kettlebells for obstacle course racing

Kettlebells for Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle course racing or OCR is a rapidly growing sport that incorporates a combination of distance running and strength/strategy obstacles. To be proficient in this sport you must have the endurance of a marathoner and the absolute strength of a rock climber.

Both disciplines are so uniquely different that it raises a bit of controversy as to how to train for it. Some focus purely on the running aspect with the mindset “if I can be faster than everyone, I can take my time to figure out the obstacles.”

Other camps believe that training a bit of both is the best avenue to be a little more well rounded and comfortable with whatever will be thrown at them.

There are questions that arise with both of these approaches. How do you split your training? Where should you focus more of your attention? What are your problem areas? If you spend more time training distance/endurance do you lose muscle and therefore lose your strength?
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There really is no correct answer. Like many things, it varies from athlete to athlete. We all have our own unique spin and reasoning behind our training.

I personally decided to do long distance 1–2 times a week. Long distance is a term defined differently depending on who you are talking to. In my case, this was anywhere from 12–16KM. This was very much dependent on how I felt. I never like to force myself to do anything I do not want to do for the sake of training.

You won’t put everything you have into it if you are not interested. You are basically doing it to get it done and that can be problematic injury wise and can also be a major waste of time when I could utilize that time on more important areas.

Each and every morning (3:30am) would include a 3–5KM easy run. Easy meaning I was never out of breath. It was just a slow, easy, and enjoyable way to start the day and get some mileage in.

Runs were always followed by a 20–30 minute session with the kettlebells, which I feel really set my training apart from others. I also incorporated sprints and bar work every other day. Bar work being anything from various pull ups, to monkey bar travel sessions, to heavy barbell work such as squats and deadlifts.

My kettlebell specific work is what I feel really pushed me to my best this year. Why? Because there are very few tools that are so portable, ready to use, and that offer amazingly tough workouts in a space as small as your bathroom.

Having two kids under the age of three, it can be extremely tough to get out to a gym or even out to a park to get a training session in. With the kettlebells I was able to have them close at all times enabling me to pick one or two up here and there to get some work in.

The exercises I found most beneficial for OCR specifically were the one arm swings, Goblet Squats, Long Cycle, and Farmers Carry. I will explain what each are good for followed by a sample training session for you to try out.

#1/One-Arm Swings

In my opinion, the one arm swing is really the only swing you should be doing with the kettlebell. I think the two arm, for the sake of building strength, is far less superior.

The one arm forces you to keep your shoulders aligned (do not twist in the direction of the bell) and keeps muscles balanced since you do not have your other arm to rely on to pick up the slack.

This exercise is a great tool for training OCR for both posterior chain development (aids in running efficiency) and forearm strength.

Strong forearms are paramount in OCR due to all the climbing and bar/ring obstacles. Damn you Platinum Rig.

#2/L.D. Farmer Walk

In OCR there are bucket carries, wreck bag carries, and various other odd object carrying obstacles. Basically, you have to carry something heavy, usually uphill, for quite a distance. The kettlebell proved extremely beneficial for training these obstacles.

Long distance farmer carries were a staple in my daily practice. They not only trained my shoulder and leg strength, but my hands and grip, with the added endurance element as well.

Most importantly were hands and grip. Having strong hands and a vice-like grip enables you to power through rope and bar obstacles with ease.

It also helps tremendously with any rock climbing walls or holding onto a wall or bar— should your body begin to fatigue, it gives you some time to take a breath and think things through.

#3/Long Cycle

The long cycle is basically a continuous clean and jerk. It more than just builds strength in the shoulders, quads and calves, which are all of extreme importance in the OCR game, it builds some intense strength endurance.

It forces you to get your breathing under control and push through your lactic thresholds— your lungs will be on fire the whole time. If you do not believe me, grab a couple 24kg bells, set your timer for five minutes and see for yourself.

#4/Goblet Squats

This one is sort of self explanatory. Strong legs equals strong running. Period.

OCR Kettlebell Workout

Complete 3–5 rounds. Minimum Weight- Men: 24kg Women:16kg

  • 1/10 One-arm swings per side
  • 2/10 Pushups
  • 3/10 Goblet squats (pause at bottom for a 5 count)
  • 4/2 Minute long cycle set
  • 5/20 Burpees
  • 6/Long distance farmer carry (For as long as possible)

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Mark de Grasse is the owner and editor of Mad Fit Magazine and MegaMad Industries. He's also the former Chief Fitness Officer of Onnit Labs, former owner and founder of My Mad Methods Magazine, and a fitness business consultant for dozens of online brands.

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