Few of us are born to be good at obstacle-course racing. It takes dedicated training to make it across the finish line. But not all training programs will get you there. In fact, the way you train may, paradoxically, make you less likely to complete the course. Here are five OCR mistakes SGX experts often see from both OCR rookies and seasoned Spartans.
OCR Mistake #1: Not Recovering
“With training, a lot of athletes think the more, the better,” says Casey Rotondi, a Spartan SGX trainer and owner of Atomic Training and Performance in Fort Lauderdale. “But that’s not true, especially if you’re new to the sport.”
When you increase your distance too quickly, or don’t include rest days, you risk overtraining, Rotondi says. Your body fails to recover from the microtrauma to your muscles and connective tissues, and your nervous system can’t accommodate the accumulated fatigue from repeated challenges. Not only will you not see the gains you’re training to achieve, your performance can actually go backward. Or, worse, you burn out or develop an overuse injury, resulting in an even longer break from training.
Avoid this mistake: Don’t let your ego ignore your coach—or body. True gains happen during recovery by allowing tissues to heal and all your body’s systems to recover and recharge. Rotondi recommends stretching and foam rolling after each workout, and giving yourself at least one full day of rest each week.
“Also practice good nutrition,” she says. “And consult a fitness expert or coach to make sure your training program includes proper overload and periodization.”
OCR Mistake #2: Not Breathing Properly
In the battle to get race-ready, people often neglect this crucial element. “Not understanding or practicing proper breathing techniques when doing mobility work or strength training and conditioning can affect overall performance,” says Mandi Love, an SGX coach and owner of RVA OCR in Midlothian, Virginia.
Avoid this mistake: Meditation methods can help you learn to use your breath more efficiently. “I help my clients visualize and break down the obstacles and course terrain,” Love says. “We discuss mindset, breathing, and relaxation so they have enough energy for the entire race.”
OCR Mistake #3: Not Incorporating High-Intensity Training
Many would-be Spartans do all their leg work at the same steady pace. “While this is important, and will help you complete the distance, it will not help you in bursting through the obstacles with pace,” says Alex Calder, an SGX coach and strength and conditioning specialist based in Orlando. “I often see individuals training for Spartan races by only incorporating long runs. You need to incorporate multiple endurance aspects to run a race successfully.”
Avoid this mistake: Calder suggest integrating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your program, both to improve your aerobic fitness and to get your body and mind ready for the higher-effort challenges in OCR.
One way to do it: Choose three to five strength exercises. Do one set of each, with a minute of rest in between. Then do two 50- to 100-meter sprints—one out and one back. That’s one round. Do 3 to 5 rounds, resting 2 to 3 minutes in between.
OCR Mistake #4: Not Building Grip Strength
A Spartan race, or any OCR worth your time and effort, will have walls to scale, ropes to climb, and parallel bars. If you don’t have the upper-body or grip strength to hoist yourself up or over these obstacles, you’re in trouble before you even start. “It’s where people are weakest,” says SGX coach Anthony Ferguson of Ferguson Fitness in Roanoke, Virginia. “You have to focus on using your forearms and upper body to grip, carry, and hold yourself up if you want to be successful.”
Avoid this mistake: Ferguson suggests concentrating on as many variations of the pullup as possible. “We have our clients work on full or band-assisted pullups, dead hangs, inverted rows, and other upper-body strength moves,” he says.
The simplest version: Grab a pullup bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Starting from a dead hang, with your feet off the ground, pull your chin over the bar, and hold there for 3 to 5 seconds. Lower yourself slowly and repeat.
OCR Mistake #5: Not Knowing Your Why
For some people, completing an endurance race is just an item on their bucket list. OCR shows up on more of those lists, thanks to its growing visibility and the power of the current FOMO culture. Bad idea, Love warns. A Spartan race can be inhospitable to a fitness tourist.
“The mind always wants to quit before the body,” she says. “A person has to know their why, because they’ll need to rely on it throughout the training program, race course, and in everyday life.”
Avoid this mistake: Love says a good coach can help you figure out your why (if you don’t know it) or reveal it (if you do), but only if you’ve already built a trusting client-coach relationship.
Once you know your why, you can use it to power through the parts of workout or race when you’ll be tempted to quit. When you think five pushups is just as good as 10, tell yourself that the next one is for your kids, or your health, or training partners, or whatever keeps you going.
“It’s important to understand that Spartan is a lifestyle,” Love says. “Participating in a Spartan race is truly a life-changing event.”
Get started training right in the next 10 minutes. Download the Spartan Bodyweight Workout Plan.