Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is the Wild West of the athletic world right now. Every and any kind of training is being experimented with to help professionals ascend to the podium and give weekend warriors bragging rights over their brothers in arms.
The camps divide roughly into those coming from a Crossfit background that emphasizes strength, an endurance (running/skiing/triathlete) background that emphasizes speed and aerobic capacity and the American Ninja Warrior types that focus mainly on obstacle proficiency. With such a diversified field of athletes, it is no mystery why so many people are venturing across fitness paradigms to discover how truly multi-dimensional their strength is.
As a personal trainer, I have grazed on the many paradigms offered for OCR and tried my best to find the middle ground in my own training. It’s not easy, that’s for sure. Figuring out how to be strong, fast and still manage to complete the variety of obstacles they throw at us is a puzzle the majority of us are still trying to crack (Maybe all of us, considering there is no longer a reigning champ year in and year out at any championship obstacle race). But, one thing is for certain. There are fundamentals that transcend the specifics of almost all sports – strength, flexibility, speed, aerobic capacity and agility.
It is agility, the last of these aspects of athleticism, which is neglected by most OCR training regimens.
Despite this neglect, agility, or what colloquially we refer to as “fast feet”, is crucial in OCR because it will help you navigate tough terrain, especially when running downhill or down stairs, more efficiently.
At Squaw Valley, during the Spartan World Championships, a lot of the downhill running was done over scraggy rocks that provided countless opportunities to misstep, potentially injure one’s self, and ultimately lose a lot of time.
Due to the fact that downhill running naturally aids recovery and is generally easier for everyone, skills that will improve your efficiency are often overlooked. Yet this lack of development shows. I cannot tell you how often I see people at a stadium trudging down stairs they should be running because they can’t pick up their feet. Don’t let this be you.
By incorporating 5-10 minutes of jump roping everyday, you can significantly improve the quickness of your feet and your ability to explode off your toes. You will simultaneously strengthen the neuro-muscular connections between your brain and your feet, giving you greater precision and conscious control over them.
Jump Rope Workout
Try a simple 1 minute on, 30 second rest for 15 minutes (for ten full minutes of jump roping). My wrestling coach in high school had me do this to teach me how to maneuver around the ring and develop rhythm in my movements. If this gets boring or too easy, do it on one leg, or alternate between legs.
Any basic exercise can be made progressively more difficult. Jumping rope is no exception. Agility ladders may also help, though they are not as well suited to continuous dynamic movement as a jump rope and should be used in addition to rather than as a substitute for a rope. Those partial to quantification have access to several new “smart ropes” that can help you plot your progress and give you benchmarks for improvement.
Ultimately, you will only be able to move as fast as your legs and feet can carry you – whether it’s down 6 flights of stairs at Citi Field or a riverbed on the side of a mountain in Tahoe.
This means not just running, squatting, and doing burpees to prepare your legs, but also training the agility and responsiveness of your feet for the demands of a race. Pick up your jump rope and don’t let yourself be caught flatfooted. You may even develop a little rhythm for your victory dance…