By: Ryan McGowan L2 MovNat Trainer & owner, Laid-back Fitness.
Obstacle course races (OCR) have become a staple in the fitness world. Attracting athletes of all ages and abilities, OCR offers an alternative to road races, triathlons, etc. So what’s the best way to prepare for one? Practice MovNat of course!
A quick story:
Back in 2011 my cousin recruited me for this thing called “Tough Mudder” at Mount Snow, VT. I’d never heard of it and all I knew was that it involved 10 miles of mud and obstacles. As luck would have it, my first 1-day MovNat workshop was scheduled 6 days before my first OCR.
Obviously I learned a ton of useful techniques at the workshop, but it taught me that I wasn’t as athletic (or well-rounded) as I thought. I left humbled and inspired me to become more competent over the entire domain of skills.
The following Saturday I utilized several of those techniques to conquer Tough Mudder. I had one of those “aha!” moments when doing a tripod transition for the first time in context; people were slipping and sliding all over the steep and muddy trails, but I found stability by planting my hand on rocks/roots/etc. and reaching my foot down hill. I also used the inverted crawl quite often, did a bunch of forward rolls (more for fun than necessity), and proudly traversed the balance beam (a skill I had practiced after discovering my ineptitude the previous weekend). “There’s definitely something to this method!” I thought, and “this was awesome but I have work to do!” I observed relative to my first OCR experience.
6 years later, I’ve had the pleasure of preparing hundreds of my clients/teammates to conquer these events and celebrating our accomplishments (an integral part of the experience) together! Here are five reasons why we use MovNat to prepare for OCR:
1. It’s all Mental!
In our MovNat practice, we train dozens of techniques in several different contexts (including outdoors, in the elements). This enables us to take a breath and identify which moves will effectively conquer obstacles. While we may not have experienced the exact situation before, our practice gives us confidence in our ability and a plan for conquest vs. the “here goes nothing” approach that we often see on course. Plus, these events are more fun if we’re successful. Doing 300 penalty burpees (Spartan Race) does not add to the enjoyment in my opinion!
Especially when we’re talking 10 miles or more, saving energy is important. During events like World’s Toughest Mudder (as many laps as possible in 24 hours), I try not to muscle through anything unless absolutely necessary.
To that end, sometimes you have to power through. Good news: there’s a technique for that! The principle of adaptability is one of my favorites in MovNat. Monkey bars coated in slippery mud won’t allow for a swinging traverse; so I flex my elbows, “match” my hands, and pump my knees to get across as fast as possible (front power traverse).
Being mindful of the risk/danger matrix will keep you healthy so you can do more events (or simply carry on with your life without restriction afterwards). Granted things do happen, but many injuries on course are preventable with more awareness. Specifically, we see rolled ankles from poor landings all the time. I’d argue that the most important aspect of scaling a wall or vaulting a marine hurdle is the landing on the back side of it. Visualizing the obstacles all the way through and being mindful of the hazards will keep you safe.
5. Body Armor
Anyone who’s done an OCR will proudly show off their battle wounds. Personally I prefer to leave the course with no visible evidence, and to take a “sting-free” shower afterwards. Practicing MovNat builds calluses not just in our hands, but other areas that may get beat up during OCR. The push-pull crawl toughens the skin of the vastus medialis or “teardrop” since that’s one of the points of support. Techniques that require us to be in the low forearm hang desensitize our medial epycondle skin which often gets abused using the “chicken wing” to get over walls.
So, are you sold? Awesome! Here’s a list of 10 essential techniques that are guaranteed to improve your OCR experience. Obviously there are so many more to practice but if I could only do ten, they’d be:
1. Perception walking
2. Tripod transitions
3. Depth jump/slap landing
4. Forward roll
5. Side swing/power traverse
6. Front swing/stop + swing and power traverse
7. Low forearm pullups/popups
8. Balancing counters
9. Push-pull crawl
10. Lapping + interlock/wrist/forearm carrying grips
I hope this helps. Now recruit some adventurous friends, sign up, and start preparing! After you crush it, be sure to celebrate your accomplishments accordingly!
Ryan McGowan owns Laid-back Fitness, a MovNat licensed facility in Warwick, RI. He is a Level 2 Trainer and has coached hundreds of his clients to complete Obstacle Courses. He is also co-founder of the Frozen Clam Obstaplunge, a 1/2 mile obstacle course that ends in a cold water plunge on New Year’s Day. Look for him leading a crew of 20-40+ physically competent and mentally strong teammates at Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and local OCR’s in New England.