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Barbells and bodyweight training for obstacle course races

When it comes to training for obstacle course races, you will find out that you will need to be able to move your body and control it in ways that you may not have been able to in long time.  I have spoken about relative body strength in the past, basically being pound for pound strong.  A great way to increase relative body strength is through bodyweight exercises.

As the fitness industry has grown and new equipment has come out we have at times forgotten about the best piece of equipment that we own, our own body.  With many people training for obstacle course races, the use of bodyweight exercises has seen a sort of an emergence. Many of the workouts of the days posted by several different races always include some kind of running with pushup, burpees and or sit-ups. 

If you are one that mixes up your training for obstacle course races and not only do you train outside but in the weight room as well I have a great way to mix traditional strength training with bodyweight exercises.  Now some of you may have seen variations like this before and some of you may not have.

The first step is to choose a complex exercise using a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell. Remember we are working on strength with this exercise, so when we pick a repetition range we want to make sure that we are training between 1-5 reps. There are different set and rep schemes you can choose from depending on how intense you want your training session to be.

Here are some schemes that you can choose from (Note the first number is the set and the second is the number of reps you perform within that set):

  1. The famous Arnold 5×5
  2. 5×2
  3. 6×1
  4. 3×3
  5. 2×5
  6. Jim Wendler’s 5,3,1

As the number of reps decreases, the intensity should increase.  Here is the difference between a 5×2 and a 2×5.  In a 5×2 you will be lifting close to your 1 repetition maximum, so anywhere between 90- 95%. With the 2×5 you will find yourself more in the range between 80-85%.  These set and rep schemes will ensure that you are maintaining or gaining strength during your training.

After you have chosen the complex exercise you will then choose two-bodyweight exercise that you will perform right after you have completed the set amount of reps in the complex exercise.  Here is how to choose wisely.  IF you choose lower body complex exercise you will want to choose an upper-body or abdominal bodyweight exercise to go with it.  If you have chosen an upper-body complex movement then you will go with lower body bodyweight exercises.

While training for obstacle course races I like to make each session in the weight room a total body session. Here is what a sample training session can look like using this method of training.

NOTE: AMRAP=As many reps as possible

 Complex/Bodyweight Combo

1. Back Squat 5×2

1a. Pushups 5xAMRAP

1b. Pull-ups 5xAMRAP






Rest 2-3 minutes between sets

Then move onto:

2. Overhead Press 2×5

2a. Single-Leg Deadlift 2×8

2c. Leg Lifts 2xAMRAP

As you can see you are getting in a good amount of work.  You will be working on your strength and as you will see your heart rate will rise during the bodyweight exercises.   If you are serious about training for obstacle course races then this is a great way to get strong and kill a training session inside the gym.

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