Training for Obstacle Course Racing – Obstacle Course Training Guide

Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash and Mudderella (women only) are but a few organizations in a trending sport called OCR (Obstacle Course Racing). These races are meant to test not only your aerobic and anaerobic abilities, but your physical and mental fortitude.

They have a full range of race levels and distances to afford the beginner athlete a chance at victory or to challenge even the fittest competitor. Here we will go over what exactly this type of racing involves and cover obstacle course training in some detail.

Obstacle Course training involves pulling your weight.
Pulling exercises are great for training
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
cargo nets can be hard to duplicate in Obstacle course training
Climb things to prepare.

I am competing in another obstacle course this Fall, this time it’s Tough Mudder Seattle. So I thought I would share what it is all about and how I am preparing for it. As a competitor myself and a Fitness Trainer of many athletes including OCR athletes, I can say without a doubt that OCR is one of the most challenging yet most rewarding sports I’ve participated in.

one of the trickiest things to prepare for in obstacle course training
The vertical wall
“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.”
hills are important in obstacle course training
Conquer the hills or they will conquer you

What is OCR (Obstacle Course Racing)?

By definition OCR is a sport in which a competitor, traveling on foot, must overcome various physical challenges that are in the form of obstacles over a specified distance. Many OCR’s combine mud and trails and are designed to bring you to your physical and mental limits. This kind of experience has been used by the military to train soldiers for many years and test their endurance, strength, speed and dexterity.

Just a few of the challenges you may have to overcome in OCR are climbing over walls, carrying heavy objects, monkey bars, traversing bodies of water, crawling under barbed wire, jumping through fire, climbing steep hills, ice water, tear gas, electric shock, claustrophobia, fear of heights and loads of mud.

school monkey bars is where this obstacle course training resides

“Clear your mind of can’t.”

nothing really prepares you for this in the obstacle race
mmmmmm ICE!


Obstacle Course Training Examples

Training for OCR will be different than training for other sports. Cardio will obviously play a huge role in this type of event but so will upper body strength and muscle endurance. Both are equally important. Many people fail some of the obstacles along the course due to a lack of strength training.

The ability to run a marathon will not guarantee you success in OCR. Just like being a beast in the weight room may not result in victory either. Your cardio ability needed will depend on how long of a race you compete in. Standard races can range from as short as 3 miles to over 12 miles. Much of your running will be broken up between various obstacles. So long distance running is less important as shorter runs with strength endurance mixed in between.

Many obstacles in OCR rely heavily on upper body strength. Whether that is lifting a sandbag and carrying it over your shoulder for 100 meters, monkey bars or pulling yourself up onto a wall with no foot support. You need to be prepared for both the cardio and strength aspect of OCR.

teamwork is key so add that to your obstacle course training
Teamwork is Vital


“Time and health are two precious assets that we don’t recognize and appreciate until they have been depleted.”


electric shock therapy They say “practice makes perfect.” I say “perfect practice make perfect.”

Of course most of us don’t have a full obstacle course in their backyard to practice with. What you can do though is simulate movements and work on the  various abilities needed for OCR. For example, you do not have to crawl through a pit of mud and barb wire 3 times a week to prepare for that OCR obstacle.

Instead you could practice a bear crawl across a field so you and your body can adapt to that movement and build that muscle memory for when you do have to do it under barb wire and in mud.  Many obstacles in OCR will require you to lift, carry or drag heavy objects or hang your body weight.

The key is to do exercises both in and out of the gym to help prepare you for the strength challenges you will face. As far as preparing your cardio, you are going to have to run. There is no way around it. But you do not have to be able to run a marathon.

The best thing you can do is to find a running or jogging pace you are comfortable with and  can maintain for half the distance your race will be. If you are doing a 3 mile race. Make sure you can run 1.5 miles without much trouble. I also recommend varying your running in elevation.

Find a route with hills and if possible take your running into nature. Trail running is a great way to prepare for OCR. In the gym you can vary the elevation on the treadmill. log carry

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

water tunnel

Another good tip is to add some strength endurance into your cardio routine by interval training. Jog for 5-10 minutes and then perform 1 minute of push-ups, dips, pull-ups or some other strength building exercise.

This will prepare your body for the constant transitioning between cardio and strength endurance you will find in OCR. I often train at a beach or park since they are great places for functional training. You can lift, throw or carry drift wood or heavy rocks at the beach. Crawling or running in the wet sand can also simulate trekking through mud. At a park you can use the kids play area as your own small obstacle course.

Go back to your childhood and traverse the monkey bars, climb over things and under things and have fun until you are completely exhausted. Get creative and keep your body guessing, this will help you overcome surprises in the race.  


“It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”

moneky bars
Last but not least, it is always more fun if you have a training partner. Having someone to train with and join you in this OCR adventure will keep you accountable and you are sure to enjoy the challenging obstacles during the event even more with the familiar support.

Workout Details

Below I have created an OCR Training Template. It is not meant as a “be all, end all” of your training, but used as a guideline to help prepare you for your OCR. Remember to be creative with your exercises and I’ll see you out in the mud!

Cardio Training:

  • Be able to run or jog at a moderate pace for half the distance of your OCR event (run/jog at least 3 times a week)
  • Bear crawl a distance of 50 yards (do this at least once per week)
  • Be able to do 20 Burpees in a row (practice at least once per week)
  • Do interval hill running at least once a week (run up a hill, and jog back down and repeat)
  • Practice monkey bars at the park if possible ( Best if mixed in with a cardio session like running, hills, bear crawl or burpees.

Strength Training:

If you do not have a gym, here is some exercises to do at home or a local park to help build the muscle strength for OCR.

  • Pull Ups (add lifting your legs or knees as you pull up for extra core work)
  • Push Ups (add in some explosive Push Up by pushing off hard enough to raise above the ground and land back into push-up)
  • Jump Squats (You can always add some weight to these or Jump up to a bench. Also add one legged landing for advanced balance and strength)
  • Dips (Mix tricep dips and chest dips)
  • Planks (front and side)
  • Hand Stands and Cart Wheels (Use a wall for hand stands if needed)

If you do have access to Gym equipment you can add these workouts below to your cardio routine:


If you would like more help preparing for an OCR or any other fitness goal, take a look at The ultimate workout database


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