Want to improve your chances of crushing a Spartan race? Then maybe it’s time to stop training for OCR exclusively.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? But the truth is, unless you’re sweating it out with a Spartan coach or making the most of your Spartan FIT app, it’s easy to let OCR workouts become a little “one-note.” And when you’re aiming to hit your workout sweet spot, you can miss the signs that your sweet spot has actually become your comfort zone.
So, if you have a race lined up soon, here’s a tip: add a new sport to the exercise mix. Why? Because it’ll help get neglected muscles firing and your heart pumping stronger than ever.
“It’s all about functional training, and keeping our body guessing and reacting to different stimuli,” Jennifer Bleeker, Spartan SGX Coach and CrossFit trainer from Huntingdon Valley, Pa., says. “So that when race day comes, we can conquer whatever the course throws at us.”
Here’s a lowdown on a few other sports that you can try to help you power up and become an OCR ace.
Bleeker admits that she does more cycling than running when training for a Spartan race. One reason for this, she says, is that it allows her to log workouts without having to be constantly pounding the pavement, which in turn eases pressure on the joints.
“And it’s a great cross-training tool because you can do exactly what you do when running but at a lower impact, which will in turn aid quicker recovery sessions," she says. "So, climbing giant hills will get at that strength, and doing short sprints will spike the heart rate to build speed.”
Bleeker also notes that cycling is a fantastic recovery tool.
"It will flush the legs out, allowing the blood to move through the muscles," she explains. "Cycling will increase blood flow to the calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings, flushing out lactic acid and helping them repair.”
But if an exercise routine without running seems as out of whack as a day without breathing, then you can still tag cycling onto your training with a low-medium bike ride the day after a long run.
“This will help your legs to recover, and your joints will thank you due to how low the impact it is," Bleeker says. "Muscle and joint stiffness will dissipate and you can get back out on that running course much sooner than if you rested.”
Muscles worked: Abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and shin muscles.
You might be wondering how paddling the waves will help you scale the A-Frame, but studies have shown that canoeing and kayaking can help build both aerobic power and anaerobic capacity.
Aerobic power helps increase endurance while boosting anaerobic capacity can set you up for those short, sharp bursts of energy that’ll get you over walls, up hills, or sprinting to the finish line.
The motion of paddling toughens shoulders and arms. Strength is crucial for carries, but so too is a strong back. That’s where the action of rotating your torso to power your kayak will help. You need to apply pressure to your legs while turning from side to side, which helps stabilize the spine and strengthen the legs as well.
Muscles worked: Obliques, abdominals, glutes and upper-leg muscles, upper- and lower-back muscles, biceps, triceps, and rotator cuff.
There are several sports that you can try your hand at, but according to Bleeker, Barre is a can't-miss option.
OK, it's not exactly a sport — more a hybrid exercise combining ballet-inspired moves with elements of Pilates and yoga. But Bleeker, who is also a black belt and a certified kettlebell instructor says, “It’s an absolute must.”
“Barre focuses on isometric (static holds), eccentric, and concentric movements to lengthen and shorten the muscles,” she explains. “The isometric exercises, for example, focus on strengthening a specific muscle group, which puts less stress on your joints while still being able to strengthen those important muscles. Running, the main component of a Spartan race, is a high-impact sport and if you do not give your body a rest, your chances of injury are much higher.
“Also,” Bleeker says, “Barre movements rely on control rather than momentum. Just think about breath control here — our running improves with proper breath control.”
But there’s even more to it than that. Barre is known to help improve posture, flexibility, muscle awareness, endurance, and overall body alignment, which, as Bleeker notes, will help boost balance.
In addition, the fancy footwork that you have to learn in a Barre class can be your secret weapon on a Spartan course.
“OCR requires foot strength, and a nice strong pair of feet is far more important for you than you may realize,” Bleeker says. “Putting undue stress on the feet and ankles is a recipe for disaster with injury, imbalance, and lack of stability. Positions such as first, second, third, and fourth — along with demi-pointe — work those ankles and feet. So, you can say goodbye to sprained ankles and flaring plantar fascia.
“In other words,” she adds, “If you want to improve your obstacle completion and reaction times on the unpredictable terrain, you need Barre.”
Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, calves, upper back muscles (lats, rhomboid, trapezius), peroneal muscles (ankle/foot)
Shooting hoops isn't just fun — science says that it’s a surefire way to build strength and stamina, and improve both balance and coordination, all of which you’ll need to crush OCR.
While sprinting up and down the basketball court will help you power up your glutes, hamstring, and calf muscles, the triceps are the muscles you’ll use most if you’re shooting and passing, followed by those in the shoulders and chest.
Swift moves and direction changes LeBron-style also encourage short-duration muscle contractions which can help with joint stability — something that’s always a plus when running over rocky and uneven race terrains.
And there’s another reason for considering a team-based sport like basketball (or football, softball, etc.) as a secondary sport to prop up your OCR training. Recent research published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science (JSHS) found that team-based physical activity didn’t just help to build confidence and self-esteem (and, hey, we can all do with an extra serving of both when facing obstacles like the Rope Climb or Spear Throw), but it also has a positive effect on bone strength.
Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, calves, triceps, rotator cuff, upper and lower back muscles, and abdominal muscles.