Your muscles are what hold you together. A strong body can move more weight with less effort (use less energy on obstacles) and is more durable (staying injury free in a 24 hour event).
Obstacle racing isn’t all about running. Most of the top guys will give you a running to strength training ratio of like 90/10 (90% running and 10% lifting) or something along the lines of more running to strength. This isn’t wrong, I agree with this too, but it has a time and that time is not all the time. Going 90/10, at best, will maintain what strength you have while building your aerobic system. By training in phases you can build more strength AND build your aerobic system.
When: preferably in the winter/off season or 4-6 months out from next event. I started in early July
Here’s a little history to my strength training, if you don’t care skip below:
I’ve never been a strong person. My introduction to strength training and exercise was the Marine Corps Infantry version of bodybuilding. I’d work chest and tri’s, back and bi’s, arms and abs, skip leg day, then repeat. This all started in 2005 and in 5 years I went absolutely nowhere because I had nowhere to go except having an inflated top end that would tip over with a push. There was no athletic goal besides improving my bench press, I was just following the crowd doing senseless bodybuilding. Then in 2010 I was introduced to Crossfit and suddenly my gymtime had a purpose. I was competing against people to see who could work the hardest. I didn’t know what I was doing but I had a great instructor and he did my programming. I learned to properly do compound and Olympic lifts. My fitness increased rapidly because I was doing real work, not just lazy isometric exercises. For almost 4 years I did nothing but Crossfit to stay in shape and it kept me in great shape. Hell, I ran 75 miles at the 2013 WTM on a diet of Crossfit with a bit of running mixed in. Crossfit was great.
The problem with Crossfit (for me) was that I didn’t know how to dial back. I was going 100% all the time. 2 months before WTM 2014, I decided I was going to run the race and I wanted to do well. I took the crossfit mindset to running and somehow (miraculously) went from running 0 miles a week to 70 miles a week in 3-4 weeks without injury. In all my runs I would go out running as hard as I could and when I burned out I would walk for awhile to cool down then start running hard again. This was the wrong thing to do, don’t redline everyday.
After making the podium at WTM 2014 I started to believe that I could be a good runner. So I made running a priority and put strength training on the back burner. I slowly learned that long slow aerobic running is the best way to build endurance and become a better/more efficient runner. My focus on running led to a neglect in strength training. This isn’t a problem if you’re going to be a runner and nothing else, but this is OCR. You have to run up a mountain, traverse your body weight across monkey bars, then pick up and flip a 200 pound tire. The occasional set of pull ups, dips, and planks isn’t going to cut it. Looking into my future, if I kept running and neglected strength training I was on the path to losing obstacle proficiency and becoming an ultra runner who has neither the strength nor speed for anything other than really long and slow trail races.
So in July I decided I was going to start fresh and do it smart. I would dedicate 2 months to a strength routine while maintaining a small aerobic base. My aim was 3 heavy lifting days a week, each day focusing on a single compound lift. All my energy would go to the lift and the remainder would be spent on jogging. The goal is to get stronger so my body doesn’t fall apart as much during 24 hours of obstacle course racing and hopefully make me more competitive on the obstacles. I only failed 4 obstacles at WTM 2016 (out of like 400) but you never know what TM will dish out. Stay ready and follow the 7 P’s.
Here’s what my weekly schedule looked like.
Day 1: Deadlift. 3-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions. Deadlifts are insane and just doing deadlifts 1x a week you will see changes everywhere in your body (all the sudden you have muscles again). The plan is to slowly increase the weight each week. I never lift to failure (that takes too long to recover from, remember the goal is consistency) and I always use an overhand grip to maximize building grip strength. I use no belts, shoes, or accessories. I lift barefoot off the floor. Deadlift day is my grip training day. To finish off the grip I’ll do a few sets of heavy farmer walks. I go with a weight I can only carry for 10-20 seconds.
Aerobic training: 20:00 warm up run and 30:00 cool down run
Day 2: Overhead Press. Why the overhead press? Because it’s superior to the bench press. Google it. Once again 3-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions and increase weight each week if you can. After my presses I’ll do a few sets of weighted pull ups with the same focus. I use a weight belt, not a vest. If I have the energy after lifting I will also do a few sets of power cleans.
Aerobic: 20:00 warm up and 30:00 cool down
Day 3: Easy day run or cross train on bike.
Day 4: Squats. 3-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions. The king of all exercises and probably the best for runners next to deadlifts. Don’t kill yourself here but also don’t take it too easy. Just don’t injure yourself.
Aerobic: 20:00 warm up and 30:00 cool down run.
Day 5: easy day run or cross train. Usually on this day try and get another day of pull ups and dips since I am usually too tired after long run to do so.
Day 6: Long run of 90- 120 minutes. Run by feel. Don’t push the pace.
Day 7: OFF
*The goal is to add 5 lbs. to each lift each week. If you can’t, drop the reps, increase the sets and keep going. Then try again next week.
WTM is second week of November. I started my 8-week strength cycle the second week of July. It’ll end September when I will begin to build my aerobic base for WTM. During my aerobic phase I will continue to lift heavy 1 day a week but only to maintain the strength I have gained. Obviously I will lose some strength with endurance training but that’s ok because I have raised the bar only to lower it a little. The objective is to be light, fast, AND strong. Not just light and fast.
Your body needs to be ready for impacts like this^^^^
If possible, do your workout in 1 session. 2 a days are good for time crammed people but you get stronger during recovery. Working out a second time in the day disrupts that recovery cycle. I’d prefer to have 24 hours between training sessions.
Everyone is short on time these days. In order to maximize your time don’t waste any of your time (or precious energy) on doing extra exercises. If you finish your running and strength session with extra energy call it a day and put that energy into tomorrow. Burning out every day is not the point, that’ll lead to over training. Leave the training session feeling like you could’ve done more.
Don’t be discouraged if your aerobic running pace is slower than normal. That’s the weight training kicking in
As with everything in training, consistency is key. Keep a schedule, logbook, whatever, just keep on track. If you miss a day no problem. Just don’t miss a week.
“Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe
“Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House
“Extreme Alpinism” by Mark Twight
What’s phase 2? Building aerobic endurance and doing obstacle specific training. I’ll be running and biking 10-20 hours a week and rock climbing.