Obstacle course racing is a sport. If you participate in OCR, than you are an athlete. Even if your goal is to finish your first race, your first trifecta, or your 100th race, you are an athlete and need to train like one.
When I work with a client, I often find myself helping them get out of their own way. People tend to want to train hard all the time. I get it. We want to see improvements and the idea of backing off to get better, doesn’t make much sense.
Consider professional athletes in any sport. They do not train the same all year round. They have different phases they go through depending on where they are in their program. They will typically divide their training up into an off season, preseason, in season, and post season. As the year progresses their goals and needs change so their training and nutrition will reflect that.
Your training is no different. To make things simpler, let’s divide your training into an in season and off season. This can be tricky, because you probably are signed up for a whole bunch of races throughout the year. It doesn’t mean you can’t race all year, but your goals will change.
The first step is to define your two seasons. What is your main race you are trying to peak for? Look at all of your races and determine which one would like like to perform the best or focus most of your effort on. This will most likely mark the end of your season. It doesn’t have to be the last race of the year. This will truly depend on your goals. If your trying to peak at the World Championships in Tahoe, then that is your A race and you will plan your year and training around that goal.
There are many little details we can get into with your yearly training plan. For this article, I want to specifically focus on your off season training goals and highlight some of the biggest areas to focus on. Here are my top 5 essentials for your OCR off season plan.
1. Work Towards Your Ideal Race Weight
Many are carrying around extra weight on their body. It could be 5lbs or it could be 50lbs. If you want to see dramatic improvements in all areas of racing, than you need to lose unneeded body fat. The goal should not to be to get as thin as possible. We need to maintain strength and muscle mass, so the goal is to lose body fat while maintaining or even building muscle. Imagine how much easier monkey bars or rope climbing would be if you got rid of 10lbs. How much easier your running would be and how much better your joints would be. This extra weight is making a huge difference in your training and performance so it should be made a priority.
In season, you heavily focus on nutrition for fueling. Off season we will shift more towards weight loss (if needed). Trying to lose weight in season may slow the process down and may even decrease your performance do to inadequate fueling, so make it a priority in the off season.
2. Improve Your Running
Sometimes we get so caught up in the obstacles, we forget about the most important one. The Running. We may back off the quantity of running in the off season, but we need to make sure the quality is on point. Your goal is to become a better runner. This doesn’t mean to just go out and run miles. Instead you are going to focus on your running form.
This area may be helpful to hire a coach to analyze your running technique and give you specific drills. But if you can’t make that commitment there are a few simple ways to start.
Some of the biggest areas is to focus on improving your cadence, improving your arm swing, paying attention to your knees and feet staying straighter, and landing lighter with each step.
Pose Method running has become more and more popular to help with these areas. It will go beyond the scope of this article to discuss all the aspects here, but it would be helpful to do some research on this topic and discover drills that can improve your running form.
Worse case, just film yourself running. You may not have a trained eye to spot every detail, but at least you can see what you look like when running to see if anything might be off. It is best to do this when you are fatigued to see what your default form is when you are tired. See if you can spot areas of your running where you are wasting energy.
3. Emphasize Recovery
There are a number of different ways we can work on recovery. The first point is to be mindful of your most common injuries. Were you dealing with a chronic injury in the season? Now is the time to be proactive for the next season. If you hurt yourself once, you are more likely to suffer another related injury.
Again, this is a time to hire someone to help you. If you don’t regularly meet with a professional to help your body recover, you need to reconsider. You can try different methods like massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation, cryotherapy, etc. They are all beneficial, but some respond better to certain ones. You want to have a network of people that will help you avoid the same injury over and over.
The second point I want to make on recovery is about sleep. Sleep is probably the most important piece of recovery yet most pay little attention to it. Your goal is to focus on getting the best quality sleep every night. This involves simply getting to bed at a decent hour each night, staying on a schedule every day, cooling the room at night to help fall asleep, staying away from lighted screens like TV’s and phones, and avoiding caffeine and water later in the day.
These simple things will go a long way to help better nights sleep and faster recovery.
4. Improve Movement
I have seen it happen first hand. Poor training leads to poor performance. And usually an injury to top it off. You probably know what movements you struggle with in the gym. There is a reason you struggle with them. They are a weakness and the only way to get better is to intentionally focus on those areas.
Start to pay attention to what seems to give you the most issues. Is it mobility, is it strength, is it a specific movement like squatting you can’t seem to get?
You might start to focus on a specific obstacle you struggle with. Don’t get caught up in the specifics yet. The goal is to be a generalist first. Find the reasons you aren’t moving the way you should and focus on those. Get so good at the fundamentals so that you have a better chance building enough strength later to conquer every obstacle you see.
To start, rate yourself on the big functional patterns. Have you mastered the squat, deadlift, lunge, push up, pull up, and crawling? These are not all the movements to work on, but at least some to get you started. Just remember the focus is on quality of movement, not just loading it up as much as you can.
5. Cross Train
Overtraining is a real thing and if you are not careful it will get you. I mentioned running earlier in this post. Obviously we need to get better at running. But at the same time it is easy to over do it and develop overtraining related injuries.
Again, we want to take a general approach. We can improve fitness and conditioning in a variety of ways. So, give your running muscles a break and through in other conditioning activities. Find things you don’t typically do like swimming, riding a bike, etc. You may be surprised how challenging they can be since you don’t typically do it.
These things won’t replace running, but by adding cross training methods you will still improve your fitness, but dramatically reduce the stress on the body.
If the idea of an off season is interesting to you and you want more ideas on implementing off season training strategies, then check out our free webinar. Registered Dietitian Anne L’Heureux and myself will be hosting a free webinar on Off Season Training For The OCR Athlete. In this webinar we will explain some of the topics we discussed today in more detail, plus give you some great training and nutrition strategies to get started with.
The live webinar will be on October 23rd at 1:30pm EST. We will also be answer any of your questions you may have on this topic.
To register for the webinar click the link below:
Keep training smarter,
Mike Deibler MS, CSCS, SGX