By Eric Brown, MovNat Team Instructor and former Navy SEAL
OK, I admit it. Doing an OCR (Obstacle Course Race) is fun! I get to move in these complex environments using the Natural Movement skills that I love to practice. Adapting to obstacles, terrain and weather. Proving that I have what it takes to make it through the gauntlet, again and again. And seeing where I can also use improvement, to become even more efficient in the execution of my movement skills.
These are some of the benefits that you, too, can gain. There’s also the bonus of increasing your confidence, in knowing that you’re capable of navigating real-world situations – ready to help yourself or others in times of need – be it helping someone with the groceries or pulling someone to safety.
From every movement domain that you practice in MovNat, you can find a place for a movement aptitude on one of the many obstacle courses around the world:
- Locomotive — breathing, balancing, crawling, walking, running, jumping, climbing and even swimming
- Manipulative — lifting & carrying, throwing & catching
- Combative — striking & grappling
Take a moment to think of what you’ve seen in videos, or have even done yourself, on an obstacle course. Controlling your breath, to maintain your energy system so you can complete the course. Throwing a spear into a target, in order to avoid burpees. Swimming across a pond or out to an ocean buoy and back. Striking your way through a barrier of heavy bags. Or, grappling your way through a bevy of gladiators before crossing a finish line. All of these opportunities actually exist in many OCRs around the world.
Worth mentioning are the subtleties of Natural Movement Fitness. In addition to breath control, your body position and alignment, sequence and timing, tension and relaxation are all key factors in successfully running an obstacle course. And if any of these are off, it can lead to a poor performance or the chance of injury.
After having spent a over a decade running on, and then teaching trainees to run what many consider to be one of the toughest O-courses (i.e. obstacle courses) in the world — the BUD/S O-course in Coronado, Ca. — it took me awhile before I finally got around to taking on the new-aged OCR craze. And I’d like to share with you how those old skills and Natural Movement Fitness have made running OCRs quite a natural transition (yes, a pun).
In general, Natural Movement skills are the perfect fit for running OCRs. And consistent practice of the skill domains will afford you the ability to fully engage the course in the most fun and practical manner. In this way, you can approach an obstacle with a plan. While being ready to adjust to the situation at hand.
Let’s take in a few examples of some common OCR obstacles and see what kind of skills you can use to overcome them. I’ve got some footage from a recent Spartan Super race. I’ll break down what I did to move through each obstacle. And offer suggestions on regressions or progressions.
Getting over a barrier of medium height
Barriers like this require you to make your way over the top of them. In this particular situation, I chose to use a tripod vault. Some key points are the use of a two-footed “punch” (i.e. take off). This gives me the height that I’ll need to make my press up much easier on my arms. From that press up, I place my foot on the SOS (Surface of Support), establishing my tripod. I continue over the obstacle, to complete it with a nice general landing.
Another technique that could be used here would be a strong, two-footed jump to get your torso (supported by your hands) over the obstacle. And then pivot on your belly, getting your legs over to the other side. You may notice the young lady to my left. It would appear that her initial jump was not strong enough to get her belly on top of the obstacle. A strong take off is key.
Getting over a barrier from underneath an inclined wall
For these types of incline climbs, I prefer using the tuck pop-up. It’s such a quick, clean and efficient skill to use. And it saves the hands/grip for other obstacles. On top of that, it’s a unique skill that promotes the Natural Movement practice!
If you’re inclined (yes, another pun) not to use the tuck pop-up, you can definitely use the horizontal beams to foot-hand crawl your way up to the top of the obstacle. From there you can hike a leg over and use your arms as leverage to pivot your torso over the wall.
Getting over a high wall
The high wall in this video is around 7 feet tall. And there’s only dirt, not mud, on its surface. This makes it a prime candidate for a running wall climb. You’ll notice that it’s not necessary to start running from a far distance. In fact, it’s more productive not to expend all of that energy so that you can use it to actually climb up the wall.
When you take off with your split jump, the first foot to hit the SOS should make contact at around waist height. If that first contact is too low, you’ll likely splat into the wall. If it’s too high, you may end up pushing yourself away from the wall.
For this particular wall, it only required one step to allow me to reach the top of the wall with my hands. From there, I planted my second foot and pulled into a climb up with my hands and feet. Once I pressed up at the top, I did a tripod vault and landed safely on the other side. If the wall had been 8 or 9 feet tall, I would’ve needed to take two steps before grabbing the top of the wall. If it were also muddy and slippery, I likely would’ve done an upward jump to get one or both hands on top of the wall. And then I would’ve done a foot-assisted pull up to get up and over the wall.
Other alternatives would be to grab the top of the wall and then do a side swing to get a leg over the wall, to pull yourself over. Or to get help from a friend to either give you a step up from the ground or to pull you up from the top of the wall.
Descending a steep hill
For descending those steep hills, with loose dirt or slippery mud, my go-to is the inverted crawl. I love it for its fast control of descent. The perfection is in the ability to make the micro adjustments in the position, sequence and timing of the hands and feet. Don’t expect to have the perfect, contralateral crawl. You must step when you need to step and slide when you need to slide.
A variation that you could use is to slide down on your butt. Or, step down using your hands, feet and butt – taking rest breaks when you need to – using your control and lessening the chance of sliding onto something that you might regret.
Moving through a water crossing
Something that often gets overlooked during these OCRs is the importance of properly navigating water crossings. With the amount of underwater obstacles present in every stream crossing feature that I’ve walked through, it’s vitally important to high-step your way through these obstacles. It doesn’t matter if the water is 6 inches deep or 3 feet deep. In the murky waters, you don’t know when it’s going to drop or when you’ll run into a boulder or submerged log.
When you high-step, it gives you the opportunity to plant your foot in a secure spot. Or, it at least allows you to make quick adjustments with most of your COG (Center of Gravity) over your supporting leg. This is a skill you want to make sure you do properly the entire time you’re in the water.
A couple of other things that will likely help, will be to look at the people that are in front of you. Watch to see where they’re tripping on objects. That will at least give you a clue, as what to expect when you reach that area. Another tip is to stay closer to the banks, when available. This can provide more firm and stable ground to walk on, as well as give you a straighter line to walk in the water.
Throwing an object
Like running, throwing things is a skill that humans have evolved to do particularly well. Though, not everyone. Especially if you don’t practice. Or, when you’ve been running, jumping, lifting and carrying for the prior 50 minutes.
So, like running, it’s another skill that should be trained regularly. To ensure that you don’t throw (yes, third pun’s a charm… now fourth) something out of whack when you need it; and so that your aim is accurate, when it counts on the course.
In the video I’m doing a spear throw. To start with, I situate the attached string so that it won’t prevent the spear from accurately hitting the target. Then I grab the spear at its COG. I focus my concentration on the target, wind up and throw with power, stability and accuracy. Making sure to follow through with my throw.
There are a few things to watch out for. Make sure that you prep the retrieval string. Not doing so will likely cause the string to get caught on something (e.g. your body or the fence). Another point to avoid is forgetting to hold the spear at its COG. Doing this may cause the spear to tilt up too high or nose down into the ground. And one final point is to make a strong throw. Put some oomph into it or your perfectly straight throw will dig right into the ground, just in front of its target. Burpees!
For many, climbing rigs are considered the most difficult obstacles to pass through. Mainly because of the upper body and grip strength required to get through them. Add in [dirt]+[water] and you’ve multiplied the difficulty by infinity. But with practice, and a few tips, you’ll be able to find your optimal technique for successfully passing through climbing rigs.
For starters, have a plan. I don’t mean that you should over analyze the rig. But you should at least see what you’re getting into. Observe others. Note which lanes are caked with mud or slime and then choose another. See which grips are too frayed or worn down. And get good at doing all this in a matter of seconds, so that you don’t psych yourself out in the process. Then go for it and learn from your results.
If you know you’re good at brachiating, be patient and brachiate. If your strong suit is power traversing, do that. Or, use a combination of the two. Bicycle your legs when it feels natural. But don’t overextend your legs and end up touching the ground. And you should double-up on grips that are small or too slick.
You can see in the video that I’m taking my time and thinking on my hands (OK, last pun… Or is “last pun” another one?). I’m enjoying the puzzle in front of me while being fully aware of the surfaces that I’m coming in contact with. When my grip doesn’t feel right, I readjust. If my timing isn’t right, I wait a beat and get back into the rhythm.
To train this, practice combinations of MovNat’s climbing skills. String several together — e.g. hanging, side swinging followed by a few pull ups or chin ups. Practice various combinations that will ultimately have you up there for 30 seconds or so, at a time. This will be about the same amount of time that it could take you to get through a climbing rig. Be creative and have some fun!
These are just some examples of what you may be able to do. But “there are many ways to dress a cat” and don’t think that you must do it this way. Look to be effective first. And as efficient as you can be. That being said, there’s experimentation that you also can do. Perhaps you want to try some technique that you’ve seen someone else do on the course, as a regression or progression. Or you want to use a variation that you know is just right for you. By all means, do so. It’s your race. Enjoy it!
It’ll also do you a ton of good to make sure that MovNat Combos (e.g. repeating sets of 3 to 5 skills) and MovNat Courses (e.g. one long sequence of non-repeating skills) are a regular part of your training. And these combos and courses can include longer runs that simulate what will happen during an OCR.
Do your best to try and simulate the course that you’re planning to run. Or generalize your training and get ready for the adventure of discovery. Either way, look forward to the experience and the opportunity to show yourself what you’re made of, both mentally and physically.
Good luck to you! And maybe I’ll see you out there on the course sometime.
Complete Spartan Super with Most Obstacles
About the Author
Eric Brown is a former U.S. Navy SEAL, Master Training Specialist and Naval Special Warfare Instructor of the Year. Having trained and instructed in a variety of physical and mental disciplines — e.g. obstacle courses, calisthenics, rescue swimming, ROPES challenge courses, combative arts, neuro-associative conditioning — Eric has experienced a wide breadth of life lessons that have brought him to a deeper understanding of his role in life and society. A family man, he enjoys moving with his wife and young son, fully expressing his “NATM – Never Afraid to Move” way of life. As a MovNat Master Trainer, his mission is to increase the quality of life for the young and old – letting those open to the training know that consistency is the key to moving and feeling better. As he often says, “Patiently persistent practice, produces proper practical progression.” You can learn more about Eric at his website here: www.MovNatDallas.com.