Know this…The 3 keys to obstacle course racing success Andrew Read


Obstacle course racing (OCR) is growing in popularity year-on-year. With this growth in participation comes an increase in the number of people training specifically for OCR events. However, I often see three big mistakes when it comes to their training. Let’s look at what these errors are and how to avoid them.

The 3 Biggest OCR Training Mistakes

The three biggest holes I notice in OCR training boil down to running, loaded carries, and grip training. These issues are also right up there in terms of mistakes that cost people the most time on race day.
1. Running
The first and worst mistake you can make is to forget it’s a running race. Don’t look at all the obstacles and think you only have to run half a mile between each and think to yourself, “well, I can run 800m, so this will be easy.” Because if you plan to do well, you still need to run the entire course, which could be as much as half marathon distance (13.1 miles.)
2. Loaded Carries
At the World Championships held on the weekend, the guys doing the crazy Ultra Beast (30 miles of torture) had to carry two 50lb sandbags uphill. I’ve heard it was absolute carnage with people just dropping the bags and walking off the course. I’ve heard accounts of up to 25% of the field quitting because of that one obstacle.
But it’s not just sandbag carries, either. There are often bucket carries at Spartan events – in fact, it’s one of the obstacles you’ll find at nearly all the races. In Australia they use massive 120lb deadballs, which are difficult to pick up with wet, muddy hands, and even more difficult to carry the distance required.
3. Grip Work
The third mistake, grip strength, is one of those things that everyone seems to think they have enough of, right up until the point they find themselves doing thirty burpees for falling off the monkey bars. In a long race, with rope climbs, Tyrolean traverses, Hercules hoists, loaded carries, and heavy drags your grip takes a pounding. And the fatigue of distance running amplifies how easily fatigued your grip will become. 
Here’s how I recommend you train each of these areas to prepare for race day.


Firstly, you need to run. If you aren’t yet at the stage where you can run the distance non-stop, you need to work on that before you worry about how fast you can cover the distance. If you’re using an obstacle race to get up off the couch (the precise reason Joe de Sena founded Spartan in the first place) then please follow my walk/run plan to get started.
If you’re able to run the distance continuously, I’d suggest a plan that has four different runs plus an extra day in it. The four runs are:
  • Easy aerobic
  • Intervals
  • Hills
  • Long run
The extra day is for sandbag or pack work, but done walking. The week should be structured with the long run (up to two hours) on Saturday, with the sandbag or pack work done on the following day. Don’t be shy with the time for the pack day – go up to four hours.
Your legs will be tired after both of these days, so the next run will be Tuesday and be an easy aerobic run up to an hour in length. Don’t push the pace on this run, and don’t worry about hills  – just an easy, flat run to shake the legs out.
The interval run is best done on a track. Something like 20 x 400m on a three-minute-interval will work well. Or 10 x 800m on six minutes. Make sure to warm up and cool down for this one as it will lead to some serious soreness, so give your body the best chance to fight it off.
Finally, the hill run fits well on a Thursday. I like doing this on a treadmill so I can moderate the incline. My favorite hill session is five sets of 1km above race pace at 4-5%, followed by 1km below race pace on flat so you can recover. The average of these 2km is your target race pace. Again, make sure to warm up and cool down before this, and don’t be fooled by this as it is still at least a 12km run.

Loaded Carries

Loaded carries need to be in every training session. If you’re not used to doing them you need to spend considerable time on them to gain proficiency at it. As an example of how efficient you can get at them, I recently had eight minutes to get off an airplane, get to the long-term car park, and then to the pet hotel my dog was at before they shut for the night. I grabbed both my carry-on bag and my girlfriend’s bag (it is easier to be balanced) and took off running through the airport, to the car park, and to the car. This was a ten-minute walk done in three minutes.
Now, I won’t lie, I was spent – my grip was fried, my traps were burning, and my lungs were heaving. But I got it done and we picked up our dog. If you plan to be truly Spartan -ready you will need to build up to loaded running (but that’s probably an entire article right there).
Don’t make the mistake of only doing farmer’s walks with easy-to-handle implements. Use overhead walks, rack walks, and sandbag carries. Load yourself asymmetrically and use odd objects. For Spartan you need to be ready for anything.

Grip Training

Finally, grip needs to be addressed. Some grip endurance will be handled with the loaded carries. Some more grip endurance will be taken care of with normal strength work, such as pull-ups and deadlifts. But what you need is high rep work to develop massive amounts of grip endurance – enough to last you the many hours you may be on course. A short set of ten reps isn’t going to do it.
This is a great place for two different types of grip work. High rep swings, both with a kettlebell and with clubbells, will help develop great grip endurance. I’m talking about sets of twenty-plus reps, and maybe even as high as fifty per set. Because clubbells are closer to brachiation than kettlebells are, they may actually be superior for grip development.
The other big thing that is going to develop grip endurance is hanging off objects. If you can vary the grip used, that will work even better. If you can hang off tree branches, stair railings, and the like you’ll wind up with a far better overall grip.
If all you have access to is a pull up bar don’t fret, as you can still change the grip each set. You can fold a towel over the bar to thicken the grip. You can drape the towel over the bar and hold onto the hanging ends. You can hold the bar with hands you’ve deliberately made slippery (putting soap in the hands is a favored strongman grip training method) and do hangs. For more fun, soap the hands and then do some kettlebell swings. Make sure no one is standing right in front of you when you do though.
Focusing on these three things – running, grip, and carries – will take care of your OCR plan.


Know this…Thirteen Training & Nutrition Facts We All Agree On—And 13 Things We Don’t

Thirteen Training & Nutrition Facts We All Agree On—And 13 Things We Don’t

by Poliquin™ Editorial Staff
7/16/2013 12:14:32 PM

“Are you sure? Check Again.”    —Thich Nhat Hanh

Misinformation is the name of the game when it comes to mainstream nutrition and training. Controversy may be more evident in the nutrition world—after all, everyone has to eat. To help you through the confusion, here are 13 “facts” that we all agree on that can guide us in our pursuit of the best life. Then we have 13 lies or “not facts” of fitness and food—think twice about listening to such advice!

Fact #1: Omega-3 Fats are “healthy fats” that are essential for the body to function properly. Get EPA and DHA in your diet every day—the most accepted source is fish oil and wild fish.

Lie #1: Canola oil is a great “heart healthy” fat that you should use regularly.
Not so! Canola goes through rather incredible processing before it makes it into the bottle—it’s heated, washed, and treated with the chemical hexane. It also has a poor omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Avoid canola!

Fact #2: HIT (High-Intensity Training) can help you lose fat. HIT programs favor the use of the anaerobic energy system, burning a lot calories fast, raising metabolism during the recovery period, and building muscle.

HIT training has also been found to convey the following benefits: better brain function, depression prevention, better pain management, improved circulation and lung function, lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, and decreased chronic inflammation.

Not Fact #2: Aerobic training can help you lose weight and everyone should do it regularly.
If you enjoy aerobic training, please don’t let this deter you. The point is that if you are doing it to lose fat or improve health, it’s not your best choice.

According to scientist Stephen Boutcher, “The effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible.” Boutcher looks at the short- to moderate-term uselessness of aerobic exercise for fat loss, whereas longer surveys show it can actually lead to weight gain.
A 2006 study that tracked runners for 9 years showed that most of them gained fat and increased waist circumference. Only those who tripled their weekly mileage from 16 km/week to 64 km/week lost weight.
Fact #3: Squats are an excellent exercise and everyone should be doing some form of them. They work the whole body and studies show squatting can produce major functional benefits: better mobility, faster walking speed, better bone strength, stronger core musculature, faster running speed, greater vertical jump height, and better athletic performance.
Lie #3: Squats are dangerous and will damage the knees and spine.
Lie! Squats are not dangerous if you do them correctly. In fact, squatting is a natural motion performed by our ancestors on a regular basis. We evolved from people who didn’t have chairs and spent their days moving heavy stuff and tending crops and they needed to squat to accomplish these tasks.

In addition, a number of studies show squats can optimally strengthen the entire thigh and hip musculature so as to prevent knee pain and dysfunction. Depending on training status, you may need to start with unilateral split squats instead of barbell squats—but the same principles apply to unilateral squats as to barbell back squats: Go all way the down!

Fact #4: Sitting all day is extremely bad for you. Research shows that people who sit for more than 6 hours a day have greater risk of kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and premature death.

Not Fact #4: You can counter the ills of sitting all day by working out regularly.
Unfortunately, this is not so. Research into the effects of having a sedentary desk job show two key points:

1) Within a population that exercises at a vigorous intensity a few days a week, the amount of time spent being inactive is dramatic and not significantly lessened by regular workouts.

2) In just 20 minutes of sitting, your blood sugar and insulin can get out of whack. A little longer and oxygen saturation of the muscles drops and gene activity decreases, which directly influences protein synthesis and the clearance of waste from cells.

Fact #5: Whey protein rules for building muscle in conjunction with resistance training. It is “fast” digesting, making the amino acids available quickly for protein uptake into muscle for maximal gains. It has a superior amino acid profile of all protein sources, and it raises the most important antioxidant, glutathione, which is only produced inside the body to fight off disease.

Not Fact#5: Casein should always be taken with whey because it is slowly digested, triggering protein synthesis for a longer period after exercise.
Casein is highly allergenic. Will everyone who tries it have a problem? No, but when compared side-by-side with whey, it produces inferior results in terms of body composition. It’s not necessary or superior, and most people will do best without it.
Fact #6: Eating a high-protein, low-carb diet of whole foods can help you lose fat. High-protein, low-carb eating may be more effective and sustainable for more people than a low calorie or low-fat diet. It’s a scientific fact that high-protein, low-carb diets are effective for decreasing body fat because they help sustain lean mass and metabolic rate (calories burned at rest).
Lie #6: High-protein, low-carb diets are dangerous and don’t work.
Lie! Saying they don’t work is blatant disregard of the evidence. Same goes with saying they are dangerous.

Among the lies about high-protein diets are that they damage healthy kidneys, cause ketoacidosis, cause nutrient deficiencies, cause bone loss, and will cause poor brain function. The truth is, if you prepare a high-protein, low-carb whole foods eating plan, you may find that you have more energy, better health, and enjoy eating delicious meals!

Fact #7: You can build amazing abs with compound lifts (squats, deads, chins, clean, snatch, lunges, presses, pulls). You can showcase those abs by maintaining a low body fat.

Lie #7: Isolation ab exercises can help you lose belly fat and get great abs.
Most readers already know this is a lie. Bulletproof abs are made in the kitchen, with compound lifts, and the addition of sprints when necessary.

Did you know there’s research to show ab training is a waste of time? A 2011 study showed that 6 weeks of ab training 5 days a week for 45 minutes produced no change in body fat, abdominal fat or waist circumference. The only benefit was being able to do about 33 percent more sit-ups!

Fact #8: The perfect diet varies for each person and is informed by genetics. It is the one that helps you feel energized, mobile, pain free, and with optimal body composition. If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.

Not Fact #8: It’s okay to bash other people diets.
Obviously, not a fact and not okay!

With all the dietary confusion that is compounded by a multi-billion dollar lying food industry, it’s tempting to start bashing other people’s eating styles. Let’s stay positive and focus on evidence-based education: This may be the only way to outsmart dangerous food policy and marketing.

Fact #9: Eating berries will improve your health—and they’re delicious! Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries have been shown to counter cardiovascular inflammation, speed recovery from intense exercise, reduce muscle soreness, enhance brain function, and decrease the ill effects of a high-fat diet.

Not Fact #9: Antioxidants will save us.

Not so much. The misconception that consuming antioxidants will save us comes from an oversimplification of the body’s internal antioxidant system.
The truth is simple, but misunderstood: We have an internal protection system called the Anti-Inflammatory Cascade. A substance called glutathione, which our bodies produce, drives the Cascade. Foods that contain what we casually call “antioxidants” help glutathione do its work to protect us. These foods include berries, certain nutrients like zinc and alpha lipoic acid, and other plants. The solution is to consume whole antioxidant-rich foods in-season.
Fact #10: Eating vegetables will improve your health. Green vegetables are beneficial for body composition because they are filling, low energy, high in a gazillion nutrients, provide fiber, are affordable, and are easy to eat. Eating fresh vegetables is associated with lower disease risk in a number of studies.
Lie #10: Vegetables are good for you in any form, whether it’s processed, packaged, or added to a cake.
Not so. Look, carrot cake, zucchini bread, and ketchup may have a place if they are homemade, but that doesn’t mean that eating them constitutes a serving of vegetables. The perfect diet varies for everyone, but to get the most out of veggies, stick to fresh or frozen, steamed veggies.

Fact #11: Resistance training is great for health and body composition. There’s no downside to lifting weights: You will build muscle, improve insulin health, become more mobile, have better cognition, improve heart, lung, and bone health, have better reproductive function, and have greater chance of avoiding disease. Everyone should strength train!
Not Fact: Light load training is just as good for building muscle as heavy load training.
Not exactly. Recent research shows that in untrained people, lifting light weights to failure will build the same amount of muscle as heavy weights. The problem is this study was widely publicized and missed the message that after 6 months, trainees need to increase the weights to continue making progress. Long-term results come from a carefully planned, progressive program, not lifting measly loads.

Fact #12: Probiotics can improve gut health, improve brain function, and help you achieve optimal body composition. A lofty statement, especially since research into the role of the bacteria in our guts is in the early stages, but it appears to be true.

There’s evidence that overweight people can lose fat by taking a probiotic that alters the type of bacteria living in the gut. In addition, since the majority of the chemical transmitter serotonin is made in the gut, probiotic appear to improve cognition and boost mood.

Not Fact #12: Yogurt is a great source of probiotics.

Not exactly. Plain fermented dairy such as yogurt is an acceptable source of probiotics that is beneficial for the gut. But, most of the readership is aware of two problems with this plan:

1) Yogurt often has chemicals and sugar added to it
2) Dairy tends to cause intolerances when eating chronically.

Depending on your gut situation, a probiotic supplement may be needed, or you may be able to create a healthy gut by eating probiotic foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, keifer) and eliminating processed foods.

Fact #13: Overeating regularly can make you gain fat. Eating more calories than you expend can make you fat. However, this is not very useful when we consider factors such as insulin sensitivity, the thermic effect of food, and factors that influence resting energy expenditure, which brings us to the lie…

Lie #13: All calories are equal when it comes to weight loss. It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you eat fewer calories than you expend.

The funny thing (not funny “ha-ha”) is that there will probably a comment to this article saying that a “calorie is a calorie!” However, a few things show this is not so:
1) Many factors affect the number of calories you expend daily: Something as simple as working at a standing desk versus sitting desk can cause your body to use at least 25 more calories per hour (that’s 200 extra a day!), or doing a HIT weight workout with short rest periods has been shown to increase resting energy expenditure by 25 percent (354 calories) during the 24 hour recovery period whereas a traditional strength workout with long rest periods increased resting energy expenditure by only 5 percent (98 calories).
2) The body uses different amounts of calories to break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein burns the most calories, followed by carbohydrates, and then fats. The body also processes certain types of fat differently. For example, omega-3 fats enhance the activity of something called uncoupling protein genes that cause you to burn calories at an accelerated rate by raising body temperature. This is why “healthy” fats don’t make you fat, but can make you lose fat.
Please, if you take away one single thing from this article, know that all calories are not equal when it comes to fat loss. If you are convinced otherwise, I ask you to consider what the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes about mindfulness and certainty:
“For doctors, the wrong diagnoses can kill people, so they have to be careful. Doctors have told me that in medical school they are taught that even if you are sure check again…Sometimes we are too sure of our perceptions….It would make you safer to write in calligraphy, ‘are you sure?’ and hang it in your office. That is the bell of mindfulness. Always go back to your perception, check it again, and don’t be too sure of it.”