The Sport Science of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)

Sport Science helps optimise your training

We all love our obstacle course races (OCRs) and Mud Runs. But have you ever thought of the sport science behind them and how it can help optimise you and your team’s training?

There are three main energy systems that the body uses when exercising. 

Two of these are anaerobic, which simply means without oxygen, the other is the aerobic system. The aerobic system is the one you will think of - 5ks, 10ks and marathons. They involve continuous running without too much variation. 

In theory if you pace it right you should be able to maintain at the same rate for the whole race. 

As most OCRs involve distances of 5km+, you should definitely include this type of training - but it may not be enough!

Where an OCR differs is when obstacles come in front of you! You head into the anaerobic zones. Remember carrying that heavy log up the steep hill and you start to get the lactic acid burn? 

You're entering into the Glycolytic/Lactate training zone (ouch)

This is where your muscles are working so hard that you cannot take in enough oxygen to clear out the lactic acid inside. 

This means you inevitably have to slow down so your PB (personal best) time may suffer. Just as you were about to smash it! 

Don’t fear though, usually we can last up to 2 minutes in our Lactate Zone before we start to slow down. Thankfully, we can train to become better and avoid that lactic acid or even use it as fuel. 

This is where intervals and circuit training comes in

By working at a high intensity with breaks between, it gets the body used to the demands you will place on it during your race.

The other anaerobic system used is the PhosphoCreatine/ATP system. This comes into play with the explosive jump over that wall or that sprint finish. 

This is used only for 8-12 seconds before moving onto our Lactate training zone. However, that last sprint may be the difference between a PB and not, so it is important to train

The best way to train this zone is through doing very high intensity sprints i.e. 10 seconds for 6-8 sets with 30 seconds rest between.

It’s great to work the aerobic training zone with more comfortable distance runs. If you really want to improve as an obstacle course runner then you need to push into those uncomfortable anaerobic zones. You go into them on race day, so you need to do it in training.

Why not try splitting your training the following way:

  • 1/2 Sessions of Distance Running at a steady pace

  • 1/2 Intervals and/or circuits with bodyweight

  • 1 session of sprints with the above protocol