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4 Must-Have Skills for Your First Obstacle Race

Posted by VPX Sports on Apr 27, 2014 9:47:00 AM

Well, at least I am good at burpees!

This was my initial thought at my very first obstacle race back in 2011.

Actually, that might have been the first sentence after a series of expletives. Regardless, I was not as prepared as I wanted to be for that race, and by the time I finally crossed the finish line I had completed 180 burpees! skills ocrWhile I actually do enjoy burpees, it’s a much better plan to save your precious time and energy for the actual obstacles.

Since that event I have competed in more than 30 obstacle races and I often get asked by nervous friends trying their first race, “What’s the best way to prepare?”

If you look at a list of the potential obstacles in an event, it CAN be really intimidating: Walls, Tyrolean Traverses, Trenches, Ropes, Spears, Sandbags, Cement Blocks, Tires, Climbing, Nets, Swimming….

Actually though, I think the four basic strengths below will pull you through nearly any event. Once you have a few races under your belt, you can then move on to improving and practicing specific obstacles and skills.

Skill One: Grip & Upper Body

Ideally, you are strengthening these at the same time! Usually, being able to lift your own body weight will be enough for obstacles like walls, ropes and monkey bars. There are also obstacles where you carry, pull or push heavy weights, including sandbags. Just for reference, in the Spartan Races, the weights of the some of the obstacles in pounds are:skills2

Atlas Stones:
Men - 100
Women - 60

Tractor Pull:  75

Hercules Hoist:
Men - 105
Women – 75 


Three easy ways to work on your grip and upper body for an obstacle event include:

Pull-ups – use reverse pull-ups and bands for modifications.

Farmer’s Carry – Using something heavy in each hand (weights, small children, whatever!), practice walking while carrying.

Dragging, pulling or pushing heavy things – you can do this with weight machines at the gym or you could simply tie a rope or chain to a tire or something heavy and drag, pull or push it.

Skill Two: Trail Running and Hills/Stairs

skills4If you are going to spend time running, the most bang for your buck will come from finding a trail. Better yet, a trail with some elevation change. The variations in terrain are more realistic for an obstacle event while also building your legs and core. Many times I have found myself passing road runners with impressive speed, simply because I have more experience on inclines and trails. Try to make this part of your weekly routine.

Skill Three: Burpees

Burpees (chest to ground and a jump) are a penalty for failing or not completing an obstacle in Spartan; but beyond that, this exercise is helpful in all events for a few reasons: it forces you to move your body weight from the ground and up again quickly. Being able to change your momentum and pace this way prepares you for the ups and downs of the obstacles of any event, versus the steady pace of running. You don’t need to do a gazillion burpees, but do try to build up to doing at least 30 at a time. An easy way to build this into your training is to stop every ¼ mile and do a set number of burpees during your normal runs.

Skill Four: Grip & Core

Noticing a trend that grip is important? It is! As with building your upper body, you can also work on your core and grip at the same time, which helps with many obstacles, including going onto cargo nets, getting up ropes, crawling through barbed wire and propelling yourself under, over and through walls. When you are completing these obstacles you are using your core and grip, so practice accordingly.

Planks – try to increase your time in holding planks WHILE doing aerobics activities. This will be more realistic to events. This doesn’t work on your grip, but can be done anywhere.

** Toes to Bar – Highly recommend because you work on both grip and your core at the same time. Holding onto a bar, bring your toes to your hands. Modifications include bringing your knees to your chest or knees to your elbows.  

Bear Crawls – Practice this while you are running or doing other activities.


leslie st louis headshot borderThis is a guest post by Leslie St. Louis, a competitive obstacle racer. Leslie is a mountain-loving trail lover and mom of two mud-loving girls in Morrison, Colorado. She is also ranked 9th in the Spartan World Points Series and the founder of a local obstacle group and resource, Colorado Obstacle Racers. She is proud to be a part of VPX Team Xtreme, as well as a member of the Spartan Pro Team and All Pro CrossFit Community.

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Topics: fitness training, training tips, OCR, obstacle course racing

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