Training for OCR (Obstacle Course Racing)

The following is an excerpt for an upcoming program release–check it out!

Welcome to this new, wacky, wonderful sport….

Training for Obstacle Course Racing, or better known as ‘OCR’ in the community is very unique. I love it for the very reason that for so many of us, exercise has become very one-dimensional. Many workout guides and personal trainers will have you buy into the notion that the human body can only adapt to one primary type of metabolic stress that it is placed under.

For example:

“Run to improve endurance. Lifting weights will make you bulky.”

“Only lift weights to improve strength. Cardio zaps your gains!”

“Do not “confuse” the body because you will get injured…”

A lot of these fitness “truths” are nonsense. For many people, especially those who are new to regular fitness workout routines, you can see improvements in multiple areas all at once. With the exception of pure power and force production, various adaptations can be specifically trained to elicit measurable, statistically significant improvements in speed, endurance, flexibility, functional movement patterns, body composition, and strength-to-bodyweight ratio.

My interest in exercise and more specific styles of training extends back over the past decade. As is the case with many friends, fellow athletes, and clients I have worked with, my body has undergone several transformations ranging from the typical “skinny runner” to increased weight and muscle mass to skinny-fat to where I am today–lanky but relatively strong. Before I delved into the research in exercise science I tried program after program without seeing much success.

Of course, there are excellent training programs on the market along with some that, in my opinion, should come with a ‘back-breaking’ warning attached on the cover page. Let me explain more in-depth why, if you want to compete in obstacle course racing, you should work to develop a well-rounded base of fitness:

OCR exposes your fitness “weaknesses”

You can be an incredible runner and fail in OCR. You can be a strong cross-fit guru or calisthenics king and get dusted by people faster than you. You can lift and run every day and still fail due to a lack of preparation in obstacle-specific work and neglecting running terrain. Don’t worry, this is what makes the sport exciting! That said….

If you do not like working out, training for OCR is not for you.

I recommend starting with an easier plan to build base level strength, flexibility, and endurance. If you would like more information on certain workout plans, please contact me.

If your sole objection is to get bigger muscles, OCR is not ideal for you.

Can the kind of training result in muscle growth and strength? Yes. Particularly for under-trained individuals who are new to this style of exercise or have not worked out with consistency in several years. But that is not the primary goal nor is it expected for people experienced in bodybuilding or heavy gym workout routines. While muscle mass is important not just for aesthetic purposes but longevity and health, strength-to-bodyweight ratio along with grip strength have both been associated with more positive health outcomes in longevity and warding off predispositions for chronic illness and disease. This is what matters more in OCR.

Conversely, if you want to solely improve endurance, this training will help but may not be ideal.

OCR is not a running or triathlon training program. Traditional cardio routines that emphasise incremental amounts of volume and long durations of sustained elevated heart rates are best suited to work solely on endurance. For under-trained individuals that have not tapped into this training with consistent effort, they can expect to see major improvements in Vo2 Max, lactate threshold, and other markers of endurance with an OCR training program. However for seasoned athletes with a background in raw endurance training, this kind of training will improve other areas of athletic capabilities but may not improve sheer endurance alone, i.e your marathon or half marathon times.

If you want to shed body fat, this training may be exactly what you need.

One advantage to training in several undulating modalities is the ability of the body to tap into its own glycogen reserves and fat stores. For trainees with a few extra kilograms to shed or have struggled with unsatisfactory body composition, training with an OCR style of program can help to burn fat effectively over traditional forms of cardio or gym routines.


The metabolic flexibility and machinery that is built through targeting multiple measures of athletic performance. In other words, the body is not given the chance to fully adapt to a certain hormonal stress it is placed under when exercise style is frequently changed, resulting in more potential fat loss and improved body composition. There is varying research on exactly how important altering a certain style of training is for fat loss purposes. It may not be “the secret” to getting in shape but for OCR purposes it is necessary!

How about injury and recovery?

A fine line exists between pushing the established limits of a person’s own fitness and chronically exhausting motor patterns and muscles, ligaments, and tendons to the point of breakdown. It is critical to remember that you should not follow a highly prescriptive, “do-or-die” plan that allows for no rest.

Recovery, particularly active recovery in the forms of stretching, yoga, sauna, light swimming, and general low-level movement plays a vital role in allowing for neuromuscular adaptations to take place following a hard session, whether that be endurance, strength, or a hybrid-focused workout.

Should a time exist that chronic fatigue, loss of interest in workouts, or overly stressful periods of life limit training time, use this to your advantage. Trust your current fitness and understand that getting out of shape take time and all progress is not “undone” when you need an extra day or several days away from workouts.

How about nutrition?

Nutrition and diet-related protocols are extremely important in helping to keep the body energized, efficient, nourished, and lessen the risk of chronic disease. In my university days when I competed in cross country and track, my performances suffered as my proper dietary needs were not met. It was not until I began studying human nutrition and applying various protocols I learned about that I experienced improvements in energy, mood, recovery, digestion, breathing, skin, and overall health. If nutrition is of particular interest or a focus for you, please contact me to learn more about coaching!