What are the best core strengthening exercises for an OCR racer? Your core is more than just abs — it also includes your hips, glutes, lower back, and hip flexors (though if you're looking for Spartan six pack abs, core training can certainly help).
“Picture your body as the Brooklyn Bridge,” Kevin Donoghue, Spartan Pro Team Member, certified Spartan SGX coach, and 25-time Spartan Race Masters Champion, says. “It has two towers: one representing your lower extremities, and the other representing your upper half. The suspension cables between them represent your core.”
The two towers, no matter how tall and strong, can’t support the bridge in between without strong suspension cables. That's where your core — the support cables for your entire body — comes in.
Solid core strength developed by a good set of core strengthening exercises enables the muscles in your hips, pelvis, lower back, and abdomen to work as a team. This improves balance, agility, and power.
“With adequate core support, the Spartan athlete can also navigate treacherous downhills with greater explosion, speed, and sure footing without wasting energy,” Donoghue says. “Core strength is necessary to succeed at every obstacle.”
Essential Core-Strengthening Exercises Every Spartan Needs
These four Spartan race obstacles are extremely common out on the course, and these core strengthening exercises will help you conquer them with ease. Integrate these into your regular training and you’ll improve your course skills (and your race times).
Training for the Spartan Bucket Carry
Carrying a bucket filled with gravel, sand, or dirt in front of your body with both hands requires a core of steel (especially when you’re required to haul that bucket over boulders, up mountainsides, or down into gullies). As such, you need the proper core strengthening exercises to support the work demand.
“This puts a tremendous load on the lower back, and your core has to be strong to support your spine,” Donoghue says.
Aside from filling a bucket and toting it around your neighborhood, Donoghue recommends these exercises:
1. Lie prone on the floor with your arms and legs extended and your thumbs pointed toward the ceiling.
2. Keeping your head neutral, exhale and lift all of your limbs up a few inches.
3. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
4. Lower, rest a beat, then repeat 2 to 3 more times. Aim to lift higher with each repetition.
Hollow Body Hold
1. Lie supine with your legs together, your arms along your sides, and your lower back pressed into the floor to engage your abs.
2. Hold that pelvic position as you lift your legs a few inches off the floor, then raise your head, shoulders, and upper back off the ground, reaching your hands for your heels.
3. Hold and breathe for 20 to 30 seconds, then lower to the start. Repeat up to 3 times and progress by adding more time to each hold, or by extending your arms overhead alongside your ears to intensify the move.
Training for the Spartan Rope Climb
Climbing up a rope is no easy task. But when you’re wet, cold, and exhausted, it can feel almost unthinkable. Training with these two core strengthening exercises can save your arms from burnout and propel you up the rope in seconds rather than minutes.
“The two most common rope-climbing techniques — the J-hook and the S-hook — require you to raise your knees as high as possible before locking onto the rope,” Donoghue says.
To develop this kind of hip and ab strength, Donoghue recommends these exercises:
Hanging Knee Raise
1. Hang straight from a pull-up bar with your legs together.
2. Without using momentum, lift your knees to hip height (or just above) and hold briefly, then lower slowly to the start.
3. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
1. Lie supine on the floor and hold onto a stable object behind you (such as the leg of a rig or squat rack) with your elbows bent.
2. Lift your knees over your hips, legs bent 90 degrees, and press your lower back into the floor.
3. Slowly lift your hips off of the floor, bringing your knees toward your elbows as far as you can.
4. Pause, then slowly lower to the start.
5. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 slow reps.
Training for the Spartan Barbed Wire Crawl
Navigating the mud and rocks underneath this iconic Spartan race obstacle — which often affords racers less than a foot of headroom — is beyond challenging, especially when the traverse travels up a hill.
“One widely-used strategy to conquer this obstacle is a side roll,” Donoghue says, for which he recommends a hollow body roll in both directions.
As for crawling forward or ducking underneath the wire, “animal movements such as the bear and ape offer the perfect dynamic foundation to gain vital core strength.”
Hollow Body Roll
1. Lie on your side with your arms and legs extended and together.
2. Contract your side body to lift your arms and legs off of the floor a couple of inches and brace your core.
3. Remain tight as you roll onto your back, and then onto your other side with control, contracting your opposite side body as you turn over.
4. Continue, alternating sides, for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
1. Crouch on the floor with your hips low and your hands placed flat in front of you between your feet.
2. Reach across your body and place both hands on the ground outside of your feet, then hop your feet the same direction, pivoting over your hands and landing lightly on the other side.
3. Continue in one direction for 20 yards, then go the other way for 20 yards.
4. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Training for the Spartan Multi-Rig
When you encounter the Multi-Rig, you have to be able to hold on for dear life while navigating through space, stabilizing your body and controlling unnecessary movement that could result in a muddy dunking.
“This is where core anti-rotation and stabilization comes in,” Donoghue says. “These kinds of exercises keep you from twisting, turning, or bending when you don’t want to.”
1. Lie supine on the floor with your knees over your hips, your legs bent 90 degrees, and your arms straight up from your shoulders.
2. Press your lower back into the floor and keep it there as you slowly lower one leg and the opposite arm toward the floor.
3. Hold for a few breaths, then return to the start.
4. Continue, alternating sides for a total of 20 reps.
5. Do 2 to 3 sets.
One-Arm Chest Press
1. Lie supine on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor for stability, and hold one dumbbell straight up over your shoulder with your palm facing forward.
2. Slowly bend your elbow and lower the weight down until your arm makes a 90-degree angle or the inside head of the weight almost touches your shoulder.
3. Press back to the top forcefully, coming to full extension without locking out.
4. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps on each arm.