Get Dirty 26

Obstacle Race Training & More at the YMCAWNC

Centuries, maybe even millennia, ago, our ancestors adhered to a strict workout regimen. They’d crawl through mud, scale sheer walls, push and pull and hurl the obstacles that obstructed their paths. With these practiced plans, they became lean, strong, and swift of both mind and body. 

And now, as workout trend after workout trend fizzles out, more athletes are turning to those ancient regimens for conditioning. With a weekend Spartan race or an obstacle course race (OCR) on the horizon, people prepare with practical exercises taught through training courses like the ones you’ll find at our own Reuter YMCA. What began as a pilot program last year is now a weekly course at the Y, buoyed by the races’ ever-increasing popularity and Asheville’s own Spartan event. 

“Training for an OCR involves a combination of strength training, athleticism, and endurance training,” explains Tony Rickman, the YMCA’s trainer for their Spartan SGX and OCR prep programs. For strength training, Rickman focuses on classic core exercises like planks and burpees; upper body strength is also integral for ascending walls and heavy carries, so he trains members with pull-ups and dead hangs. “The athleticism part of the training helps to develop the fast twitch muscles that allow for explosive jumps and hip flexibility,” he adds, incorporating squats and sprints into the regimens. As for endurance, he recommends longer runs. For the newbie, it might seem intimidating, but the rewards are inestimable. 

For many folks, prepping for an OCR, is, initially, just a fitness program, offering many of the same payoffs as more traditional gym-time. “Many of the health benefits I’ve seen are weight loss, increased strength, and a boost in self-confidence,” says Rickman. “The first two are pretty standard for any workout regimen, but the self-confidence is what has amazed me. I’ve had members start with me who weren’t sure if they could do a 30 minute session, and now they’re finishing 60 minutes with ease and looking for more.”

Whether you’re a true-blue athlete or a wary one, these programs can offer a unique set of unprecedented and rewarding challenges. “For the athlete that has grown up primarily in running or even triathlons, they offer a new set of challenges to overcome. You have to be more strategic in how you get through a race by figuring out the best way to overcome and get through the obstacles,” says Rickman. “For the more average person, they offer an escape. A lot of us have our 9-5 jobs in an office, possibly a cubicle. These races help get us back to our childhood where we can run and play and get muddy and swing from things. They help us be the weekend warrior we want to tell our friends about come Monday morning. Another great aspect of what these events bring is the sense of community. You can always find a helping hand if you need one and are willing to ask. It’s amazing to see how people come together to accomplish the set goal of crossing the finish line and getting that medal.” 

New Year, New Tools

Thinking of trying this trendy sport? Rickman shares five tips for getting involved: 

  1. 1. Sign up for a race. If you have in investment in something, you’re more likely to see it through.  
  2. 2. Recruit a friend. These races are fun, but it’s always good to have a buddy. This helps you in training, staying accountable, and sharing the joy of victory at the end of the day.
  3. 3. Sign up for a class/find a coach. Having someone who will push you and teach you will go a long way when you’re on course.
  4. 4. Seek advice from someone who’s done a race before. We all have to start somewhere, and hopefully you can find someone that can guide you through the do’s and don’ts of a race.
  5. 5. Start at a race distance you’re comfortable with. Look at the race’s website to get an idea of length and number of obstacles planned. Are you a “go big or go home” person or a “dip your toe in the water” kind of racer? Knowing where you want to start will help to know how to train.


Obstacle Race Roundup

It’s not just Spartan or bust—there are plenty of similar races to consider: 

Tough Mudder

Bone Frog Challenge

Oxford Legend Race

Rugged Maniac

Warrior Dash

Zombie Mud Run

Civilian Military Combine

GoRuck Challenge