Obstacle Course Race Training – Make the Most of your Gym Workouts

Think of a grueling OCR and you are likely to conjure up images of steep mountain climbs, technical single track trails, and plenty of mud.  And it is true: though there are exceptions, the majority of obstacle course races (OCR) take place in the great outdoors.  Therefore, it only makes sense that many obstacle racing athletes prefer to train outdoors.    That said, factors such as weather, location, time, or even personal preference may drive an athlete into the confines of a gym.  (For example, at this very moment, I’m sitting in my gym, where I’ve been for the last 14 hours.  OK, I work here, but you get the idea…)  While hoisting sandbags, heavy rocks, and logs around the gym may be frowned upon, there are countless ways you can make your indoor workout obstacle course racing specific.    Here are a few tips to make the most of your gym workouts when it comes to obstacle course race training…complete with blurry photos from my not-so-smart-phone (I’m not ready to give it up yet…)

OCR Training

1) Simulate obstacles

Recreate movements that are similar or identical to what you would do in a race. For example:

-Bear crawls will help you with crawling under walls.

-Spiderman planks will help you with tunnel crawls that are too low or small for crawling on your hands and knees.

spiderman plank

Bring your knees towards your elbow while trying to maintain a tight plank position. Return foot to start, repeat on the other side.

– Farmer carries and weighted, walking lunges will help you with heavy sandbag, bucket, or atlas carries.

walking lunges

2) Grip strength

Many modern machines in gyms are designed to help isolate specific muscle groups, and in doing so, often take the weight completely out of your hands.  When possible, opt for free weights to help build grip strength.

Substitute a rope handle for standard metal handles to further help strengthen your fingers.


Single arm tricep pushdown with rope.

Monkey bars are a nemesis to many people because they lack grip strength and the ability to hold themselves up.  Skip the ab slings for your knee lifts, instead hang from a pullup bar.


Hold your core tight and move slowly and intentionally to prevent swinging.

3) Use your body weight:

A key component to obstacle course racing is the ability to lift yourself up and/or up and over obstacles, such as a rope climb or high walls. Do body weight exercises that require you to move your entire body weight, such as pullups, tricep dips, pushups, or jumping squats.   These exercises also help with kinesthetic awareness;  allowing you to become more conscious of your body’s positioning.

4) Make your cardio count:

If you are participating in a race that covers significant elevation gain, choose to sometimes opt for a stair climber or walking/ running on an inclined treadmill.   Not only will you train your cardiovascular endurance, but you are simultaneously training your legs to handle the muscular fatigue of climbing.

5)  Work in the red zone:

During a race, you will more often than not approach an obstacle while your body is fatigued.  Of course you can always take the time to catch your breath and recover before tackling the obstacle, though this approach is likely not welcomed by those racing for a specific time or placing.    Training at a high intensity level and tackling exercises while you are tired will help teach you to not only physically power through the fatigue, but to mentally conquer it as well.  **NOTE** high intensity training should NOT be done everyday; further, it is important to make sure you are maintaining proper form and safety while training at this level.

These are just a few simple modifications that can be done to your current strength training or gym workout to help cater towards obstacle course racing.    As always, these are simply general suggestions and not specific workout prescriptions.  Modify all exercises to your ability, and always consult a physician if you have any personal concerns or before beginning a new workout routine. 

Have any tips to add?  Share in the comments below! 

Leave a Reply


  1. says

    If you have one available, I find that sled pushes are great to build the parts of the quads needed to race up steep hills. I also, set the ol’ dreadmill at a steep inline. Now matter how comfortable you are running, those hills will getcha! Great post. :)

  2. Paul says

    “Of course you can always take the time to catch your breath and recover before tackling the obstacle, though this approach is likely not welcomed by those racing for a specific time or placing.”

    Not the least bit elitist… You do realize that the vast majority of those running are doing so for fun, right?

  3. Hunter says

    Thank you very very much for sharing your tips, advice and experience!! You have a truly great resource here, and love your candidness and honesty, which novice people trying to get into this sport really need!! Blessings