Obstacle Race Addiction: The Rising Need for Pre-planning and Biomarkers

The Obstacle Race is growing in popularity. This is a guest blog post submitted by Joe DiStefano.

Obstacle Course Racing, or OCR, is the newest endurance sport to capture the interest of an international mass market. This year, nearly a million people from around the globe will compete in a Spartan Race, one of the largest organizations that host these physically demanding running events. The events require participants to not only race across grueling and unpredictable terrain but also climb, crawl, leap, swim, and traverse their way over and past the course’s many obstacles.

Obstacle Race addiction

Credit: Instagram, Sweatworks

The course distances range from 5k to a full marathon. For the average person, the physical and emotional benefits to be gained cannot be understated. For a select, yet growing, crowd of avid racers who may travel to race in 20-50+ events throughout the year, there is, however, a growing need for proper training, recovery, and insights into understanding and monitoring performance and health.

Obstacle Races: Physical Demands

From a fitness and training perspective, the beauty of training for a conventional sport is that there is a distinct season of play followed by an off season that’s at least half as long as the season was. Football, for example, has only a 16-week regular season due to the harsh demands of the sport. Soccer, which is similar physiologically to OCR, has a 34-game regular season followed by 18 weeks of off season. The off season forces athletes to take the downtime their bodies desperately need to repair and rejuvenate prior to the next season. It also provides adequate time to conduct higher volumes of training and opportunity to ensure weaknesses that would otherwise become injuries, are remedied. However, as any avid OCR athlete  reading this already knows, OCR knows no off season. The most dedicated and committed athletes are training hard all week, jumping on planes, staying in hotels, racing every weekend, and then are back at their desks by Monday morning. This raises the question: “How do you maximize performance and reduce injury potential in OCR for someone who is aggressively competing in  30+ events a year?”

Obstacle Race Training

  1. Pre-planning: However you choose to prepare for your races, training should always be pre-planned. If you’re a committed racer, walking in the gym and scratching your head about what exercises or equipment to use that day will become a major liability in the long haul, as the resulting program will never be properly balanced. I recommend planning a minimum of 12 weeks at a time based on your current performance measures on the following tests:
  • Wall Squat: Face a wall, toes 3” or less from it pointed straight ahead. hands 45 degrees to your sides, with a tall chest. Can you squat below parallel without your feet turning out or any part of your body touching the wall? If not, you need more ankle and hip mobility, hip strength, and more core stability. Get to work because this alone will improve your body’s function and reduce your injury potential while even helping to reduce some of the cramping many racers get from over exertion.
  • 3-mile run: The faster the better. Over 25 minutes? Make sure your program has plenty of running both for distance and intensity.
  • Pull Ups: Guys, can you do more than 6-7 strict form? Ladies, can you do 1-2 with strict form? Either way, make sure there’s plenty of upper body pulling in your program and use a lot of different types of grips, thicknesses, towels, ropes whatever you can grab onto and pull-up on.
  • Burpees: Can you do 30 reps, chest to floor, in under 75 seconds? If not, work plenty of Burpees into your training via sets of 10-30 reps along with some 60-90 second max effort sprints with brief recovery periods. At Spartan Race, every failed obstacle requires a 30-Burpee penalty before continuing on with the course.
  1. Take a Linear Approach: Look at the OCR Season like the soccer season, March through October. Events that fall within this season are those where your performance really needs to be on target and maximized. This approach leaves November through February as your “Off season” where all races run should be viewed as “exhibition” matches, and should be run at less than maximal race intensity. Meanwhile, training should be increased during these months to improve strength, endurance, stamina, sport specific skills, and general grit and tenacity for the competitive season.

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  1. Take a more Undulated Approach: Take an annual view of your upcoming OCR season, even if you haven’t done all your planning, and at least sort out the months where your most important races will be. Choose those 5-7 months throughout the year you’ll need to be in the best physical condition. Now, just as in the linear example, all of the months that are NOT in your list are your mini “Off Seasons” packed full of tough workouts and peppered with however many “exhibition” matches.

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 Obstacle Racing: The Biomarkers

Biomarker vigilance is becoming more and more essential for the growing number of athletes qualifying as an avid racer, or an OCR Addict. As stated, for many of these athletes, the physical preparedness and mental toughness combined with the demands of the travel and fast food, cumulatively, set the stage for adrenal fatigue and general hormonal and nutritional discordance. For the best insight into how internally prepared an athlete is for an intense upcoming race schedule, test Anabolic and Catabolic hormones as well as electrolyte status. This means:

  • Testosterone
  • Free Testosterone
  • DHEA
  • Estradiol
  • Cortisol

OCR is taking the world by storm. Tactfully, there are courses to suit every fitness level and allow for a progressive build to the more intense and longer competitions. Over the past few years, I have seen truly amazing athletes develop out of average Joe’s that never played sports or even got dirty. I have seen it happen in those who are battling severe obesity, in people who have struggled to stick with any form of regular exercise for decades. I have seen former athletes reignite a fire that has not burned since high school, that now have the power to change their life for the better. Whatever your story is, get yourself out to a Spartan Race or an OCR that interests you and and keep your eyes on the sport of OCR. Just remember, if you find yourself becoming an avid racer, remember to train right so you can stay in the game for years to come. AROO!

This is a guest blog post submitted by Joe DiStefano

Joe DiStefano has a B.S. in Exercise and Sports Science and is pursuing a master’s degree in Sports Psychology. Joe is certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Performance Enhancement Specialist and Corrective Exercise Specialist. He is also a Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and has been trained by the CHEK Institute for Holistic Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching. Over the past decade, Joe has worked as a health and performance coach, serial entrepreneur, director for 100+ personal training studio locations across the US, and currently is the Co-Creator of the Spartan SGX program, which educates personal trainers around the world on preparing clients for the physical and mental demands of  Spartan Race.

[This post represents the opinions of, and is provided solely by, the author, a guest who is independent of WellnessFX, and not of those of WellnessFX.  WellnessFX does not endorse or verify the accuracy of the information contained in this post.  As with all of the posts on our blog, this post is for information only, and is not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship, nor does it constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind.  Any information in this post should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one’s own healthcare professionals. ]


The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.