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Obstacle course racing (OCR) used to be a novelty. Running up a mountain, parading through the woods, and rolling in mud was out of the norm and considered “crazy.” Now OCR is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Companies like Spartan race and Tough Mudder have no problem drawing crowds of thousands of people every weekend.


With the high demand, the sport has evolved. There is a massive competitive element to OCR, and it has changed what participants consider success. It’s no longer enough to finish the race. Athletes want results.



We now have regional and world championships for professional and age group divisions. The podium is no longer reserved for the gifted athletes. Anyone who wants to train hard has a shot at glory. The shift from completion to competition also changes race-day preparation. To perform your best, you need to have a plan that systematically leads you to improvement. In this article, you will learn how to periodize your OCR training to lead to big results.


There are three crucial elements when training for OCR: running, compound lifts, and grip training. These common threads will be present in all phases of your training. To build your fitness for OCR, break your training into three phases: base, intensity, and race-specific.


Base for Running

Build a base for 8-16 weeks. During this time, your focus is to increase volume. Much of your time during the base phase will be spent running long and easy miles. Building a base improves your work capacity for the later phases. If you are new to running, start with three days a week of easy miles including one "long run" per week. A good rule of thumb from the running world is the 10% rule: do not increase your miles by more than 10% each week.



Running is infinitely scalable. You can always get faster or run longer. This is why it is the most crucial piece of any OCR plan. An epidemic running wild in OCR is racing too often and not allowing time to build a base. It is difficult to improve without adequate time to prepare for your race and training season.


Base for Strength

Your base strength will improve your power output, joint stability, and muscle recruitment. Compound lifts will be the keystone of your strength movements. Incorporate squats, deadlifts, lunges, and pressing. Linear progression is time-tested when it comes to strength. Try methods like 5-3-1 or 5×5 to see improvement during your base phase. A good base of strength can be done in two days a week for 8-12 weeks.


Base for Grip

Use your base phase to find a baseline for your grip strength. During this time, test your grip with different hand and arm positions.


During an OCR competition, test your max dead hang, bent arm holds, and chin over the bar holds. From here, you can work on stand-alone workouts for your different grip variations to build on strengths and improve weaknesses.


Try the following:



  • 3 x max dead hang
  • Tabata bent arm hang
  • Bent arm shoulder taps
  • Towel hangs


Once you complete your base strength, you can crank up the intensity. Begin your intensity phase with a baseline race or time trial. You’ll want to quantify improvement during this phase.


Plan your intensity phase for 4-8 weeks with a "down" week every 3-4 weeks.


Running Intensity

In OCR, you will run flat, uphill, and downhill. So, you need to work on all of these elements. The workouts can stay the same across the ups, downs, and flats for simplicity sake.


Try the following:


  • 5 x 3 minutes at sub 5K effort
  • 2-minute rest between sets


You can easily do this workout on flats or uphill. Increase your pace or duration each week for 3-4 weeks. Downhill intervals are logistically difficult, but a slight downhill is better than no downhill. Increase the number of reps to meet the desired volume.


Strength Intensity

Your strength intensity workouts will look a lot like your typical metcon. These workouts will include compound lifts that will tax your muscular endurance and aerobic capacity. Your strength intensity phase will prepare you for fast transitions between obstacles, switching stimulus at a high level while improving muscular endurance.


Classic CrossFit workouts like Helen, Jackie, and Fran are good examples of strength intensity for OCR.


Grip Intensity

Your grip intensity builds confidence when approaching race obstacles while fatigued. These workouts help your grip endurance under fatigue.


Try this:


  • Tabata-style dead hang
  • 20 seconds of hanging followed by a 10-second rest
  • As many rounds as possible


Grip Metcon:


4 rounds

  • 15 burpees
  • 20 shoulder taps
  • 15 jumping lunges
  • Max pull ups
  • Rest 1 min


Race-Specific Running Phase

During an OCR, you will run up mountains, through mud, across creeks, and through thick brush. All these elements will break your rhythm, so you need to prepare. The purpose of these runs will be to handle a switch in stimulus and find your home base effort.


Run workouts:


Hills + Tempo – run hills hard followed by steady state tempo


3 rounds

  • 3 x 60-second hill repeats
  • 7 minute at marathon pace after the third repeat
  • Rest 3 minutes


OCR Tempo Runs:


  • 30 minutes of continuous work
  • 5 minutes at half-marathon pace
  • 15 jumping squats
  • 10 burpees
  • 15 jumping lunges


Race-Specific Strength Phase

These workouts will focus on your carries and high-output obstacles like walls and hurdles.


Carry workouts will be blended with running or another low-impact, high-output activity like rowing or the assault bike. During this phase, you will be able to work on heavy high-output activities while fatigued.


For example:


5 rounds

  • 30-second assault bike at 95-100%
  • 30 seconds heavy farmers walk
  • Rest 1 min


Sandbag Hill Intervals:

  • 2 min run at threshold pace
  • 2 min sandbag carry
  • 2 min run at threshold pace


Race-Specific Grip Phase

Your grip workouts can be worked into a longer workout with compound moves and running. Stretch the duration of your grip workouts by adding running, rowing, or assault bike intervals. Do your best to come off of the previous movements fatigue to simulate race-day conditions.


3 rounds

  • 500m row
  • Towel hang pulses


Race Simulation Progression

Three weeks from the race, pick a day to have a race simulation. Your race simulation can be up to 75% of the duration of the race. If your competition is roughly 60 minutes long, then aim for a 45-minute workout where you incorporate all of the elements of running, strength, and grip.


10 minute warm up then 5 rounds (no rest) followed by a 10-minute cooldown:


  • 5 min at half-marathon pace
  • 2 min carry
  • 20 shoulder taps
  • No rest between rounds


Plan Ahead

To achieve your best results in OCR you need to have a plan to lead you to success. The phases of your training plan are crucial. Your base will give you a strong foundation, your intensity will make you fast, and your race specificity will teach you what to expect on the course. With the development of a smart progressive program, you will find yourself in podium contention.



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