Obstacle Course Training

Published by Jason Narog on

Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle course races (or mud runs) are a great way to engage with your community through physical activity. They come in a variety of lengths with a variety of different types of obstacles. And a 5K obstacle course race (OCR) feels more worth the price of admission than a standard 5K race (on account of all the obstacles available to play on.) You’ll need steady state cardio for the jogging / running that takes place in-between obstacles as well as strength and power to jump and lift the heavy things in your way.

I’ve previously put together a Spartan training workout, but felt like it’s time to look at some of the routines others are doing.

Outdoor workout for obstacle course race training

Here’s one from Tough Mudder (the original one, before Spartan bought them.)

This workout is going to take exactly 1 hour so plan accordingly.

Warm up – Trail run. It’s suggested you find uneven terrain to prepare you for the uneven terrain that you’ll encounter when actually doing the mud run.

Exercises – 60 seconds of work per exercise.

  1. Box jumps
  2. Stair steppers
  3. Mountain climbers
  4. Planks
  5. Push Ups

Regarding the push ups, make sure you keep your shoulders packed and core engaged. If you need to make a modification to the push up, you can find something to incline on.

Cool down – Trail run.

5 Exercises to Prepare You for a Spartan Race

  1. Bear crawl
  2. Burpee
  3. Dead Hang / Pull Up
  4. Farmer Carry
  5. Squats / Lunges

The bear crawl is suggested for preparing for any obstacles that require going under barb wire or simply dragging yourself along the ground. From a personal training point of view the bear crawl is an awesome exercise for working the X movements in the body (opposite arm and leg) while also working that core.

In this video they suggest working the standard bear crawl for 3 minutes straight, moving both forward and back. The bear crawl movement itself involves propping yourself up on your hands and toes with your knees slightly hovering above the ground. If you move with your left arm also take a step with your right leg, then alternate across the floor.

Going backwards can be tricky so try to take smaller movements so you’re not overly extending your body. Also try not dropping your hips. The suggested starting maneuver if you can’t do a bear crawl is simply to plank. Once you can plank, move on to hovering off the ground with your arms / feet (knees hovering) without moving across the ground. Try holding for 90 seconds, rest for 30, repeat 3x.

The suggested range (per this video) is an every minute on the minute (EMOM) for 12 minutes doing 12 burpees. You’ll end up doing 144 burpees in 12 minutes in that time while also working in rest. Start with 5 burpees if you’re not used to doing burpees.

It’s worth noting that Spartan burpees may be different than “regular” burpees. The Spartan burpee includes a push up when you drop to the ground, similar to the exercise know as the body builder.

The dead hang is suggested for things like hanging from bars. If you can do pull ups shoot for 60 to 90 seconds of doing pull ups. When you get tired just hang. Do 3 to 5 sets. Negative pull ups are an option if you can’t do pull ups.

The farmer’s carry helps with carrying things with grip strength. Suggested time is 60 to 90 seconds of carrying something (might I suggest a hex bar.)

Squats and lunges are suggested to make sure you have strength in your legs. 4 2 1 is the suggested tempo in this video. 4 seconds down, 2 second hold at the bottom, then come back up. 15 reps. The idea here is to have lower body strength beyond just running.

The Best 16 Exercises for OCRs

  1. Push Ups
  2. Squat to Press
  3. Battle roping
  4. Squat rotations to overhead press
  5. Pull Ups
  6. Bar Leg Lifts
  7. Sprinting
  8. Bulgarian Split Squats
  9. Squat jacks
  10. Burpees
  11. Steady state cardio running
  12. Bear crawls
  13. Squat jumps
  14. Push ups
  15. Monkey bars
  16. Sled pushes
  17. Jump rope

I counted 17 exercises here as opposed to 16. There’s a few variations here on the squats (squat jacks, split squats, squat jumps, squat to press, and the squat rotations to overhead presses.)

The squat rotations are similar to that of a wood chop. With a kettlebell, sandbag or plate you’re going to place the plate down to your left in a squat position, then lift it up and press the plate over to your right side to work that X pattern.

The video made no mention of reps or sets. Some of these exercises fall into the power category, some are more for strength, and some are for varying pieces of cardio. If you need help with when and where to program these into a routine please contact me.

5 Workouts for an Obstacle Course Race

These routines are designed to improve both strength and endurance.

Chest Day

[gear needed – dumbbells, barbell, bench or dip attachment]

Super Set 1 – 5 sets of 10 reps

Chest Press Ladder (increment 5lbs per set)

Bent Over Row


Super Set 2 – 3 sets

10 to 12 Dips

10 Burpees

10 to 12 bicep curls

10 Burpees

Sprint 400 by 400

Jog for 400 meters, sprint for 400 meters, repeating until you’ve finished 2 miles [roughly 3,200 meters in 2 miles (3,218.69 meters) so repeat jog/sprint a total of 4 times]

Back Day

[gear needed: cable machine; alternative: resistance bands]

Super Set 1 – On the minute every minute for 10 minutes

[breaks are allowed, you can take a break for 2 minutes, but you’re aiming for doing 10 rounds of this with the 5 deadlifts and 5 pull ups performed within the minute. Take your break after the pull ups if needed]

5 Deadlifts

5 Pull Ups

Super Set 2 – ladder workout [increase by 5 to 10lbs]

Cable Pull Down ladder

10 burpees

Weighted Row

10 burpees

Grip Strength – rope pull

4 to 6 mile run (not on a treadmill) – suggested before the upper body workout

Bucket Carry

Bucket Super Set

Get (2) 5 gallon buckets and fill them with rocks

400m bucket carry

10 burpees

400m sprint

Repeat for 2 miles (there’s roughly 3,200m in 2 miles so 4 rounds total [800×4=3,200)

Try to find a hill that goes up roughly 200 meters. Go up and down the hill to simulate race day conditions.

Shoulder / Leg Day

[gear needed: barbell, dumbbells]

Super Set 1 – Repeat 3x

Squat To Press Thrusters (16, 12, 9 reps) [I always forget thrusters are squats to presses and not hip thrusters, so I denoted it as Squat to Press]

10 Burpees

Inverted Hands Push Up

Super Set 2 – Repeat 3x

Front Squat

Pull Ups (5 to 10)

Back Squat

Pull Ups (5 to 10)

Jog for 400 meters, sprint for 400 meters (4x for a total of 2 miles)

Incline Bag Carry

[gear needed: sandbag]

1 minute sandbag carry (suggested weight 40lbs) up a 15% incline hill or treadmill

10 burpees

exercise of your choice (you’ve got a bunch of suggested exercises above)

Repeat for 20 minutes

4 to 6 mile run

Are you looking for accountability in training for an upcoming obstacle course race? Sign up for my 14 day challenge and get immediate access to my Facebook Group full of like-minded individuals!