A Definitive Guide On How To Actually Train For An Obstacle Race


Women's Health |

By Michelle October; Photography by Casey Crafford 

“You can see women are starting to challenge themselves and I think it’s because they see other women doing it,” says Dominique. “Women aren’t scared to take on the challenge.”

Meet Dominique D’Oliveira, one of the women leading the charge — and why you should follow her lead.

Dominique just opened her own “gym”. It’s in inverted commas because the space, called Obstacle Fitness, isn’t so much treadmills and dumbbells than it is a huge playground. The space is littered with rails, bars, ropes and tyres; all you’d need to ace an obstacle race. It also doubles as a way of sharing the sport with other people who are interested in the burgeoning discipline. And of those, there are loads: in 2013, the idea of obstacle course races sprung up images of Herculean athletes battling it out in some far-off venue. Not anymore: races like the Impi Challenge and Warrior Race see thousands of people (elite female athletes included), testing their limits in the dirt. “You can see women are starting to challenge themselves and I think it’s because they see other women doing it,” says Dominique. “Women aren’t scared to take on the challenge.”

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Looking to join in the fun? “You should have the fitness to cover the distance you want to do,” says Dominique. Most OC races start at 5km, so make sure you can run that distance. “If you’ve never done something like that before you might get injured or end up feeling really tired.” Next, you should work on strengthening your core, which will help you power through slack lines and water traverses. “I’m not talking about your abs,” says Dominique. “I’m talking about your stabilizers from your hips to your shoulders. If you’ve got that foundation then you can add anything onto that.” Good arm strength is essential, because most obstacles involve climbing something. “You don’t have to be able to do a pull-up to do your first obstacle race but it does help,” says Dominique. If you’re not there yet, strengthen your muscles by hanging on the bar (this’ll improve your grip strength) or doing assisted pull-ups. Here, her top tips for mastering your first race.

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Train Your Ankles

“Many of these races occur on tricky trails with lots of hills so make sure that you have good ankle strength for the technical terrain.” When you hit the gym in the lead up to the race, climb on a Bosu ball for a few minutes and stand on one leg, rotating your ankle to strengthen it. Make sure you warm your ankles up before any race.

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Get Some Mileage And Hills In

“Make sure that you can run and walk up hills, and that you have enough mileage in your legs to get through the distance of your choice!” Do hill sprints once a week. Try and run the distance you will have to cover in the race at least once before the race.

Hang On Everything

“Good grip strength is essential for swinging across monkey bars, climbing ropes and carrying heavy objects. Some people choose to use gloves but I find this can get quite slippery, especially after going through wet and muddy obstacles. It helps to have tough hands! I suggest you get yourself a decent pair of lightweight trail shoes with good grip and drainage, which will help you get through the muddy and technical terrain with much less effort. I recommend the Reebok All Terrain series, which are specifically designed for obstacle course racing – with great grip for the mud, ropes or any other climbing obstacles you may have to face.” Find a pull-up bar at your local gym and try different grips.

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Learn To Pull

“It’s very likely that you’ll find yourself having to pull tyres or other heavy objects at some stage in the obstacle course, so if you can practice this somewhere that would be ideal. With the growth of obstacle course racing, gyms like FITstrong with obstacle training facilities are popping up everywhere. Make use of these, or get yourself an old tractor tyre and rope and start pulling. This is a full-body workout so don’t be surprised if you find yourself out of breathe quite quickly. ” If you’re training in a regular gym focus on legs (e.g. squats, lunges etc.), biceps, shoulders and back (e.g. seated row, dumbbell row, etc.).

Master A Pull-Up

“More than likely you will have to pull your own bodyweight – up and over walls, poles and ropes. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds if you combine a bit of technique with upper-body strength. Pull-ups are key. If you can do this it will save you much time and energy getting through the course. Find yourself a resistance band or pull-up machine and do assisted pull-ups until you can progressively pull up more and more of your own bodyweight. If you can’t do a pull-up yet it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter the race, it’s only the elites who are required to do the obstacles unassisted, so get some help.”

Strengthen Your Core

“I’m a stickler for this one, much like any other activity you do, the stronger your core is, the easier it will be to run, jump and get over all the obstacles. And more importantly, decrease your risk of injury. It’s also important to also focus on your inner core stabilisers.”

Want more? This race checklist covers EVERYTHING, and this treadmill workout is what you need to get a new PB. 

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