One quick search on the internet these days will have you believing that you need to be doing running, bouldering, callistnetics, cross fit, HIIT, obstacle skills, olympic lifts & movement based train- ing in order to have any kind of hope in hitting your OCR goals.
Coaches, athletes & race ambassadors will tend to have a biased opinion on this too based on who they’ve studied with, what training protocols they’ve been exposed to themselves and what they already prescribe to their existing clients.
Whilst theres no right or wrong answer here, ultimately a training approach that allows you to grow & develop as an athlete without getting injured or sick should predominate over anything else.
Designing The Needs Analysis.
Before we start looking at what the preferred training methods for OCR are, its vitally important that a needs analysis of both the athlete and the sport is carried out. This is to identify what specific ar- eas of fitness and training that the athlete needs to focus on in order to enhance their performance capabilities & move them onto the next level of achievement.
Lets first of all look at the sport. Obstacle course racing as we already know, is an endurance based sport that requires the athlete to have a good aerobic capacity to cover a 15k classic dis- tance & recover quickly between obstacles, total body strength & explosive power needed for those strength based obstacles like walls & stairway to heavens & grip endurance for grip intensive obstacles like low rigs, high rigs and ring traverses etc. Primary movement patterns like crawling, carrying, pulling, jumping & climbing are also important too.
Obstacle racers need to be good all rounders so their training requirements need to reflect this.
Its also worth noting here that OCR is currently rife with injuries at the moment and if an athlete has a weakness somewhere in their body then it wont be long before OCR is going to find them out. Due to the high physical demands of the sport, injuries like back pain, knee pain, shin splints, shoulder pain, wrist pain, elbow pain are all common injury sites that are cropping up more fre- quently now. I bet physiotherapists and osteopaths are very happy that OCR is the fastest growing mass sport in 2018!
Needs Analysis Of The Athlete.
Before we start looking at how we should be training for OCR, lets consider the following:
Previous injuries/sicknesses – any previous injuries or illnesses you’ve had in recent years are highly significant as statistics unfortunately tell us that if you’ve been injured in the past then its highly highly likely that you are going to get injured again in the future. You’re high risk.
Basically if you can’t stay injury free for more than 3 months then thats a problem, and if you keep getting ill every time you up-level with your training then thats not normal either.
you may have been running or participating in OCR for the last 10 years but whats your strength & conditioning age? Im not talking about cross fit or bootcamp style workouts, Im talking about a proper structured strength & conditioning plan that looks to get you faster & stronger over the course of a season without injuring you?
If its 0–2 years then swallow your pride, you’re still a beginner in the strength & conditioning world, 2–4 years and you’re an intermediate
& 4 years plus and you’re ok to be doing advanced stuff.
Time of season
what time of season is it? What races do you want to target? as this will dictate what training phase you’ll want to be in. Generally speaking the closer you get to your event, the more sports specific the training needs to get. A typical OCR season starts around March and give or take will finish around November.
Here at Unbreakable we coach our athletes through 4 training phases during a competitive season:
1. General Preparation / Off Season
Training of general physical qualities to prepare for more intensive loads during the SPP cycle.
Ironing out any muscle imbalances & strength deficits.
Eg. Anatomical Adaptation / Endurance / Sling System work/ Movement skills & Progressive aerobic capacity drills
2. Specific Preparation / Pre OCR season
Training more specifically for the demands of the sport.
Eg. Strength & Power, Sports specific drills, T.U.F conditioning
3. Competition / In Season
Maintaining fitness qualities developed in earlier phases.
Eg. Strength & Power, Sports specific drills, T.U.F conditioning
4. Transition / Recovery Period
Allow recovery and regeneration from the demands of training and competition.
Eg. Rest, swimming, x-training (NOT obstacle course racing!)
Unbreakable athlete James Burton has been with the project a full year now and is now seeing some great performances as a result of tweaking his training in accordance to his season.
Athletes goals and objectives -
When I work with an athlete, regardless of their age or ability, whether they’re recreational or elite, I’ll meet them where they’re at, not where I would like them to be so fundamentally I’ll be looking to develop any weaknesses (as well as their strengths too).
No drama, just data, We’ll go a through a thorough grading process where the athlete grades themselves across every training component from technical ability, strength, strength endurance, speed, speed endurance, mental strength, commitment, injury/sickness avoidance, competitive- ness & ability to control lifestyle issues (e.g diet, sleep).
and then from these results, and based on where we think they need to be to become a world class obstacle racer I’ll devise a bespoke seasoned training plan which includes
some key performance benchmarks for them to hit so that they can strive to reach their highest sporting potential.
the athletes outcome depends on the performance of others eg.
- Podium in pro-division
- Top 20 in age category
used to improve an athletes individual performance eg.
- Run a sub 17 minute 5k
- - Increase dead hang to 3 mins
used to improve the execution of a skill to help them achieve their performance goal eg.
- improve Vo2 max
- Improve strength
- Improve mental toughness
The best training method then?
Lets take a little look at some of them then:
Provided you can already move well Cross fit is great for developing strength, power & general fit- ness. A strong athlete over obstacles is way more likely to prevail over a weak athlete.It makes sense to be strong. Crossfit isn’t so good though if you have muscle imbalances & strength deficits and you have a history of keep getting injured.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Useful for improving raw speed, will also help to create EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption) which is how many calories you burn long after the session finishes, so useful if you know you need to drop a bit of timber to help you with getting over obstacles.
On the downside HIIT only really targets the AT/CP system & glycolytic/lactate system so never fully allows you to train in the aerobic system, consequently you’ll find you’ll have out of balance energy systems & are more likely to gas out towards the end of a race due to the lack of aerobic system preparation.
Great for developing grip strength & endurance in a relaxed environment, its enjoyable and socia- ble too which is important as not every workout you do for OCR has to be “smashed” or “crushed”, don’t expect to be instantly awesome at obstacles though just because you go bouldering. You need to get on the obstacles for that! Plus when you’re “problem solving” you’re not training your cardiovascular system.
Obviously highly relative to OCR and a good well balanced endurance plan that trains all 3 energy systems equally is great for developing aerobic capacity for OCR and improving the bodies ability to tolerate lactic acid. Too much weekly milage when the bodies not ready for it though is stressful on the joints and 100% is an injury waiting to happen. A different strategy to energy system devel- opment is needed if your body cant cope with 30–50 miles a week despite what the running purists say.
Not just for sprinters, endurance runners are also benefitting from power producing exercises now. Power is the amount of force you can produce in any one given time, therefore the more powerful you are, the more force you can develop in less time which transfers over to running & OCR nicely. In addition to basic strength & plyometric exercises, olympic lifts (and their variations) can improve an athletes potential performance. The downside is that you need a bit of time to learn the lifts properly which might be a bit of an issue for the time poor busy athlete.
Movement based training.
Gymnastic type training with a heavy influence on mobility and stability is starting to become a popular way of training for OCR right now and quite right too. If your balance and mobility is ap- palling then this in turn will affect how you walk, run, climb and lift weights. Im a big fan of move- ment training, it can help gain confidence again in your movement, particularly after an injury, how- ever like everything, it needs to be prescribed properly and movement training from a high perfor- mance perspective wont develop power as effectively as Olympic lifting would for example.
You can’t get more specific than training on obstacles for OCR and it should definitely predomi- nate, however if you’re still struggling with obstacles like Stairway to heaven still then thats a strength-related issue not a technique issue. Also too much work on those upper-body intensive obstacles over time will lead to bicep/shoulder/wrist/elbow injuries which we’re already seeing, if your body isn’t robust enough.
The reality is that taking any one of these training methods to ‘elite’ level is not good for your body in the long term and a complete focus on any one of these will leave gaping holes in your OCR fit- ness.
Whats the answer then?
- Ultimately a balanced approach to training is needed if you’re looking for longevity in the sport and you’d like to go a full season in without any interruptions or set back.
- Athletes looking to reach their best sporting potential in OCR should consider a planned peri- odised long term approach to their season with an emphasis on developing physically without get- ting injured or sick.
- Instead of following “methods” or one type of training modality, athletes should instead consider applying tried & tested strength & conditioning principles that have existed for decades based on what they need for their sport at any given point in a season.
- Athletes should be applying strength & conditioning based on their training age & experience not on what they’ve just seen on Instagram.
- Keep it simple. Set goals.
- If you can train consistently all year round then you will improve. If you can’t then you wont.
- If you need help with your OCR training for 2019 or would like to arrange a 30 minute coaching call with me then feel free to email 📧 email@example.com
- In the mean time, Train hard & BE strong!
Sam Winkworth is the head coach at the Unbreakable Project, designed to develop obstacle racers who want to up-level on a world stage. He is also the creator of OCR Virgin designed to help athletes train & prepare for their first/next OCR.