Woman completing obstacle course

Obstacle Course Racing: Three Things to Know Before You Sign Up

Private: Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD
Contributor Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD

There are always new trends and ways to make exercise interesting and fun. One such trend today is obstacle course racing (OCR). The most popular OCR events among novice and intermediate athletes currently are the Tough Mudder, Spartan Sprint, and Warrior Dash. These races seek to push participants’ bodies to the limit while experiencing the outdoors. Although there are several long-distance OCR options – including the Tough Mudder – we recommend that novice and intermediate athletes start with a sprint race of about three miles. We also recommend that you check with your doctor to determine whether it would be safe for you to participate in an OCR event.

Here’s a summary of the most popular OCR options:

  • Spartan Sprint: This timed 3.5 mile race includes 15 or more obstacles. Penalties (30 burpees or push-ups) are assessed if obstacles are skipped.
  • Warrior Dash: Participants in this untimed 3.1-mile event face approximately 12 obstacles, including a 50-yard mud crawl to the finish line. No penalties are incurred if obstacles are skipped.
  • Tough Mudder: This untimed 12-mile challenge typically includes 12 or more obstacles and is known for mud and cold-water challenges. No penalties are incurred if obstacles are skipped.

OCR events are intense and designed to push your physical limits. Injuries can and do happen during these races, so if you’re thinking about taking on an OCR challenge, consider the following injury prevention tips:

1. Pick the right race for you.

Picking the right race and course is crucial, and there are ­many different OCR options. Spartan races, for example, regularly offer stadium races, which involve no mud, water, or fire-themed obstacles. Spend some time researching reviews on each type of race and research the course itself, as some are safer and easier than others.

2. Follow a strength training program.

The best OCR training plans include a combination of cardiovascular and strength training. Cardiovascular workouts are important for increasing endurance, and strength training will help you with obstacles that include climbing, crawling, and carrying heavy objects. There are many training resources online, including training plans for each type of race. Pick a plan that works for you, and stick to it!

3. Know your limits.

It’s important to not overdo it when training. Jumping into an intense regimen can lead to overuse injuries, such as tendinitis or stress fractures. Instead, gradually increase your training. Start with one or two workouts a week and then slowly increase the frequency and intensity.

Race Day

Listen to your body on race day! If you feel uncomfortable with an obstacle, skip it. If you feel a tweak or twinge, take a minute to evaluate whether you should continue the race. Well-designed races will have a staff member at every obstacle that can help you if you need it.

Private: Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD
Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD

Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD, is Surgical Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Team Physician for Stonehill College Athletics, and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Before you go,

Staying active through regular exercise and playing sports offers many physical and mental health benefits. Get tips on how to optimize your workouts and keep your body safe from injury. Read more exercise and sports articles.