Performance | Training Tips

Training Clients for Obstacle Course Races

Training Clients for Obstacle Course Races

As the weather gets warmer and official Summer is just around the corner, one thing is for sure—it’s time for obstacle course races! Whether it’s the 12 plus grueling miles of Tough Mudder or the rough obstacles of a Warrior Dash, obstacle course race training has become the cornerstone of fitness for millions. And you can see why.

Obstacle races push you to your limit. They ask you to give everything you’ve got, and then to keep going. Commonly inspired by the challenges presented in military training, people often wonder, “How would I measure up to that standard?”

There’s plenty of it in pop culture now, too. American Ninja Warrior, the US spinoff of the popular Japanese show, has also done a lot to contribute to the modern fervor for this kind of competition. But there’s an enormous gap between learning about these events and actually jumping into some sort of obstacle course race training, or OCR training. So, what’s the best approach to take and what workouts will get you across the finish line? Here’s how to train so that you and your clients have fun yet stay safe.

The Course

When clients come to you as their personal trainer wanting to know how to train for an obstacle course mud run like Rugged Maniac, it’s important to know what the course consists of. This means things such as how long it will be, the kinds of obstacles involved, as well as the density of obstacles compared to the running course.

For instance, both Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash average out to having 12 obstacles to negotiate, but the length of the courses is considerably different. A Warrior Dash is about three to four miles where Tough Mudder will be a little over 12. As such, preparation for these two events requires similar strength training, but different endurance sets completely. Either way, your muscles will be exhausted at the end, but knowing the course will make the difference between crossing the finish line and going home disappointed. Make no mistake, you will need to train your client like an athlete, and they will need to understand the sincerity of the training they’re going to undertake. As such, make sure they’ve gotten the approval of their doctor before taking up this challenge.

Also, look into what the obstacles consist of. How often will they need to be able to independently support their own body weight? How often will they need to free climb a rope? How often will they be expected to move their entire body to the top of an apparatus? You as their trainer need to take all of this into account when putting together their training program.

Training Program Overview

Regardless of which course your clients choose, their level of fitness will be put to the test. They will require a combination of strength and endurance to effectively get through the challenge. One of the issues people new to obstacle courses experience is the multitude of upper body strength they will need for climbing. It’s one thing when you’re fresh and doing a set of pull-ups after a rest, but it’s a whole other thing to climb a rope after running a mile, then continuing to the next objective.

For this reason, it’s important to make sure that you’re not just isolating training sessions. Whereas you will absolutely need to spend some days on strength and others on endurance, you will also need to spend enough time combining these practices into one. In fact, this is a matter of safety. If all your client has ever trained is endurance some days and strength others, the likelihood of injury will dramatically increase, as there is an additional factor to consider—grit.

Grit and determination must be trained to succeed with these races, and the only way to train grit is to push yourself harder and harder at the gym.

Training Concerns

The most-used joints will be lower body and leg joints—mainly the knees, ankles, and hips. Also, with the distance, it’s really important that you employ proper care of your feet. Do not sacrifice your health for these races. People can get seriously injured, thus you must take precautions.

When something hurts, stop immediately. When someone gets injured, remember rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you. Also, make sure that your clients begin training a long time in advance. It can take months to properly build a person’s strength and stamina to the point where they can safely negotiate the obstacles, so make sure that they give themselves sufficient lead time.

Although it’s been said before, it bears repeating—ensure your clients have gotten the approval of their doctor before they even begin training. There are people who have had serious injuries and even died in these races. As a personal trainer, you are not qualified to make a determination as to whether or not your clients can medically compete in such an event. Make sure that they are talking to their doctor first.

Strength Training

When it comes to these courses, the importance of strength cannot be overstated, especially as it applies to your grip. This is going to be one of the single most important components of your strength training. Your body weight will likely be all you need to train this, although deadlifts and other such exercises can also be helpful.

Think in terms of rope climbs, most anything with kettlebells, squats, lunges, and dumbbell exercises. Also, all different variations and types of pull-ups are important. Any exercise requiring you to lift your body via your own grip strength will come in handy.

Just remember that strength requires time to develop. Your client can’t simply start training six weeks prior and expect to do well, and in fact, the likelihood that they will injure themselves is high.

In the beginning, the basics will be fine. Target the larger muscle groups and slowly increase weight. Then, as the date gets closer, start to increase loads. Finding the right balance between training pure strength and training endurance will be difficult, but this is the job of a personal trainer. Make sure that you evaluate periodically where the client is, and adjust their strength training accordingly.

Endurance Training

This is going to transcend pure cardio alone. It will be important for your client to be training distance running in their own time. When they’re with you, make sure that you have some whole-body muscular endurance training exercises ready to go.

Plyometrics are a really great way to build endurance, but you must make certain that their form is as perfect as possible. Box jumps are a great way to boost the type of grit and endurance needed for these races. Just be safe.

Use high-intensity interval training to push your client. It doesn’t have to be overly complex—even something like mountain climbers for longer durations of time can be excellent whole-body preparation for the grueling challenge ahead.

Keep Your Chin Up

There is nothing easy about obstacle course races. They will push your clients to the brink of their ability, which is largely why they’re attempted to begin with. But there are other benefits, too.

One huge one is that, win or lose, you will feel great about yourself and your accomplishments. Simply completing a tough obstacle course challenge is something that you and your clients should be proud of.

The training will be tough, and sometimes, your clients will wonder if they’re even capable of getting through the workouts, much less the race. This is where you come in. Just make sure that you are positive, that you answer their questions, and that you’re honest with them. Confidence is key, but only if you really believe in their ability to overcome. This is a judgment you need to make and communicate to the client.

These races can also be a great motivator for your clients, to keep them focused on their goals. Sometimes, it can be just the push they need to succeed like they never thought possible. So, have them take a breath and prepare like never before. They’ll be soaked in mud and crossing the finish line before they know it!

Not yet a trainer but want to learn more about training for fitness and health? Check out the ISSA’s personal trainer certification course. You can simply boost your own understanding and know-how or use that knowledge to help others meet their goals for better fitness.