Spartan Training In The Off Season

The 6 Gym Exercises You Need To Master For OCR

“When all else is equal the stronger athlete will always prevail.”

So it’s the OCR ‘off-season’, the major races are not for a while, we have a nice block of time where we can work on ‘stuff’. NOW would be a very useful time to talk about OCR training.

How we can work on training any weaknesses for the season ahead?

This article aims to cover some fundamental gym exercises that’ll prepare you better for the season ahead.

The Obstacle Course Training Conundrum

Most of the athletes I chat to in OCR feel they need the most help with their obstacle technique.

Grip Training For Obstacle Racing

As a result they’ll dedicate a lot of their weekly training time to bouldering, obstacle technique & grip strength drills. I’d agree, the better your technique is & the stronger your grip is, the more efficient you’ll be. This means less retries and less energy expenditure on each obstacle, which has to be a good thing right?

But consider that without a solid strength component, an OCR athlete won’t be all that formidable, and if you’re still struggling with strength based obstacles like:

Weighted carries,
Stairway To Heavens,
even with your running!

then this is a strength-related problem NOT a technique-related problem.

You’ll find you need to get stronger. Period.

Strength Training Has Stood The Test Of Time

Its a funny one because history clearly tells us that strength training has helped endurance athletes get faster for decades.

Obstacle racing is not only an endurance based-sport, but very upper body intensive too. Yet when I chat to Obstacle racers, from pro division right through to age category & journeyman, the one training component they’re neglecting & not prioritising is their basic strength & robustness training.

In case you were sitting on the fence on the strength training debate, here are few reminders about how strength training can benefit you as an OCR athlete:

Tough Mudder Training

The Benefits Of Strength Training For OCR

We’re not talking about strength training in the form of a few miserable press ups & burpees added into your long run.

Or an hour of wrecking your body in a gym box somewhere.

We ARE talking about a structured periodised strength training programme.

Benefit #1: It will make you a faster runner

A recent study done on trained distance runners showed an improvement of up to 8% in running economy following a period of strength training.

8% is very significant when it comes to enhancing endurance performance.

Long Runs For Spartan Training

Don’t get it wrong, you DO have to run to get better at running. Its clearly not all down to strength training. But consistent strength training will get your muscles stronger which will help with running economy. What do you want when you run, a strong muscle or a weak muscle?

Strong muscles = less fatigue, weak muscles = fatigue quicker….

When your muscles fatigue your running will slow down, VERY simple equation, right?

Benefit #2: Obstacles will feel easier

You may or may not have heard the saying “you have to build the quality before you endure the quality,” right?

This is MASSIVE.

Let me put it another way for you, if you’re struggling to do 3 sets of unassisted pull ups in training then what makes you think you’re going to be able to lift your own bodyweight up in race conditions on a slippery ‘stairway to heaven’ when the pressure is on and your heart rate is elevated?

Let me give you another example, if your grip strength is below average, then what makes you think you’re going to have amazing grip in a race environment and when the obstacles are wet & slippery?

You’re only as good as your training lets you to be, you have to BUILD THE QUALITY BEFORE YOU CAN ENDURE THE QUALITY.

Benefit #3: The more powerful you are, the faster at running you’ll be

Muscle power and muscle strength are not the same thing.

Muscle power is basically how quickly you can develop force. Generally speaking, powerful runners will tend to have a higher level of relative strength & will be able to tap into their fast twitch muscle fibers much more efficiently than less powerful runners.

To target your fast twitch muscle fibers, obstacle racers must include explosive type exercises into their weekly training routine.

How To Structure Out Your Spartan Training Strength Sessions

When planning out your strength sessions, there are a couple of things to consider.

Ideally you’ll want to keep the sessions short or you 100% won’t do them. I see this time and time again, we live in a busy world these days & sometimes its tough to fit all the workouts that we want to do for OCR in.

The first workout that tends to “get ditched!” in an obstacle racers weekly training schedule (myself included!), is usually their strength & conditioning,

^^ the most important workout of them all! So if its too long you wont do it I promise you. Stick to about 20-40 minutes. If its short you’re more likely to do it & fit it in around your work & family life.

Personally I like to use strength super-sets or strength circuits as they are quick. You’ll get more bang for your buck and they’re a bit more enjoyable than just staring into a mirror doing straight sets for an hour.

The order of exercise sequence needs to be considered too.

Structure Training For Obstacle Course Racing

Ideally you’ll want to perform the more skill based explosive lifts at the top of the circuit, & the exercises that require less skill & more of an anaerobic effort at the bottom, a strength circuit for example, you’ll find you’ll want to programme your exercises in the following order:

  1. Power – dominant
  2. Bilateral Strength – dominant
  3. Unilateral Strength – dominant
  4. Work Capacity – dominant
  5. Power endurance – dominant

I like to work on the KISS approach when I prescribe strength & conditioning to athletes. Keep. It. Simple.

4-6 exercises, 4-8 reps, 4-6 reps, 4-6 rounds, 4-6 minutes rest in-between each circuit.

Depending on what the athlete needs to work on, supplementary work (e.g core, grip, movement skills ) can also be applied after this.

Looking for a full six week training plan to kick start your season preparation? Join the OCRVirgin Training Plan Here

The 6 Gym Exercises That Will Get You Faster & Stronger

So now that we know some of the benefits of building basic strength & power for OCR, & how to structure out our gym sessions a bit more effectively, below are 6 gym exercises that you can master if you’re looking to move onto the next level of achievement in OCR:

Exercise 1: Push Jerk

  1. Feet at hip width apart
  2. Hands at shoulder width apart
  3. Torso dips straight down
  4. Hips & legs extend rapidly then press under
  5. Receive the bar in a partial overhead squat
  6. Learn the Push Press first if struggling with technique.

Exercise 2: KB Swings

  1. Feet at shoulder width apart
  2. Maintain a natural curve in the lower back
  3. Knees in line with toes
  4. Hips & legs extend rapidly, driving the kettlebell to shoulder level
  5. Arms stay straight
  6. Learn to hip hinge CORRECTLY before attempting a kettlebell swing

Exercise 3: Goblet Squats

  1. Shoulder-width stance
  2. Elbows locked at a 90 degree angle
  3. Hips descend lower than knees
  4. Maintain a natural curve in the lower back
  5. Heels down

Exercise 4: Pull Ups

  1. Hands just outside shoulder width
  2. Start off with a dead hang with elbows extended
  3. Engage shoulders when hanging
  4. Pull up until chin is HIGHER than bar
  5. Chest up & eyes forward

Can regress to scapula pull up, eccentric pull up or static holds if struggling with regular pull ups. Shoulder strength may need to be assessed too if really struggling.

[Side note: Muscle ups would be the natural progression from pull ups & seem to be a popular choice amongst obstacle racers these days. Are they a gym exercise you simply HAVE to master?  It’s great to have new gym challenges and Im all for trying out new things in the gym, however I’ve coached 2 OCR athletes to 2 podium in the last 2 year’s and neither one of them could do a muscle up].

Exercise 5: Pistol Squats

  1. Balance on one leg with the non-working leg in front of your body
  2. Standing leg hip descends back & down
  3. Standing leg hip descends lower than knee
  4. Standing leg heel stays down
  5. Extended leg does not touch the ground at any point
  6. Complete rep by straightening leg back up to starting position

Can be regressed to single leg squat to bench, Single leg behind, TRX assisted Single leg squat if struggling

Exercise 6: Weighted Carry

  1. Barbell held in between bicep & forearm
  2. Hug the bar tight into torso
  3. Maintain an upright posture
  4. Maintain a heel toe action
  5. Maintain strong abs & lower back

Could use heavy dumbbells as an alternative

[Bonus Exercise 7]   – Med Ball Slams

  1. Shoulder width stance
  2. Lift ball over head with elbows, hips & knees extended
  3. Slam the ball down to the floor in between feet
  4. Catch ball on rebound (careful it doesn’t hit you in the face!)
  5. Weight through heels
  6. Get angry! (But don’t sacrifice your technique!)

Final Thoughts On Your Spartan Training Routines

Do your running and go bouldering, but don’t neglect your strength work.

If you apply the right strength training strategies to your current OCR training & you’re consistent with it, you’ll start seeing some improvements.

As an obstacle racer you’ll find you’ll want to be fast, strong & powerful, so your training needs to reflect that. Get some explosive lifts into your routine, work on your basic strength, but don’t be a hero, learn the correct technique from a qualified coach & build up slowly.

Keep the workouts short otherwise you’re likely to not be consistent with them.

Strength circuits will keep things interesting and will be more specific to OCR, but remember this is a STRENGTH session not just a ‘RANDOM BEASTING’ conditioning session or a HIT session.

Focus on your technique & keep the reps low.

If you don’t like the gym then the above routine can easily be adapted to your backyard or outdoors. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just get it in.

And that’s it!

Get some strength work into your plan, It could be the difference between completing an obstacle & not completing an obstacle, getting on that podium or finishing 4th, or dare I say it, keeping the band or losing it!

Sam Winkworth

PS – I most likely missed an exercise? Whats YOUR one gym exercise that you feel has to be mastered if you’re looking to progress in the sport of OCR?

Let us know in the comments section below

Recent Content