The Dallas Cowboys do it in the off season. Colleges offer it for their athletes and regular folk, and trainers of specific sports, such as soccer, recommend it for their players. Combat soldiers train on it before going to war…
Obstacle course training is a proven method for improving endurance and heart strength, as well as flexibility, agility and strength. What’s not to love?
Obstacle course training simulates real athletic skills necessary to certain sports, but what of bodybuilders? How will they benefit? Well, static exercise in the gym isn’t the only way to achieve a great physique. Being afraid to venture out of the gym is something bodybuilders suffered serious complications from in the old days. But now with people venturing out to sprint, climb stairs and do a whole host of activities that supplement pure weight training, being afraid to leave the gym isn’t so much of a problem any longer.
Don’t confuse obstacle course training with circuit training. You may think that combining an elevated heart rate and sprint – or even a hustle – means that any strength training you’re doing on course is cancelled out. But, it’s not the same thing.
Think of circuit training as weight training with a dash of aerobic boost, and think of obstacle course training as both anaerobic and aerobic training with a dash of strength. You’re not trying to get your workouts in out on course – that’s definitely something you should do in the gym. But, being able to use those same muscles in a set range of motion, in a range of motion that is now less predictable does several things:
Balance increases because proprioceptors that run from the back of the leg to the tip of the spine as it inserts into the skull are being worked on course. It’s like squatting and leaping at the same time without threat of losing the bar and all the weights.
Squatting, jumping vertically, hurdling, bounding and other motions are the earmark of obstacle course training, all while running to make the fastest time. If you think this isn’t difficult, try it sometime. You’ll think people who just squat, deadlift and bench are pussies!
There are two types of obstacle courses – conditioning and confidence. Conditioning courses have lower obstacles that require quick negotiation and foot exchange. They test motor skills and build strength, conditioning and agility more slowly. The object isn’t to conquer, just to get in shape. This is usually timed.
A confidence course has higher, more difficult obstacles. It provides mental confidence and tests daring. These are not run against time. But conditioning courses are the right choice for bodybuilders.
When starting obstacle course training, definitely don’t run for time. In fact, don’t run at all. Familiarize yourself with the kinds of hurdles, jumps and obstacles, such as walls and cargo nets, you’ll be using. Also, try to hit a camp or work with someone who trains fitness competitors in obstacle course training. There are a good many tricks that pave the way for conditioning and not struggle.
Courses are only around 400 yards with about 15 to 20 obstacles. There is probably one in your neighborhood, on a military base or, if you live in California or Florida, pretty much all over the place.
Obstacles serve a single purpose and require a single type of motion – climbing, traversing, crawling, vaulting, jumping, dodging and balancing are all a part of a complete obstacle course.
Climbing provides upper body strength and core strength. Traversing provides balance and stability work, along with core strength. Crawling takes the whole body and agility. Vaulting fences and low walls requires hip flexor strength, lower back and core strength, as well as quick movement with the legs and upper body strength. Vertical jumps provides lower body and core strength. Dodging is almost all core, and requires quick foot exchange and balance. Balancing on an obstacle that is narrow and elevated, requires good hand-foot coordination and balance and requires great proprioceptive ability.
So why bother – what happens in the gym after?
For one thing, you’ll find that obstacle course training will make training easier. Bounding over obstacles means that your ability to rise from a squat will be easier. You’ll have strengthened your hips, low back, and legs.
Pushing off a wall means your bench and shoulder work will benefit.
You’ll also have more energy and vitality in the gym – more vigor to complete exercises, and will move through workouts more rapidly. This will ultimately benefit you.
The biggest benefit beyond conditioning? You’ll have increased flexibility to enable your range of motion in all exercises to increase. More range of motion, means better development.
And you thought you were just a chicken with your head cut off out on course!