7 Reason Strength Athletes Should Try Obstacle Course Racing

If the appearance of an Obstacle Course at the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games was any proof, Obstacle Courses are having a moment in fitness right now. But Dave Castro isn’t the first to notice. This year alone, Tough Mudder released a new 1-mile mud-race filled with 10 obstacles taken straight from their 10-mile course blueprints, and 10 workout zones that are reminiscent of a tough as heck WOD; EPIC Series released a strength-challenge series complete with deadlifts, tire flips, and sandbag lunges; and Reebok Spartan Races, which challenges participants with burpees, are practically trending on Instagram.

Editor’s Note: This article is an op-ed. The article was written by an employee of Tough Mudder, though the content is unsponsored and is not intended to be promotional in nature. The views expressed herein this article are exclusively those of the author.

While only the Games course can have a Dave Castro twist, obstacle races of all kinds are a great way to put fitness to the test. Simply put, they’re kind of a big deal. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the people, the obstacles. You’ve probably heard the stories: electric shocks, ice-cold water, 500 gallons of grade A mud, rope climbs, monkey bars… But if you haven’t, allow me to fill you in on a little secret: obstacle courses are a MUST for strength athletes everywhere. As a Tough Mudder employee, I’m a little biased, but if you can excuse my mud-run nepotism, check out the 7 reasons I think you should take your fitness to the mud and your lifting-skills to the course.

1. The More You Escape the Ordinary, The More You’ll Learn

These mud-runs are not events. Rather, they are a way of life. They are a solution to the simultaneous chaos and monotony of everyday life. They are a catalyst to changing the way you train, eat, think, and live.

Think about it like this: When was the last time you did something for the first time? The importance of the implicit message cannot be overstated: in both life and training you’ll learn more when you escape the monotony of routine, than you will doing the same old, same old.


Are you down to escape the ordinary, but don’t want to commit to a 10 to 13 miles? I get it. The good news is there are obstacle course races that are 1 mile, 3 miles, and even 5 miles. So whether you’re taking on Spartan Sprint or Warrior Dash 5K, those muddy miles will disrupt your routine one rope climb and wall scale at a time.

2. The Training Itself Is Worth It

Ditch the weight room for nature’s gym and let the environment guide your training session once or twice a week leading up to the event. A do-it-yourself OCR-focused training session may look like this: Head to a park, run a half mile off road, then do 20 burpees. Get up, run to a playground, and cross the monkey bars. Bear crawl through mulch, climb up and over picnic tables, do push-ups off benches, then run another mile before finishing up with some air squats for maximal burn.


3. OCR’s Will Push You Outside The Box

… Literally. What a better way to take a weekend off from the box (or weight room) than to hit up an arena filled with mud, ladders, rings, climbing walls and rope nets? Ditch the barbell for monkey bars, the kettlebells for atlas lifts, and thrusters for balls of hay.

4. … And Exploit Your Weaknesses

Obstacle course racing can be rewarding for people of a variety of strength because they involve a little bit of everything: agility, upper-body strength, body-weight movements, adaptability, endurance, and teamwork.

But no matter how you train for the course, the terrain and obstacles will expose your weaknesses. If you’re a CrossFit® athlete, there are certain obstacles you’ll likely be really good at like monkey bars, rings, rope climbs, and weight-stations, but that doesn’t mean the new mileage won’t tire out your legs. If you have weak ankles, your feet will throb as you trudge through rocks and mud. Not used to hanging onto a bar for an extended period of time? Your forearms will pulse after two or three grippy obstacles in a row. Hips and feet not used to lateral movement? Expect to feel them cry out after ladder-drills and tire navigation. Can’t regulate your body temperature well? Certain courses will even exploit that. But it is only once we know our weaknesses can we work to overcome them.


5. Mental Toughness Will Get You Further Than Physical Strength

When it comes to mud pits, monkey bars, and atlas stones, you need more than physical strength and a tribe of spectators cheering you on… you need mental toughness. It takes work to get your brain to a point where it is willing to push longer, harder, further than it ever has before. It takes mental burpees. It takes mind hurdles. It takes conquering the terrain in your brain before stepping foot on course.

The mental toughness you learn for your OCR will come back and get you through life’s muck: death, divorce, job loss, sickness. Simply put, the hard stuff that happens in life are the cuts and scrapes, but mental toughness is the bandages and dressings that are designed to better care for our wounds while we take on everything life throws our way.

7. Pain Faces Look Great On Social Media

Scrolling through the professional photographs that are sure to become our next profile picture after most recent OCR, one thing becomes clear: when it comes to shimmying through, over, and around obstacles, pain faces are inevitable, so we’d be wise to embrace them. Whether it’s conquering a tire ladder, a tough workout, or long run: trying to avoid a pain-face only makes it worse. And besides, they make for great stories.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: @cscoffin13 on Instagram

Editor’s Note: BarBend reader and OCR aficionado Karin Karlsson had this to say after reading this article:

“OCR challenges you to push yourself in strength, endurance, balance and gut which leaves you with those feelings that it’s so physically and mentally though, but when you’ve managed to finish the race, the feeling of success is like nothing else! There is nothing like obstacle racing to magnify your weaknesses as well.

I’ve never felt more fit and “ready for life” as I am now. I did a lot of strength training before OCR. I felt strong and functional but the endurance was never there. After my first race I added running and grip strength to my training which helped my strength and I felt more functional and capable than ever. Better able to take on any challenge. Obstacle course racing is a phenomenal way to test your overall athleticism.”