Across the country, a new breed of athlete is in training. You can find them in the gym, on a wooded trail or pounding the pavement. Upon first glance, it may appear as though these individuals are training for a half-marathon or maybe a triathlon. However, a closer look leaves onlookers puzzled. Why is she wearing a weighted vest? What exercise is that? Is he going to flip that tire?

Curiosity prompts one to ask: "So what are you training for?" The response does little to clarify the inquiry: "Imagine a 5 to 10k course over rolling hills, scattered with military style obstacles like rope ascents and wall climbs, and finished off with mud, fire and water hazards." This intriguing and challenging formula has become all the rage among fun seekers and fitness newbies, veteran runners and former college athletes; all electing to test their skills in an obstacle course race.

Because obstacle course races combine elements of recreation, fitness and competition, a diverse group of participants can partake in these events. The success and attractiveness of events like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have resulted in an increase in the number of individuals seeking to train for and compete in obstacle course races. Whether the intent is to finish while enjoying the experience or contend for a spot on the podium, the demand for training programs focused on obstacle race preparation has created a market primed for fitness professionals to tap.

Capitalize on the opportunity and take advantage of this training niche to generate new revenue streams, attract new members to your facility and increase member participation in your fitness programs.

Become an authority: If you are going to develop training programs for obstacle course races you have to be able to walk the walk. With that in mind, take a look at the race calendar and register for an upcoming event. Competing in a race will build your clout among trainees and your first-hand experience will assist you in prepping others. If the hands-on approach is not for you, attend an obstacle race as a spectator or exhibitor. Talk with competitors about their experience and reach out to the race promoter about advertising and marketing opportunities.

At minimum, spend some time researching the events. Familiarize yourself with the race course, various obstacles and components of the event. It is helpful to know that many of these races come in varying levels of difficulty. There may be a "sprint" version of a race that covers three miles, while the full-length race covers a much greater distance over multiple days of competition. Preparing yourself with the appropriate knowledge of events and obstacles will allow you to guide clients through the entire obstacle course race process from registration to training and on to competition.

Acquire the tools of the trade: After gaining a thorough understanding of the physical and mental rigors of the race day experience, conduct an inventory of the exercise equipment you have on hand. While exercise machines and a universal gym can be used to build baseline fitness, training for an obstacle course race requires some non-traditional training tools. Along with the basics, like an Olympic weight set and dumbbells, look to acquire kettlebells, weighted sandbags, tractor tires, a weighted vest and a push/pull sled. If space and specifically ceiling height is not an issue, consider adding a pair of gymnastics rings and/or a climbing rope.

Aside from the type of equipment you utilize, you should identify locations outside of the gym to conduct training sessions. Obstacle course races take place outdoors, in the elements. It can be helpful to replicate the race day environment during training. This can be accomplished on an off-road running and hiking trail or at a local park. Take workouts into the field to acquire and improve the skills associated with obstacle race training.

Devise a plan: Now that you are properly equipped, prepare yourself and your clients for the launch of your training classes and programming. It is important that you make a detailed plan that is easily followed and understood by potential participants.

First, identify an upcoming obstacle course race in your area. Contact the race promoter to create a team or group for the race. This will help with organization, but will usually lead to the race promoter offering a discount code or rebate. Once the registration process has been handled, consider a launch workout for your clients. Create some excitement for your program by holding free demo workouts that will allow members to sample the type of training you will be conducting. After this introductory period, develop small group, boot camp or circuit-style trainings of 5 to 10 individuals. Training sessions should be planned over the course of 8 to 10 weeks leading up to the race.

Get to work: A successful training program for obstacle course racing should be designed to improve general fitness, then address skills specific to the event. Focus on functional and dynamic movements that will assist in building relative strength. Competitors need to be able to move their own bodyweight over, under, around or through obstacles. Bodyweight exercises such as pushups, triceps dips, pull-ups and squats can be used to create a foundation of strength. Next, kettlebell swings, plyometric exercises, and non-linear movements should be implemented. Adding explosive movements like jump squats, burpees and box jumps into training sessions will teach individuals how to initiate athletic movements, land after jumping and recover or maintain an off-balance position.

Finally, do not overlook the cardiovascular components of preparation. To ensure success for your clients, include resisted sprints, hill climbs or stadium stairs into the plan. Depending on the distance covered during the race, it may be necessary for participants to complete training runs outside of structured training sessions. Additionally, target race-specific skills by preparing participants to transport an awkward load or object, build grip strength and practice rope climbs to build confidence along with upper body strength. This is where your new equipment will be put to use. Wearing a weighted vest during training, carrying a weighted pack or using kettlebells to complete a farmer's carry will be essential to building specialty skills.

As participation in obstacle course racing continues to grow at an incredible rate, the opportunity for fitness professionals to create innovative training methods and programming for these events intensifies. Taking a creative approach to program development and marketing, fitness facilities and trainers can use obstacle course racing to create new revenue streams, increase member satisfaction and attract new members. General health seekers, viewing the race as a recreational experience, can use the event as a source of motivation to get or stay fit. Former athletes and weekend warriors will be attracted to participate, hoping to satisfy their competitive desires. Regardless of the ability level or motive, everyone will benefit from the camaraderie, accountability and sense of accomplishment that comes with setting and achieving a new and unique goal.


Joe Vennare is a successful entrepreneur and accomplished fitness professional. He is the co-founder of Hybrid Athlete and co-creator of Race Day Domination, a training manual designed to prepare competitors for success in any obstacle course race. Learn more at www.racedaydomination.com.
 

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