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In the quest for physical challenges and races that don’t involve the joint-jarring of traditional distance running and triathlon events, many people have turned to obstacle course races. More than 50 such events are conducted each year in the United States. Obstacle course races emphasize overall fitness, forcing competitors to run, climb and use total body strength to overcome obstacles. If you’re looking for a fun way to change your exercise routine, consider adding an obstacle course.

Variations

Obstacle course events are available to meet a variety of fitness levels and goals. Some of the less-punishing, shorter-length races are family-oriented. Among them are eight “Survival Race” events, which are held in Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Florida. As of the date of publication, the “Warrior Dash” schedule for 2014 included 36 events in 31 states plus Ontario and Copenhagen, along with a world championship. The “Tough Mudder” series, promoters of which describe the individual races as “probably the toughest event on the planet,” includes contests in 56 locations worldwide and an end-of-the-season championship. Whether you want to complete 3 miles or 26, there’s a race out there for you.

Resistance Training

Resistance workouts for obstacle course races should include a lot of functional training, such as body weight, kettlebell and medicine ball exercises. Push-ups, dips, pull-ups and lunges will help condition and prepare you to lift and move your own body weight through a variety of obstacles. If you engage in resistance training in the gym, try to use circuits or keep intensity high by minimizing rest between sets. The goal is to develop functional strength — not to be able to leg-press 1,000 pounds.

Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular conditioning is vital to performing well during obstacle course events, but simply running on a treadmill or humming along on the elliptical isn’t going to cut it. Start by building a foundation of aerobic conditioning until you run can 3 to 5 miles at a time. Once you can comfortably cover this distance, incorporate speed and hill intervals. You can also perform other cardiovascular exercises, such as running stadium stairs, swimming laps or taking an indoor cycling class. Variety will help you develop a well-rounded aerobic fitness level conducive to overcoming the various obstacles you’ll find in a race.

Balance and Grip Strength

Obstacle courses will test your balance and grip strength with obstacles like running across beams or carrying heavy objects, so its important to incorporate balance and grip exercises in your training regimen. Perform exercises that test your grip, such as pull-ups, the flexed arm hang, or the lat pull-down. You’ll value grip strength when you take on obstacles like rope and wall climbs. Improve your balance by performing exercises in an unstable environment. For example, instead of doing traditional back squats, perform them standing on a Bosu ball, with a dumbbell in each hand.

Race Tips

A few tips will keep race day fun and eventful. Wear compression shorts, tops and socks to keep your skin protected. Your clothes and shoes should be articles that you don’t mind getting dirty or even ruining. A pair of athletic or weight lifting gloves will protect your hands. For longer courses, you may need a hydration pack and nutrition bars or gels to keep your body hydrated and fueled. Sunscreen is recommended, and you’ll need a change of clothes along with toiletries and a towel for cleanup afterwards.

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