a heavy dumbbell in one hand and hold it for as long as you can then switch hands. If you want a tougher workout, grip a barbell instead of a dumbbell.

Use weights that are realistically heavy enough to give you a good workout. For example, for Low Bar Squat and Sumo Deadlift, use a weight that you can perform 6-7 reps in good form.

A good idea to better prepare you for the unpredictable conditions during an Obstacle Course race would be to wear a weight vest while doing Functional Training.

Strength Workout A

  • Low Bar Squat – 3 sets x 5 reps
  • Wide Grip Pull Ups – 5 sets x 10 reps
  • Power Clean – 6 sets x 3 reps
  • Single Leg Deadlift – 2 sets x 10 reps
  • Hammer Curl – 2 sets x 20 reps
  • Barbell Wrist Curl – 2 sets x 20 reps
  • Dead Hang x 30-60 seconds

Strength Workout B

Warm Up: 3 minutes Double Unders + Air Squats x 20 reps
Guidelines: For Time; 4 to 8 Intervals, 2 minutes rest between intervals

  • Burpees x 10 reps
  • Push Ups x 10 reps
  • Dips x 10 reps
  • Turkish Get Ups x 5 reps
  • Ball Slams x 20 seconds
  • Oblique Twist x 20 seconds
  • Plank x 20 seconds

Strength Workout C

  • Pull Ups – 5 sets x 10 reps
  • Sumo Deadlift – 3 sets x 5 reps
  • Push Press – 6 sets x 3 reps
  • Barbell Lunges – 2 sets x 20 reps
  • Reverse Barbell Curl – 2 sets x 20 reps
  • Dumbbell Wrist Curl – 2 sets x 20 reps
  • Grip Holds  x 30-60 seconds

Monday: Workout “A”
Tuesday: Easy 30 minute run
Wednesday: Workout “B”
Thursday: Easy 45 minute run
Friday: Workout “C”
Saturday: Moderate Run: 15 minutes easy, 30 minutes hard, 15 minutes easy
Sunday: Rest

Always record your numbers and performances in a log book. This is the best way to assess whether adjustments or changes in the workout have to be made.

Use this workout at least 6 weeks before your Obstacle Course race and you should expect to get a leg up on your competition!

Spartan Race: Toughen Up For The Ultimate Physical Challenge

Challenging the human spirit makes for great reality TV. Over the years we’ve seen reality TV shows that feature mere mortals taking on some of the most difficult physical challenges that defy our imagination.

From “American Ninja Warrior” to “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge”, there is a growing fascination on how far we can push the human spirit.

For Australians who dare to test their limits in the extreme world of obstacle racing, nothing could possibly challenge the human spirit as Spartan Race Australia.

What Is The Spartan Race?

The Obstacle Race or sometimes referred to as the “Mud Race” is a sporting event that features courses that are designed to test the heart, will and spirit of its competitors.

While there are many tough courses around the world, Spartan Race is generally acknowledged as the toughest among them. Spartan Race consists of a series of obstacle races. These vary in distance and degree of difficulty where you can have 5 km race or a marathon.

Here are the obstacle race options you can consider before joining a Spartan Race:

Spartan Junior – The best start off point for young competitors to test their level of fitness. It features a 1.5 km run and 7 to 14 obstacles.

Spartan Sprint – The next step to becoming a true Spartan! This race features a 5 plus km run and 15 plus obstacles.

Spartan Super – This is where you start earning your stripes in the battlefield! Spartan Super has a 13 plus km run and 20 plus obstacles to overcome.

Spartan Beast – The ultimate course to wear you down and make you do a gut check. 20 plus km and more than 25 obstacles to test you physically, mentally and spiritually.

Spartan Race was founded in 2007 by adventurer Joe de Sena, Andy Weinberg and Julian Kopald. In January 2013, Reebok became its event title sponsor which created the “Reebok Spartan Race Series”.

Spartan Race has run its courses in different countries. There are franchises in Canada, Europe, South Korea and Australia. Spartan Race Australia hosts several races year-round. These are usually held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

What Are The Obstacles?

Training for the running aspect of Spartan Race is easy. But what are the obstacles?

The composition of the obstacles is the “Great Unknown” in Spartan Race. These challenges are often described as a mix of Navy Seals training, Spartan training and American Gladiator.

When you join a Spartan Race, you will not be given a map of the obstacle course. You will have to be prepared for anything.

Here is a shortlist of obstacles frequently used in Spartan Race Australia: 

  • Fire Jump
  • Barbed Wire Crawl
  • Spear Throw
  • Wall Climb
  • Object Carry
  • Herculean Hoist
  • Tyrolean Traverse
  • Log Jump
  • Rope Climb
  • Rolling Mud
  • Tractor Pull
  • Atlas Stones + Burpees
  • Tire Flip
  • Stump Balance
  • Monkey Bars
  • Rope Swing

Keep in mind these are still timed races. If you fail to complete an obstacle, you will be asked to do 10 to 30 burpees before proceeding with the race.

What’s Waiting For You At The Finish Line?

After such a grueling race running seemingly endless miles, jumping over fire, trudging through mud, lifting heavy logs, balancing on mud – encrusted stumps and doing burpees what awaits the battle – weary warriors at the finish line?

In addition to medals for the top placers and for participants, Spartan Racers have their eye on a bigger prize: the Spartan Race Trifecta.

Any racer who completes a Spartan Sprint, Spartan Super and Spartan Beast within a calendar year receives a Trifecta Medal. There are no limits to the number of Trifecta Medals you can win.

In 2014, the Spartan Race organisers came up with “pie piece” which is 1/3 of a larger Trifecta Medal. The pie piece has the year it was won engraved on it.

What Does It Take To Become A Spartan?

Don’t let the happy smiles and wacky faces of the participants fool you. Remember, Spartan Race is considered the toughest obstacle course today. It will test your strength, endurance, coordination and conditioning. Spartan Race is a true test of your overall fitness level.

You have to plan your training and put serious time in the gym as well as the great outdoors if you wish to conquer the Spartan Race. Most of the obstacles require functional movements such as jumping, climbing, pulling and balancing.

You have to be aware of what your body can do when faced with these obstacles.

In addition to training, you have to watch over your nutrition and dietary habits. Spartan Race will take a long time to complete. You have to make sure your body is running on clean fuel for energy.

At the end of every Spartan Race, where you place hardly matters. The obstacle race is a metaphor for the unpredictable and often difficult challenges we face every day. Beat the obstacle, win in life!

Checkout the Spartan Race website to find races to participate in for just about any country around the globe.

So now that you know a bit more about obstacle races and what’s required to compete, are you fired up even more?

I hope so, because obstacle racing is a great way to get into fitness, simply by the fact that you have a deadline. And ‘external’ deadlines can oftentimes be more powerful than ‘internal’ deadlines.

With an internal deadline, you set it yourself, for yourself and by yourself. And because no one else knows about it, you’re not really ‘on the hook’.

But obstacle races (and all other group goals or deadlines) are a great way to keep you on the straight and narrow, to keep you accountable.

If external accountability is what you need in the short term to get you moving and on the path to a fitness based lifestyle, then make a point to implement external accountability.

Either way, an obstacle course race will excite you, challenge you and even scare you… until it’s over that is.

Once you’ve done your first one, you’ll be signing up for more in no time!

Best of luck with your training and preparation, and if you have any questions, please add them in the comments below and I’ll respond personally.