I’m sure that anyone who has competed in OCR has asked themselves a version of the following at the end of the event…
”I wonder if I can get faster if I just train more”.
Then the later inevitable of “I just don’t have that kind of time to train like the pros do”. That is correct, although OCR is a global and far-reaching sport, sponsorship and money to provide for high performers and professionals is not significant enough to make it a day job. Worse, if you have a demanding 40hr+ workweek and a family to take care of, it is very difficult to prioritize skills and means to improve. That is what this article is about. Getting you hard working folks with life demands beyond sport the ability to direct your training to get you to the finish line faster without burning out.
1: Method and General Concept
I like to think of OCR like the sport of triathlon. There are three unique skill sets in triathlon. Namely, the swim, the bike, and the run. All three have unique characteristics which require development independently of the other with the exception of aerobic function and capacity. OCR can be very basically broken down into a few basic categories which are the following…
1) Running skills
2) Grip and Obstacle Execution
3) Carrying Awkward Objects from Point to Point
I’d also argue that the primary skills to improve your finishing times are in that order of necessity to develop. However, for Spartan, I would flip No. 2 and No. 3 for order of importance.#
Now, lets go back to the triathlon model briefly. Let’s assume that you have “Athlete A” (“A”). “A” has been racing for 3 years. They run well, their biking is decent, and their swimming is not great. If you wanted to optimize this athlete in the most basic way possible, you would focus their next year’s program on swimming competence, moderately improve their biking skills, and maintain their running fitness as much as possible. OCR is not different and a true assessment of skills need to be performed using some basic questions. They are the following…
2: Athlete Assessment
A: Write down 4 things you are very good at when racing or training (ex: monkey bars, carries, etc)
B: Write down 4 things where you believe you need improvement (ex: fueling, crawling obstacles, etc).
After you answer those 4 questions, you want to add some sub categories for assessment regarding the “need improvement” category. I will give you two examples…
1) Let’s say your sandbag carries are not great. Isolate WHY they aren’t where you’d like them to be. Do your legs feel too weak? Do you have difficulty balancing the load? Do you get crushed on the climbs but can run the flats well? Do you carry decently, but you feel like you can’t get your legs under you to run fast after the carry?
2) You fail moderately difficult to hard grip/skill obstacles. Why? Does your grip give out first? Do you feel that your heart rate is too high beginning the obstacle so you have increased fatigue trying to navigate the obstacle? Is it a specific grip type or condition that you can’t seem to navigate well? Are you just too weak in your upper body to pull yourself into a good position? If you miss a grip temporarily, do you have an incredibly difficult time recovering to continue? Again, these are just examples. But, if you can identify why a failure of weakness occurs, you can begin to program specifics to enhance your ability to perform. Lets take an easy example of a finishing time killer in OCR…the spear throw. If you are self coached, and you know that your spear throw completion rate is less than 80%, you need to be throwing more spears. If you can’t balance the sandbag to power-hike or run with adequately, you need to prioritize this skill in training. If you can’t bear crawl and roll quickly under low obstacles, you need to get that sorted out in training.
As basic as these principles sound, it is not that complicated to implement as long as you can be honest with your assessment of your personal abilities.
3: Developing A Plan
After you’ve identified your personal limiters, you then have to figure out how much daily and weekly time you have to train. That means EVERY day, have a plan of attack for the time you have. For the average individual, we have a typical Monday-Friday work week with Saturday and Sunday more free for training. A usual model for training would prioritize a “long run” on the weekends and another follow-up run the other day. While this works in a pure running based sport, we have too many skills to develop to simply run ONLY if we are time restricted. I offer the following change to enhance your time management and get the most skill/endurance practice.
Saturday (Long Run): Compromised Running / OCR specific training. Set up a course which mimics the terrain profile and needs of your event. The workout will be
approximately 50-75% of the race time and/or distance. Pick two weaknesses for today and one strength that you had determined above. Then, program something of the following. Note: I’m using a Spartan “Beast” as the goal event as an example…
3 rounds of the following after a warm-up…
- 10 minutes running aerobic
- Weakness Movement No. 1 performed with as much effort/speed as your form can allow
- 15 minutes running at race effort/pace
- Strength Movement No. 1
- 10 minutes running aerobic
- Weakness Movement No. 2 performed with as much effort/speed as your form can allow
- OCR random skill (ex: Spear throw)
- 400 meters HARD
This is an extremely basic version of what I’m talking about but it makes for a good workout. You develop race specific skills in a quasi race environment but building your base like a long run would entail. If you notice as well, I’m not having this workout make you perform massive amounts of reps. When was the last time you’ve had to get 30 pull-ups in a row completed in a race? The answer: Never.
Sunday: This could be a longer aerobic effort over terrain that mimics your goal race, another combination OCR workout like the one described above but adding in different “weaknesses” and “strengths” to keep things specific but interesting, OR you could perform a running workout and a strength workout.
4: Strength Training for OCR
I’m not going to go into very high detail with this because it offers more rabbit holes than Alice in Wonderland. Instead, we are going to talk about specific movements that will have excellent carryover and that do not take a ton of time. Better yet, they are “low skill” movements that do not take time to develop such as Olympic lifts.
1) Prioritize Compound Movements Whenever Possible
More muscle equals more overall development, force production/strength, and time management. You shouldn’t be doing leg extensions on a machine when you can get a lot more benefit from a squat or a deadlift variation. The examples below are certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are usually a good start.
Lower Body: Barbell Squat and squat variations, Loaded Step-ups and lunges, or Deadlifts (trap bar or conventional).
Upper Body: Pull-ups and Chinups. Overhead pressing, Barbell/Dumbbell Rows, Dips, Push-ups/Bench Press
5: Periodization: Quick and Dirty
This is simply a fancy term for generating a training cycle taking into account volume and intensity. Without getting really deep into the different kinds of periodization you can perform, we’ll just talk about a simple and overarching method that would steer someone in the right directions…
1) Take your “A” race and see how many weeks/months prior to this event you have.
2) During the first 1/3rd of this time, perform compound strength movements first followed by your running workout. Focusing on high end strength and speed work coupled with high end “running”/ocr workouts. Namely, heavy lower body training THEN short repeats.
3) During the 2/3rd mark, increase your volume with the endurance and OCR efforts while decreasing volume in the gym slightly. So, if you were performing 4 sets of heavy leg work, drop it to 3 while increasing the repetitions and duration of your endurance work
4) Final 3rd leading to the “A” race. Strength work is maintenance here while your race specific workouts take absolute priority. This is the time to “cut the fat” so to speak. So, if your leg strength is where it needs to be, simply focus on lower volume AND a lower percentage of your 1RM AFTER your running/OCR training.
So, if you simplify the above, you initially prioritize strength first and endurance second. Then, you begin to slowly phase out the strength work in favor of sport specific practice. Finally, your last phase is strength maintenance with priority efforts devoted to OCR.
6: Putting it together! Finally!
By now, you may have a ton of questions with setting up your schedule and implementing all of these procedures. This section allows you to allocate time to prioritize effectively. Remember, the ranges are designed to reflect the “periodization” concept as written above so you will see some wide ranges.
Here it is...
Strength Training: 1-3x/week and duration should not exceed 45 minutes. Utilize compound movements emphasizing activities that assist strengthening your personal limiters.
1) One LONG RUN/week at 75%-120% of the TIME it would take you to complete the event with intensity being highly aerobic
2) One THRESHOLD RUN/week to build muscular endurance that totals approx 45 min-1 hr 30 min total for the workout
3) One SHORT REPEAT workout/week which involves 400meter-1k repeats to assist with
running economy and V02 max development that totals approx 35 min – 1 hour
OCR/Compromised Running Workouts: 1 to 2 workouts/week
1) As per above, make the workout include 2 weaknesses and 1 strength via your athlete assessment and come up with a “mini race” scenario.
2) If you are VERY limited on time, you can use one of these workouts as your THRESHOLD RUN. So, you can pick say a run segment with a carry segment with another run segment combined at a threshold effort.
3) Have fun with these workouts! It is like a controlled “grab-bag” meets “fartlek” meets “Sunday funday” everytime you do one of these! Just don’t turn it into a true race!
ONE WORD OF CAUTION: You may think, “why don’t I just do OCR workouts all the time then?”. Answer, you need to specifically build running competence independently of other factors. The only way to really tap into your top end running fitness is to perform running efforts regularly. It truly is the glue that holds everything together.
Lastly, take a certain time-frame to train every day and then plug in the workouts based on the time you have to train.
Training for OCR is multifaceted and very confusing at times. This document does not fully include all the permutations for optimal athletic potential in the sport. This should at least provide a good reference point for people who want to maximize their time. However, to truly navigate the requirements and needs for the time-crunched athlete, it always helps to seek the help of a seasoned coach like Jack Carpenter. That way, you can save even more time by not needing to program yourself and spend the rest of your time doing what we all love to do…TRAIN! Best of luck with all of your future endeavors!
Bonus Exercises: Sled Pushes and Pulls (legs and/or rope pulls), Landmine Squats and Presses, Farmer’s Walks, Barbell/Trap Bar Jump Squats, Plyometrics
Duration and Frequency? Try to limit your session to 30-45 minutes for 2-3x/week. If you need more strength development, 3x. If you need LESS, 2x for maintenance is perfect. For some athletes including myself, I’ll do ONE session a week nearing major competition just to stay competent with the movements without inducing severe fatigue that may compromise my ability to perform endurance work.
1) Compound Movement for Power/Strength OR Speed: Power=3-4 sets at 2-3 reps and Speed=6-8 sets at 3-5 reps
2) Assisting Compound Movement Power OR Speed: Power=3-4 sets at 5 reps and Speed=6-8 sets at 3-5 reps
3) Weak Point Training (can be compound or an isolating movement (i.e. pull-up versus bicep curls): 3×8-10 reps.
INTENSITY (VERY general advice): Power/Strength= 75-82.5% 1RM and Speed= 40-60% 1RM NOTE: Recoveries for “Speed” training can be anywhere from 60-90 seconds to keep the session moving and if movement aggression is present. 6 good “speed” sets are far superior to 8 “grindy sets”. The same could be argued for the power/strength movements!
This blog post has been written by Matt Liptak, Spartan OCR Racer