Obstacle Course Racing: America’s Newest Way Of Getting Down, Dirty And Fit

Nobody ever said that it shouldn’t be fun to be fit, and nothing proves this more than America’s sudden fascination with Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). If you have yet to participate in one of these grueling events that combines running, rope climbing, mud crawling and more, you’re missing out on an enjoyable way to get that old heart pumping. You’ll also build strong pecs and glutes and help to strengthen and define your body’s core muscles. Best of all — it all happens in the name of your favorite charity.

This type of fitness challenge owes its roots to America’s military. The U.S. Marine Corp, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army have used obstacle courses and endurance training for decades to whip soldiers and sailors into tip-top physical condition. But now anyone can reap the rewards of these intense workouts by registering for any number of local, national, or global events.

Three Top Events

With 2 million participants and numerous events held annually around the globe, the Tough Mudder challenge is one of the most grueling and best known obstacle courses in the world. It’s a 10- to 12-mile course that tests your endurance, your upper body strength, lower body strength and core muscles. You’ll crawl, climb, jump, swing, run, sprint, and swim – oh, and you’ll get a little dirty. But that’s all just a part of the experience.

Tough Mudder is a team challenge, focusing more on teamwork than on winning, and the money collected goes to support the Wounded Warrior Project.

Preparation for Tough Mudder is intense, and you can find a whole series of training videos here to help take you through the paces. You’ll learn how to do a variety of exercises correctly, including:

  • Wind sprints
  • Knees to Elbows
  • Box Jumps
  • Bar Hangs
  • Bicycle Abs
  • Side-to-Side Pull-ups

These are only a few of the conditioning exercises you’ll need to add to your regular workout regimen if you hope to become one tough mudder.

To find an event in your area, click on the event calendar here.

Photo Credit: Glynnis Jones

The Spartan Race is hosted by Reebok and offers courses suited for every skill level. Beginners can opt for an easy-A by signing up for the 3-mile Sprint. But there’s also the Super, the Beast, the Ultra-Beast, the Hurricane Heat, the Hurricane Heat 12-Hour, and the Agoge. These are endurance races that test your stamina and your mindset just as much as they do your athletic ability.

The Spartan Race features such ominously named obstacles as the barbed-wire crawl, the fire jump, the tire drag, and the atlas carry. You’ll need to work on every part of your body to make it through to the end, but you can find a nifty little training guide here.

Proceeds from the Spartan Race go to support three separate charities:

  • Everyday Hero
  • The 431 Project
  • Special Spartan’s Race

To find an event near you, see the Find a Race page.

Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

Rugged Maniac is a course that stretches just a hair over 3 miles long and offers up 25 different obstacles. But once you complete the Rugged Maniac, you have the rest of the day to spend partying onsite with the other participants.

This race/obstacle course will have you climbing, sliding, bouncing, jumping, crawling, running and more with events scheduled all over the United States and Canada. You can find the one that’s right for you here.

The organizers of Rugged Maniac suggest an all-over fitness regimen that focuses on long-distance running.

Proceeds from Rugged Maniac support the United Service Organization (USO), and participants are encouraged to raise funds through their assigned fundraising page.

Training for Your Big Day

Men’s Fitness recommends a solid, four-week training period for those who are already in superior physical condition and who have prior experience in the OCR Circuit. For those who’ve never tried it, 90 days of intense training is the recommended minimum. To prepare for the race, your training routine should focus on three vital areas:

  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Cardio Conditioning

There’s a generic training routine available on the Men’s Fitness website if you can’t find a specialized training regimen for your specific event. You’ll find the focus falls on sprints, lunges, weightlifting, crossfit, and rowing for a full-body workout that challenges every muscle group.

What Should You Eat?

But it’s not all about the exercise. What you eat, and especially what you drink, is important too. To stay hydrated and full of much-needed electrolytes, the fitness experts at Active.com recommend drinking a watered-down version of your favorite sports drink; try half water and half sports drink.

Protein bars that are actually more protein, less sugar, are good choices for race day, as are protein shakes, bananas and peanut butter. And if you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right — OCR nutrition is all about the protein.

If you’re thinking of joining the millions of other Americans who eagerly participate in Obstacle Course Racing throughout the year, you’re going to love the results. Not only is finishing a huge high, but the training will help put your body in the best physical condition it’s seen in years. And when it’s all said and done, your favorite local or national charity gets a boost too.