“Obstacles don’t have to stop you, if you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up, figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” – Michael Jordan
So you’re booked in to do your first Obstacle course race which is great and as you’re probably aware by now, unless you’re planning on “just running around them” < Boo!! you’re going to have to navigate a few obstacles.
Navigating obstacles during an obstacle course race requires a mixture of determination, strength and technique, but mostly, its all about technique, you really don’t need to be ‘super strong’ as such to clear obstacles, sure strength IS important, but just a few simple adjustments to to your technique and you’ll be able to make life A LOT easier for yourself.
With that mind, below are a list of the 6 most common obstacles you’re likely to come across at your first OCR and how you can clear them super efficiently.
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[OBSTACLE 1] – Monkey Bars
Its highly likely that your first OCR is going to contain some monkey bars in there. Some races go for traditional monkey bars whilst others like to take a more challenging approach and depending on where the bars are situated in the race, its likely that the bars will become wet & slippery making this obstacle much harder.
Recommended Monkey Bar technique
- Dry your hands first and clean off any water or mud
- Take a good firm grip with the thumb over the bar.
- Cycle the legs & rock the hips to gain momentum
- the trick is to keep moving, don’t stop.
- Focus on the rungs in front of you and keep propelling the legs.
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on monkey bars:
- They don’t cycle their legs
- They RUSH it
- Their grip isn’t strong enough
- Pull ups – do 1-3 set of 8-12 reps to develop upper body strength. If you can’t do full pull ups, use a band.
- Dead hangs – Build up to 1 minute, this will help improve grip strength
- Dumbbell farmers carry – with a heavy weight, do 5 sets of 40 seconds walking, 40 seconds recovery. Build up work/rest ratio duration gradually.
[OBSTACLE 2] – Inverted Walls
Inverted walls can range in height from anywhere between 6 and 8 feet. Its usually a high wall that is angling towards you. It also goes under the name of hangover walls too and are usually spread out throughout the race to make things harder for you.
The Heel Hook Technique
There are lots of different ways to get over walls, but the simplest most energy efficient way is the heel hook technique.
- Take a good strong grip on the top of the wall with the arms extended.
- Next, you’ll need to hook your heel on top of the wall so jump and hook the heel in one dynamic motion
- Point your heel to increase the angle at your ankle so that the foot is more secure.
- Next, hook the knee on top of the wall (put it where the foot was), keep your knee at a 90 degree angle so that its strong and secure.
- Next, keeping your elbow high & roll the body over the top
- Get your legs over, and climb down facing the wall and make sure you absorb the landing when you jump down.
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on inverted walls:
- They don’t MENTALLY COMMIT before hand!
- They don’t hook their heel properly
- They try and muscle up over the wall
- Jumping Chin ups – 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps, a great exercise to develop upper body strength. It also precisely mimics the movement you need to get over a wall.
- Pull up hold – 1-3 sets of 20-60 seconds, again this training this position will develop static strength which will help during the heel hook phase.
- [Mental exercise] – Fear causes doubt, doubt causes uncertainty, and uncertainty = more likely to make a mistake. You cant commit half-heartedly on the walls, you have to commit 100%. Say to yourself “IAM getting over this wall!!” Imagine you’re trying to save your kids or a loved one from a burning fire. Their fate lies in your hands, if you don’t get over the wall. I guarantee you’ll get over the wall then!
[OBSTACLE 3] – The Rope Climb
The rope climb can range in height from anywhere between 15 and 20 feet. Upper body & grip strength is required along with correct technique if you’re to conquer the rope climb. This obstacle will also get much tougher when it gets wet & caked in mud during a race, which is why technique is important and why you’ll want to use your legs more as a pose to your arms.
The J Hook Technique.
The ‘J hook’ is one of the most common techniques to climb a rope.
- Take a good firm grip of the rope & start with your knee as close to your chest as possible.
- get the rope on the outside of your foot and on the inside of your thigh/knee.
- Lift up and as you do so, the other foot sweeps underneath collecting the rope
- The same foot continues to come up until above other foot, & then over laps slightly
- With the rope now clamped & secure with your feet, drive with your legs and walk the hands up the rope.
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on the rope climb:
- They don’t clamp their feet correctly
- They don’t DRIVE with their legs
- They rush it
- Hanging Knee tucks – do 1-3 set of 8-12 reps to develop upper body & grip strength. If you can’t do this, start off with a dead hang.
- Towel pull ups – drape a towel over a chin up bar and practise hanging from it to develop grip strength and endurance
- Practise the J hook! – if you have access to a rope then practise the J hook clamp as much as you can. if you don’t have access to a rope then simply practise sitting in a chair whilst holding a skipping rope & practise clamping on a skipping rope.
[OBSTACLE 4] – The Rope Traverse
The rope traverse is a long rope thats usually over water. With a rope traverse you have to traverse without touching the ground or water.
Difficulty of this obstacle will depend on the length of the rope and where it is situated in a race. There are 2 ways you can traverse a rope:
- Use the heel as a hook (not your calf)
- Move contra laterally e.g your right hand is in sync with your left foot (your arm moves first & then the leg)
- The arms act as hooks. All the power comes from your legs so as you move, keep your arms straight & extended to conserve forearm strength.
- Tense your abs as this will prevent your lower back from drooping. This will help you feel lighter rather than hanging heavy.
- Avoid sliding your feet as this will cause friction and ankle burns.
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on the underneath technique:
- They don’t keep their arms straight which means their forearms burn out.
- They don’t hook their heel, so they use their calfs which causes friction and ankle burns
- They let their back ‘droop’ when they’re traversing which means they become a heavier weight.
- Bear Crawls – do 1-3 sets of 60 seconds
- Dead hangs – Build up to 1 minute, this will help improve grip strength
- Plank – do 1-3 sets of 60 seconds
Over The Top Technique
- Lean forwards and get your chest on the rope
- straddle the rope with each leg
- Let one foot dangle down and use the other as a foot lock to balance you
- Push with your leg and pull with your hands
- keep the other leg as dead as possible
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on the over the top technique:
- They don’t ‘push & pull’ hard enough
- They don’t keep their dangling leg as DEAD as possible
- They lack the strength & endurance
- Cable Seated Rows – do 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Squats – do 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Rope pulleys – do 1-3 sets of 60-90 seconds
[OBSTACLE 5] – Ninja Rings
A lot of OCR races are featuring this obstacle now or a slight variation of it. Ninja rings require you to fluently traverse across some bars whilst holding rings. Its not about muscle so much, this ones ALL about confidence and technique.
- Swing the hips laterally to gain momentum
- when the right hip is at its highest point, drive up & reach with the right arm
- keep the hips moving!
- As you get comfortable, try and perform without stopping
- focus on where you want to put the rings
- sidenote: if you mess up, don’t PANIC! its ok, STOP! get the hips moving again, and then go again
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on the Ninja Rings technique:
- They use muscle instead of technique
- They don’t swing the hips enough
- They don’t fully mentally commit
Practise the lateral swinging movement as much as you can, if your gym has a chin up bar then great, if you’re not a member of a gym and you prefer doing your exercise outdoors then thats fine too, simply find a strong tree branch outdoors and do your swinging from there!
- side swings – perform 1-3 sets for 30-60 seconds
- side swing hang holds – perform 1-3 sets for 30-60 seconds
- side swing traverse – perform 1-3 sets for 30-60 seconds
[OBSTACLE 6] – Rings
This is a swinging based obstacle where you’ll typically find yourself a few feet off the ground, the goal is to get from one platform to the next with out touching the ground/water using only rings that hang from ropes above.
- Swing the hips to gain momentum
- Keep your arms straight when swinging
- keep your movement smooth & fluent before grabbing the next ring
- Try not to rush, just focus on a back-forth transfer.
- When the rings get muddy and wet, it might be better to grab each ring with both hands, this will be a lot more secure than if you just using just one. << Make sure you keep your momentum going though or you will get stuck on one ring!
BIGGEST mistakes folk make on the Rings technique:
- they’re not fluent and try to “muscle through it” – relax 🙂
- they lose momentum when they’re swinging
- they don’t engage their shoulders
- Single Arm dead hangs – holding bar with both hands to start off with, practise hanging with just one arm and transferring every few seconds. Holding longer will be more challenging…build up to 60 seconds
- Plank Shoulder taps – perform 1-3 sets of 12-20 reps
- side swings/side swing hang holds – perform 1-3 sets for 30-60 seconds
So there you have it, 6 of the most common obstacles you’re likely to see at your first obstacle course race and how to overcome them.
See quite often its not about ‘brut strength’ with these obstacles, its all about technique and if you can apply some of the strategies & techniques highlighted above, then you’ll:
- feel more confident on approach
- preserve more energy
- be more energy efficient on them
and you’ll be well on your way to completing your first OCR with your head held high knowing that you completed every obstacle.
Remember it all starts off with your mindset, and if you can BELIEVE you can do it then you will, If you approach an obstacle with doubt or uncertainty in your mind then it won’t matter about technique, you’ll find you will probably fail it because you’re in the wrong mindset.
Stay positive & make a commitment to replace any negative self talk that crops up with positive affirmation, for example:
“This obstacle is too hard”, becomes
“this obstacle is easy, Ive done lots of training for it so lets go!”
“I can’t do this, my grip is really fatigued now”, becomes
“IAM doing this, my grip is strong, Ive been training my grip strength and this is MORE than achievable.”
“I’m gonna look stupid trying to do this obstacle in front of people”, becomes
“Forget everyone else, I don’t care what I look like, Im on a MISSION here!”
^^ So flip the negative thought into a positive thought.
When you have doubt in your mind, you’ll create stress & hesitancy, when you’re stressed you’ll become tense and when your tense you’re more likely to rush to get the job done and when you rush, you’ll make a mistake.
When you’re relaxed & positive, you’ll be less tense which means you’re more likely to get the job done.
See, In most cases, the BIGGEST obstacle tends to be YOU and your mindset so if you don’t get things first time round, don’t beat yourself, hang in there, stay strong and you’ll be in a better place mentally to conquer the obstacle.
Have fun practising the techniques out and if you have any questions on anything then let us know. Our goal is to help you overcome every obstacle you come up against
Best of luck with your OCR and go SMASH it 🙂