Top Tips To Help You Prepare For Your Next Obstacle Course Race

For those looking to do their very first obstacle course, I asked myself: “how do beginners train for a Tough Mudder or an OCR event?” To prepare, you need to do plenty of running, follow a clean eating plan and work on overall strength conditioning, including grip strength training.

The information in this guide reflects my personal experience. When you’re preparing for your next event, make sure you include these tips in your training regime.

Warming up and stretching

Before any workout, it’s vital to warm up and stretch, and this is often overlooked. I spend around 15 minutes stretching before getting into an exercise routine. If you look at stretching as an investment in your long-term health, you’ll improve flexibility and reduce injuries.

Here are some of the benefits for stretching:

  1. Reduced pain and stiffness
  2. Enhanced range of motion. At an obstacle course race, you’re going to be doing a wide range of movements from crawling, leaping, climbing, running, and carrying.
  3. Greater flexibility
  4. Reduced risk of injury

Equally, it is essential to cool down. If you’ve been working out and then come to a grinding halt; this can lead to injury. Therefore, it’s critical that we also cool down.

Practice running on various types of terrain

Trail running is one of the best ways to prepare for an obstacle course race. Not only does cross country running prepare you for your next Tough Mudder, mud run or OCR event, but it also has less impact on the joints compared to road running.

If you’re new to running, it’s vital to build your distance up gradually. Doing too much too soon can lead to injury. For newbies, you’re best off starting with a Couch to 5k programme, where you build your running over nine weeks. To get started, I’d suggest downloading the Couch to 5k App.

Wear trail shoes!

Trail shoes are an essential piece of kit for any mud run. Without wearing decent trail shoes, you’re going to slip and slide and even get injured. You need trail shoes that have an outstanding underfoot grip, that will keep you upright when running on muddy terrain, and stop you from falling on slippery wet flooring and obstacles.  It’s important to have breathable footwear that will drain water. It’s horrible having a sloshing sensation in your shoes. The investment in trail shoes is not only essential but worth it!

Get used to having cold showers

To help build mental grit and perseverance practice having cold showers. In the beginning, it’ll be tough, but over time your body will get used to it. Again, it’s essential to start slowly and gradually. When I first started taking cold showers, I’d begin with a warm shower and gradually reduce the temperature, so it wasn’t too drastic!

This type of mental endurance training will help you to prepare for that dreaded ice bath obstacle.

Develop grip strength

Obstacle course races have their fair share of monkey bars and even rope climbs. Where possible, you want to focus on developing your grip strength. When doing monkey bar swings, it’s going to take time to practice and build up those calluses. If you’re new to monkey bars, take your time with this exercise. It will come!

When I first started monkey bars, I wanted to nail this activity, but by rushing, I didn’t have any hard skin on my hands, and this led to forming blisters. So please, take your time.

Some gyms will have monkey bars and if yours doesn’t try and find an outdoor playground as this will be a great place to practice.

If you can get into rock climbing, this is an excellent way of building and maintaining upper body strength. A lot of my OCR friends are into rock climbing. Not only this is an excellent upper body workout, but it’s also a great sport to forget about what’s currently happening in your life.

Develop well-rounded strength training

When it comes to training for your next event, having a well-rounded strength routine will help.  Having more muscle will indeed help your body to cope with the rugged terrain and recover quicker.

Obstacle Course Racing provides a full-body conditioned workout where you’ll work on strength, speed, and agility. If you can get into weight training and have a consistent workout plan twice a week, this will help you to stay disciplined as you reach your fitness goals.

Exercises such as pull-ups, press-ups, deadlifts, squats, and kettlebell workouts will help you prepare. If you’re a gym-goer, I’d suggest speaking to a trainer in the gym and ask them to create a programme that’ll help you with your next event.

You need to give yourself time to train

When training for your first event, you’ll be going on a mentally and physically challenging journey where your body is going to need time to adjust. If you go too fast, you’ll get injured. Think of it like the Tortoise and Hare. Slow and steady wins the race!

If you’ve got 12 weeks for your next event, it’s best to plan where you want to be the week before the race. If you’re doing a 10-mile event, it would be advised to nail the Couch to 5k running challenge first. On most Tough Mudder events, you’re not going to be running 10 miles solid; there will be plenty of obstacles in between. Remember, run your own race!

Avoid crawling on your knees at all costs!

When doing a mud run or an OCR event, you’re going to crawling a lot. When you get so low to the floor, it can be natural to crawl on your knees. It’s vital to protect your knees. When it comes to crawling, you want to make sure that your knees are off the ground; this movement is called a bear crawl.

Dress rehearsal

When training for your next OCR event, it’s essential to know your kit. There’s nothing worse than rocking up to an event and discovering you’re feeling uncomfortable with your clothing. When running, make sure you’re not wearing cotton and that your shoes are breathable and can handle muddy terrain. It’s worth going out and running in the mud, so you’re used to the elements.

Dress rehearsals will eliminate any issues before starting any obstacle race. Most importantly, it’s essential to have fun!

James King has competed in multiple OCR events including Europe's Toughest Mudder from 2019 to 2022, multiple mud events, 10k runs and currently for his first marathon. James includes useful tips and experiences about OCR on his blog

James King has competed in multiple OCR events including Europe's Toughest Mudder from 2019 to 2022, multiple mud events, 10k runs and currently for his first marathon. James includes useful tips and experiences about OCR on his blog