Nearly four million people took part in obstacle course races in 2014, an exponential increase from an estimated 200,000 in 2010 when the pioneers of the sport held the first few events. Each year obstacle races are becoming more accessible, and you’re likely to find a nearby race that is a good fit for you regardless of your skill and athletic level. As David Magida points out in The Essentials of Obstacle Race Training, there are countless reasons to try an obstacle course race (OCR).
Magida, founder of Elevate Interval Fitness, founding member of the Spartan Race pro team, and host of NBC Sports’ Spartan Race, believes the most obvious reason for participating in an obstacle race is that it can change your life. He pinpoints three major benefits to racing:
1. Physical benefits. Competing in an obstacle race provides you with an opportunity to dramatically boost your physical health, mainly because you suddenly have a specific rigorous event for which to prepare. “Very few people show up to the starting line completely unprepared,” observes Magida, who regularly provides expert commentary on obstacle race training for Men’s Fitness. “They prepare ahead of time, adopting a mentality of ‘suffer now so I won’t suffer on the day of the race.’” For that reason, from the day you sign up for a race you can expect to see and feel physical improvements in your body.
Over the course of an OCR training program, the most noticeable change might be weight loss or weight management. Weight loss can be a simple result of increased training or better eating. But weight loss is only the beginning. As you push toward your peak condition you will notice other physiological improvements, including enhanced cardiorespiratory conditioning; the ability to run faster, farther, and with less fatigue; higher daily energy levels; and increased strength, power, and explosiveness.
Balance, coordination, mobility, and flexibility will also improve significantly as you prepare for race day, particularly if you previously had a sedentary lifestyle or work in a seated position, such as in front of a computer. Finally, you’ll find that you will have increased functional fitness: activities of daily living, such as lifting heavy boxes or standing on your feet for long periods, will become easier.
2. Health and wellness benefits. One of the most noticeable wellness benefits of obstacle race training is a significantly improved immune system. Studies have shown that consistent exercise can flush bacteria and carcinogens from the lungs and accelerate the outputs of fluid wastes like sweat and urine. Exercise also accelerates the rate at which white blood cells and antibodies are pushed through the body, improving the body’s defense against disease.
Stress reduction is another wellness benefit of establishing a training program. The exercise associated with training for an obstacle race can be a tremendous stress reliever. Regular exercise can help you clear your head, get rid of nervous energy, and destress. That destressed state often transfers to other aspects of your life, allowing you to be more relaxed, more focused, and less anxious. “An obstacle race training program can be integral in establishing exercise consistency in terms of effort level and day-to-day consistency,” Magida says. “So as your exercise consistency increases, your daily stress levels decrease.”
3. Mental and social health benefits. It’s not just the training that can improve overall wellness. The race itself can prove to be fantastic for mental health as well. Obstacle racing can provide you with an outlet for some excitement and for something new. As Magida points out, it’s an opportunity “to climb into the mud, get dirty, push your body to its limits, maybe even bleed a little.” He says many people come back from a race shocked at how much fun they had.
OCR can be a shared experience as a team, such as a group from your office completing a race together as a team-building activity, or it can be competitive. Obstacle racing provides a healthy, appropriate outlet for you to release your competitive side. For some, it’s an opportunity to rediscover competitive spirit. “Too many adults have forgotten what it feels like to compete with their peers in a purely physical activity,” Magida stresses. “So obstacle racing is good not only for the body but also for the mind.”
Whether you are looking for a challenge, a fun day, an opportunity to act like a kid again, or even an opportunity to slay some internal demons, you will find other racers with the same goals and mind-set. It’s possible you will develop a healthy social life as a result and build friendships with people who share the mentality that an active lifestyle is a good one, which will be a positive influence on your life.
Co-written with Melissa Rodriguez, author of the first-ever industry report on obstacle racing, The Essentials of Obstacle Race Training features full-color photos, step-by-step instructions for 113 exercises, 46 programs, preparation tips, and professional advice.