Train for Life not Obstacles

Are you training for life or have you filled your routines with movement specific exercises or dare I say it even built obstacles to practice on? If you are one of those guilty racers who have erected a wall in your back yard raise your hand. I admire your dedication to preparation fellow racer and Jack salutes you. Now we just have to hope that they use the same obstacles next year. My point is not to criticize your enthusiasm, however I would like to take a second to pause for reflection and allow common sense to reassert itself.

Is the point of events like Spartan Race to build a cadre of elite obstacle hoppers dedicated to their sport? Or is it perhaps a way to break the monotony of traditional marathons and cross-country events but interjecting a more total body approach to fitness. I’ll be the first to admit, notwithstanding the arrival of the much forecasted zombie apocalypse, it is unlikely you will ever find this writer running for anything beyond 10 miles at a time. I hate running, even with the addition of music I find it insanely monotonous and boring. Then along came obstacle racing.

The military has been using Obstacle courses for the better part of two centuries to help train and assess the condition of its recruits and members. I have fond memories of the o-course on Parris Island, Camp Geiger, Quantico, Ft. Carson, and FT. Benning. Running these quarter-mile long log and rope filled mazes was a welcome break to the usual training routine. It made back-breaking labor and muscle quivering exercise almost fun, almost. They also served another purpose and that was to instill confidence by forcing those who participated to summon up their courage, usually by threat of peer pressure, humiliation, and verbal abuse. Their ultimate purpose though was to gauge training progress, and identify weaknesses by use of real world conditions. Honestly how often will your survival in combat depend on your ability to do 100 push-ups? Now climbing down a rope over a pond or up a tower is a real possibility in the chaos of combat.

My point is, we didn’t use these courses to train and we didn’t train for the courses they were meant as a test of total ability. The idea was that our physical training should be of an intensity and frequency that we would be toughened and prepared for any challenge. Not specific ones and certainly not specific obstacles. The fact is that combat is unpredictable and the only way to prepare for the unexpected is to prepare for anything. I couldn’t climb over a wall because I’d done it a hundred times, but because I had strengthened by back, shoulders, legs, chest and abs enough to hoist my weight over the wall, through the mud and up the rope. We trained all of our bodies to meet any challenge regardless of the shape it came in, the environment, or the location.

Don’t make the mistake of specializing in your training. Not only is it unwise but is unrealistic and impractical. Your workouts should be a total test of your ability not a specific repeat of an obstacle or challenge that may or may not be waiting for you this season. Specialization is one step closer to extinction. Obstacle racing is about being able to adapt and overcome to varied conditions and challenges. Stop wasting your time and effort trying to figure out the measurements of a certain wall, rope, bucket, or ditch. Your time is better spent outside working yourself hard and pushing your muscles to the absolute limit. Train hard and stay focused and you will be able to handle anything that comes your way on race day not just a few specific challenges you have practiced again and again. To those of you who have built and prepared obstacles in your backyards keep on using them. Find new and inventive ways to train with them and play with them, but just remember they are not the point of your training or the goal. Total body conditioning is the goal and the reason for obstacle courses.

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