I have to be the first to state I am no personal trainer, nor have I ever had professional training. That being said; I know from personal experience that when I run a lot my run times get better on the two mile, when I lift a lot my strength and physique improve, and when I only work out intermittently I see almost no progression.
Depending on your lifestyle this may not be an issue. A friend of mine wrestled in high school; but outside of actual grappling time he did almost no strength and conditioning training. His coaches let him get away with this because he lived on a farm and worked his ass off all day tending animals, bucking hay, and working heavy equipment; and he never had a problem with practical exercise in his youth. While no great champion, he wrestled well. If you hunt and backpack consistently you may not need to supplement your lifestyle with an exercise program and large goals. But most of us, myself included, spend way too much of our work day in front of a computer screen.
I was understandably frustrated with my last PT test when my push-ups were not where I had expected them to be, even though I was back to repping 225 on the flat bench (not bad for a tall skinny dude). I thought about the difference between the slow calculated lifting I was using to build my strength, and failed to focus on the quick explosive bursts of strength that amount to a high push-up count. Same general muscles, different types of conditioning, different results.
Was I wrong in my work outs? It all depends on what we are after. For a PT test something like cross fit would likely serve much better than power lifting; but if you want to bench an engine block; throw cross fit out the window.
So take a moment and evaluate what your ultimate goals are in physical training. I believe that all physical improvement is good improvement, but do you want to have strength, sexy physique, explosive strength, or enduring stamina? Bear in mind that your body type may limit your ability; my personal experience has taught me that while in core lifts my bench and dead lift will increase quite nicely; my long legs make increasing weight in squats a difficult process if i’m maintaining proper form.
Hopefully your mind is turning, so let’s take a look at some common exercise programs and their common perks and drawbacks. And bear in mind that these are general articles and do not explore the countless deviations the spawn off from each of these programs. Also bear in mind that results will vary depending on diet, time commitment, mentoring, and body type.
Enjoy, and let me know what works for you.
CrossFit is a system of exercise and nutrition (founded in 2000 by Greg Glassman) that claims to “forge elite fitness.” Their Reebok-sponsored annual games boast that the winners have proven themselves to be “the fittest on earth.” CrossFit advocates a mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weight lifting. Workouts are typically short—30 minutes or less—and intense, requiring maximal physical exertion.
Difficulty. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective and highly efficient way to improve muscle strength and cardio-vascular endurance. In my opinion, CrossFit’s greatest contribution to the fitness industry is its emphasis on HIIT, something that has not been sufficiently emphasized in the past.
Nutrition. CrossFit emphasizes the importance of healthy nutrition as part of its fitness strategy. This is sorely lacking in other systems/regimens. While I might quibble with some of the more extreme “Paleo” proponents within the CrossFit community, there’s no arguing that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy oils, and complex carbohydrates (no sugars or refined flours) is a healthy way to eat.
Community. Peer support encourages consistency in participation. CrossFit does a good job in building community and making everyone feel welcome. All levels of fitness (and all ages) are welcome to join a CrossFit gym and participate to the best of their ability in the workout of the day (WOD).
Affordability. CrossFit gyms are relatively inexpensive to outfit (less high-tech equipment) and are easy to scale. For this reason they provide greater access to people at all income levels, which is a huge plus.
Portability. CrossFitters learn how to use their own body weight to create challenging exercise routines anywhere, anytime. There is no longer any excuse not to get a good workout in, whether you are traveling and can’t get to the gym or you are too busy to break free from the kids to do a more formal work out.
Frequent Injury. CrossFit injury rates are substantially higher than most other fitness regimens. Herniated disks, muscle and tendon ruptures, rhabdomyolysis are not uncommon. In fact, most CrossFit athletes that I know presume that “injury just comes with the territory” and I frequently see Facebook photos of bloody/blistered hands as some kind of badge of honor. I myself sustained a low back injury even when carefully observing my technique during a CrossFit workout, and a dear friend actually ripped off one of the heads of his bicep when attempting an Olympic weight maneuver, while another friend fractured her wrist after falling down during a series of box jumps to exhaustion. Trust me when I say that if you do CrossFit long enough, you’re bound to become injured in some way.
Challenging Technique. Correct exercise form is hard to master, and since many CrossFit moves derive from gymnastics and Olympic weight lifting (sports that take many years to perfect), it is incredibly important to perform movements according to correct mechanical form. Although CrossFit experts strongly agree that good form is the key to safe and effective exercise, the fact is that people don’t always follow directions. In fact, most athletes that I’ve watched at CrossFit gyms suffer from poor form in one or more of their moves – sometimes because of inexperience, and other times because they are too exhausted to perform their final rep(s) correctly and their attention has waned. Functional movement is freer than the usual, controlled weight scenarios in a gym’s circuit training machines. And with that freedom comes the benefit of activating more muscles at a time, but the danger of injury, especially for new initiates or older athletes.
Peer Pressure. The flip side of having a “strong community” that encourages participation, is that the same community may push participants to engage in unsafe exercise practices. I’ve often seen well-meaning CrossFit instructors encourage people to pick up heavier weights than they feel comfortable with in order to push them to become stronger. There is a fine line between healthy encouragement to challenge yourself, and dangerously heavy weight lifting. It’s normal to want to “keep up with the Joneses” to your right and left during a WOD, but when Mr. Jones is a 250 pound tower of muscle, you might not want to be lifting the same weights.
Glorification of the mesomorph. There’s no doubt that committed CrossFitters develop enviably lean, muscular bodies. However, I wince a bit at the tendency for CrossFitters to promote the idea that their way is “THE best way” to be fit, and the bravado surrounding their competitions for “fittest on earth” is exclusionary and unfair. Just because an athlete was born with a different body type, ill-suited to Olympic weight lifting for example, doesn’t mean they can’t be fittest on earth (a rather subjective measure – why not an Ironman as the fittest?) There’s not much variation in the body types of those who are at the top of the CrossFit heap (i.e. large muscle mass, not too short or tall), which speaks to the fact that ultimately this sport is not optimal for all-comers (nor is the position of linebacker on a football team).
My bottom line: CrossFit must be approached with caution, though it provides some excellent HIIT and nutrition principles that can optimize one’s health. If you enjoy strength training (more than cardio or yoga for example) and like camaraderie but can resist the temptation to push yourself into the injury zone, then CrossFit may be for you.
The martial arts are comprised of disciplines such as boxing, wrestling , karate, and judo, as well as some competitions in which all disciplines such as these are allowed. Some of the advantages of the martial arts training include improved physical fitness, increased mental discipline, and a better fighting ability.
Martial arts training, however, can have dangerous disadvantages. As martial arts students improve their fighting ability, for example, they often become overconfident. This is especially true of naïve, young males who often believe that the martial arts will give them the superhuman abilities that seem so apparent in Hollywood movies. Those martial arts actors, however, carefully choreograph their moves together, jump off trampolines and have their technique speed accelerated by running the video recording at a faster rate.
The naive overconfidence of young males can increase the chances that they will become involved in street fights. Even if young males have improved their fighting ability in competition where there are strict rules, street fights have fewer or even no rules.
As an example, in most of the marital arts competitions, groin strikes are not allowed, and contestants often wear groin cups to protect themselves from accidental groin strikes. In street fights, however, the combatants probably will not be wearing these protective cups and this prohibition against groin strikes probably will not be honored.
There are many other very vulnerable areas of the body that martial arts competition rules protect by safety equipment and by prohibitions against attacking these areas. Street fights do not have these safeguards.
As second example, in most martial arts competitions, the contest starts when the referee begins the fight. In a street fight, however, the fight can start unexpectedly with a fight ending sucker punch.
As a third example, martial arts competitions do not allow contestants to be drunk or on illegal drugs such as meth amphetamine or PCP. Street fighters, however, might be drunk or on illegal drugs such as these. As a result, they might have increased strength and incredible tolerance to pain.
As a fourth example, the martial arts usually involve one-on-one fighting within weight classes and without weapons. Street fights, unfortunately, can involve gangs against individuals, no weight restrictions, and the use of very deadly weapons.
As is apparent from the examples above, people trained in the martial arts can be at a deadly disadvantage if they fight by the rules of martial arts contests when the street fighters do not heed such rules. There is no way to predict what rules, if any, that a street fighter will honor. Martial artists should avoid street fights whenever possible.
Bodybuilding is practiced by people who wish to transform their body structure through intensive muscular exercise. In general, bodybuilders employ three main strategies to maximize their muscular strength. The first method is to maximize their strength through weights or elastic and hydraulic resistance equipment. Second strategy would be to stress upon specialized nutrition, incorporating extra protein and supplements in the daily diet. The third strategy is to give the body adequate amount of rest, which includes sleep as well as recuperation between successive workouts. This is extremely essential if one decides to practice bodybuilding. The article entails several advantages and disadvantages of bodybuilding, which you should browse through, before opting for bodybuilding as an activity.
Advantages of Bodybuilding
One of the prime benefits that you can experience by the process of bodybuilding is discipline. As in the case of any other sport, bodybuilding develops a spirit of self-routine in a person practicing it. You know that each day you have to come for training your body no matter what. Nothing stops you from going to the gymnasium in this allotted time. This amount of discipline eventually gets carried on to your social life as well.
Maintaining good health is an indispensable factor for all of us. In order to ensure our well-being, optimum physical activity is important. Bodybuilding is one such all-rounded physical activity, which we can practice to stay healthy and active. This also inculcates in us a positive attitude which eventually motivates us in doing several other household or outdoor duties, without getting exhausted easily. Hence, besides keeping our medical expenses low, it also puts an effective check on health conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure among others.
Another major advantage of the process of body building is its ability to boost self-confidence. Successfully training your body muscles and looking good can cast a positive influence in your life as well. You will be constantly appreciated by your family and peer group. Moreover, your ability to conduct the strenuous training procedure will in itself make you believe that you can overcome any fear and challenge in life.
Body building exercises will help you to have enough rest and proper sleep. Since your muscles would get tired and worn out after the vigorous exercises, you eventually would want enough rest. In case of teenagers, who are most fond of indulging in bodybuilding activities, this lures them away from attending to other misfits, which could be a serious hindrance to their life.
Disadvantages of Bodybuilding:
If you have decided to undergo the bodybuilding process, one of the most common misconceptions associated with it is that you have to considerably increase your protein intake to build up those muscles. Few people even go to extremes, such that their whole diet is composed of protein. However, taking too much protein can be more harmful for your body than good. Excess protein can put a lot of stress on your body organs, specifically on your kidneys.
If your body loses too much water due to sweating during exercise, chances of you getting dehydrated runs high. Dehydration makes you lose electrolytes and results in weakness, dizziness, and occasionally arrhythmias.
Weightlifting is a major exercise of the entire bodybuilding procedure. The main disadvantage of using weights is safety. You should remember not to exercise with weights all alone. Instead, always have a supporter to avoid any unwanted circumstances. Another common safety concern that should be kept in mind before indulging in bodybuilding exercise is at the time of using barbell. While using it to build your biceps and triceps, there is a possibility of getting trapped under the barbell, if you are unable to repeat an upward swing due to the heavy weight of the barbell.
Another disadvantage of using weight lifts is deliberately causing damage to your own body. You should be capable of balancing the heavy weights. If you are unable to keep complete control of your body when you are working out, you are, knowingly or unknowingly, causing severe wear and tear to your body muscles, thereby causing irreparable damage to them.
Here’s what you need to know…
- Powerlifters know their stuff. But sometimes non-powerlifters follow their advice to their detriment.
- Powerlifters teach us to focus first on strength, emphasize good form, and narrow our focus. All good.
- Good technique for powerlifting is not always good technique for physique or performance training purposes.
- The powerlifting emphasis on maximal strength above all else isn’t ideal for most lifters. Most are better off getting really strong at a moderate rep range.
- Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter, the “Big 3” lifts are not the end-all, be-all exercises. There are other options just as effective.
Powerlifting for the Non-Powerlifter
Today, a lot of strength training advice comes from powerlifters and is based on powerlifting principles.
Want to get bigger? Focus on the squat, bench, and deadlift and throw in some assistance work to improve those lifts and you’ll be good.
Want to burn fat? Focus on the squat, bench, and deadlift and throw in some assistance work to improve those lifts and you’ll be good.
Want to get stronger for sports? Focus on the squat, bench, and deadlift and throw in some assistance work to improve those lifts and you’ll be good.
I’m surprised I haven’t read someone claim that the “Big 3” can cure cancer! Listen, powerlifters certainly have a lot to offer the lifting community. I’ve learned a ton from powerlifters.
But for the non-powerlifter looking to get bigger, burn fat, or improve their sports performance, powerlifting isn’t the be-all-end-all. It’s like Bruce Lee said: Absorb what is useful and discard what is useless.
With that in mind, let’s examine the pros and cons of powerlifting for the non-powerlifter.
1 – Primary Focus on Strength
The biggest thing that non-powerlifters can take from powerlifters? Building a solid foundation of strength above all else. Getting stronger is beneficial to any fitness-related goal, from building muscle to burning fat.
You can’t go wrong with strong.
For the powerlifter, everything starts and ends with strength because that’s obviously the primary goal. Different goals usually require focusing on other qualities in addition to strength, but building a good base of strength should be a big part of your focus – the biggest, in fact – and should help form the foundation of your program.
Far too often I see people abandon basic heavy strength training when their goals are more physique-related, using the rationale that “I don’t care how much I lift, I just want to look good.”
If they’re chasing fat loss they’ll abandon heavy lifting altogether and instead focus on higher rep circuit-type stuff combined with a hefty dose of “gerbil cardio.” Both have a place in a fat loss program, but they should be used to augment a basic strength-training program, not supplant it.
Those looking to build muscle often look to pro bodybuilders, who do more isolation work and “pump” training. They reason that this approach must be more effective for building muscle mass. There’s no problem with doing some isolation work and chasing a pump. Both have value when you’re looking to add muscle mass.
But here’s the thing that too many people overlook: Those bodybuilders doing pump-type training are almost invariably strong as shit.
They’ve already paid their dues building a foundation of strength. And they’re chasing that pump with heavier weights than most skinny guys use for their strength work!
If your max bench press is 200 pounds and you’re desperate to build a bigger chest, don’t look at the bodybuilder doing 80 pound flyes and think that you should be doing flyes too.
Doing 80 pound flyes will definitely build muscle, but realize that to build up to the point where you can do 80 pound flyes, you must first put in the work building your pressing strength. Otherwise you’ll be doing 25 pound flyes and well, that’s just embarrassing.
2 – Emphasis on Good Form
Another positive: Powerlifters emphasize good form. And good form in powerlifting means using a full range of motion – another plus.
A lot of people spend their time searching for the latest-and-greatest program to jumpstart their progress. The real problem? Their form sucks and they do everything with a partial range of motion, either due to too much ego, lack of mobility, or both.
While good programming is important, the best thing a trainer can do to help his clients is teach good technique. Any idiot trainer can copy someone else’s program. What separates good trainers from bad trainers is the ability to get clients to execute the program well.
Powerlifters take the time in the beginning to hammer home good technique to the point where it becomes automatic before they worry about anything else. They know that good technique is more effective and safer. Take notes and do the same.
3 – A Narrow, Defined Focus
The goals of powerlifting are ultra clear, defined, and focused: to increase the squat, bench, and deadlift. And the goal never changes. It’s the same month after month and year after year.
Successful powerlifters do a great job of making sure that everything in their program contributes to that goal. They don’t sabotage themselves by doing extraneous things to hurt their performance on those exercises.
Contrast that with the average gym goer who continually spins his wheels year after year because he either tries to pursue too many goals at once or, even worse, doesn’t have any goals and just wings it on a daily basis.
One day they’ll be hell-bent on increasing their pull-ups, then the next squat workout they’ll get excited and want to do a leg specialization program only to realize two workouts later that it’s hard and it sucks, at which point they’ll want to try the cool circuit-based routine they read in a magazine.
Whatever the case may be, the most successful people are those with clear and defined goals that stick to the same goal for an extended period of time.
1 – Focused Too Heavily on Maximal Strength
Powerlifters spend a lot of time training in the 1-5 rep range. They’ll even joke that anything over five reps is “cardio.”
That obviously makes sense for powerlifting where maximal strength is the goal. But for the non-powerlifter, it’s not wise to spend all your time training in very low rep ranges.
In fact, my clients rarely go under five reps on anything, and most spend the majority of the time focusing on getting as strong as possible in the 6-12 rep range on most exercises. Training in more moderate rep ranges is far safer and also more effective for hypertrophy purposes.
Maximal strength matters for powerlifting and for being able to brag to your buddies, but other than that, the rest of us are far better served getting strong in moderate rep ranges.
By the way, if you really think anything over five reps is cardio, it’s time to get in shape!
2 – Good Form Is Based on Lifting As Much As Possible
I love the emphasis that powerlifters place on technique, but good technique for powerlifting purposes is not always good technique for physique or performance training purposes.
There’s certainly a lot of overlap, but it’s important to realize that in powerlifting the goal is simply to move as much weight as possible, whereas most non-powerlifters perform exercises with the goal of optimally working certain parts of the body.
For example, it’s one thing for a powerlifter to use an excessive arch on the bench press to shorten the range of motion as much as possible, but I wouldn’t advise someone to do that who’s benching for their pecs or doing close-grip bench to build triceps.
Similarly, a lot of powerlifters assume a wide stance for squatting and try to make the movement as hip dominant as possible. But if you’re squatting for quad development it makes more sense to assume a more narrow stance and try to remain as upright as possible.
Finally, powerlifters try to make their form as efficient as possible. But for physique purposes it can be beneficial at times to try to lift more inefficiently and really “feel” the weight.
3 – Too Focused on the “Big 3”
Powerlifters are dogmatic about the Big 3 lifts, even for non-powerlifters. Those three exercises are put on a pedestal and everything else is marginalized to “assistance” or “accessory” lifts.
Again, this makes sense if you’re a powerlifter, but for everyone else it’s absurd.
Having a few key lifts that you focus on and use as a barometer to measure progress is great, but for the non-powerlifter, there’s nothing magical about the squat, bench, and deadlift.
There’s nothing wrong with them either. I like all three and use them if the situation calls for it, but they’re certainly not absolutely essential like a powerlifters would lead you to believe.
What’s more, many people simply shouldn’t be doing the three powerlifts, either for injury reasons or because their body structure just doesn’t lend itself well to the exercise.
That’s blasphemy to a lot of powerlifters, who will call you a pussy for even suggesting something other than the Big 3, but if you’re not competing there are no mandatory exercises.
The key then becomes to find a few compound movements that feel good to you – meaning you feel them working the areas you’re looking to work and they don’t cause pain – and make them your bitch.
Don’t worry if the exercises you like are deemed to be “assistance” exercises by the powerlifting community. Powerlifters like to judge exercises based on their carryover to the squat, bench, and deadlift. But who cares about carryover if you aren’t being tested in those lifts, or any lifts for that matter? An assistance exercise is just an exercise that brings you closer to your goal, whatever that might be.
If your goal to build a bigger chest but you’ve never felt the bench press much in your pecs or benching gives you shoulder pain, you’d be much better off switching to an incline press or a low-incline dumbbell press.
If conventional deadlifts bug your lower back, rather than stubbornly continue to do them, try trap bar deadlifts, rack pulls, or RDLs.
If squats bug your knees or lower back, or if you always seem to turn your squats into something that more closely resembling a good morning despite working on your form, try front squats, Bulgarian split squats, or low-handle trap bar squats.
In short, non-powerlifters can learn a lot from powerlifters. But if you’re not competing, keep an open mind. Listen to Bruce Lee.
Running has become very popular in our society in recent years. I see people of all ages running along roadsides in the desert where I live, and I like to run myself. The great advantage of this form of exercise is its intensity. It promotes fitness quickly and efficiently and burns more calories than other activities, making it attractive to people who want to control their weight. Because of its intensity, running releases endorphins in many people, creating the runner’s high that some describe as an “energy buzz.” The runner’s high – like aerobic exercise highs in general – is a good antidepressant.
Running has some potentially serious disadvantages that you should consider before choosing to do it on a regular basis. The chance of injury is greater than for any of the other aerobic activities listed here. Running traumatizes the body, especially joints in the legs, knees, and back, as well as the kidneys. You can minimize this possibility by taking several precautions. Never run on concrete. If possible, run on cinder tracks or dirt paths. Asphalt is not as bad as concrete but not as good as dirt. Always wear well-made running shoes designed to minimize shock to the joints, and get a new pair whenever your present ones start to wear out. Women should wear athletic bras or other breast supports. Warm up before you start a run, not by stretching but by running in slow motion.
Above all, listen to your body. If you develop pain in any joints, stop running or cut down on it until you determine the reason for the pain. I have seen too many people who ignored warning signals of this sort and now are unable to run at all because of damage to vertebrae, hip joints, and knees. Of course, this caution applies to any form of physical activity, but because running subjects the body to so much trauma, it is of special importance here.
Running also seems more open to abuse than other forms of aerobic exercise, probably because of its stressful nature and consequent effect on the endorphin system. Many people run addictively, that is, with a compulsive quality that takes over their lives. If circumstances prevent them from running, they may be impossible to live with. Others approach running as a form of self-punishment. In Tucson during the burning hot days of May and June, I often see middle-aged men running on city streets in the midday sun with looks of agony on their faces. They must believe they get more benefit from an aerobic workout if they make it as torturous as possible. I should not have to tell you that this idea is silly. The extreme stress of running in heat can damage the body, especially the cardiovascular and urinary systems. Be sure to replace fluids if you run in hot weather and sweat a lot. Also try not to run on streets with heavy traffic. You can take in a lot of exhaust fumes when your breathing is stimulated by aerobic exercise.
You can run indoors on an automatic treadmill. Fitness clubs usually have these machines, and you can buy one for the home. Many models allow you to vary the speed and the incline and give you continuous information about your work output on a video display screen. Treadmills greatly reduce the possibility, of injury because the running surface has the proper springiness for safety. I find them quite boring, though, and really need to find ways to entertain myself while using them.
From barbell bootcamps to dance-based classes, group fitness is exploding in popularity as a way for gym-goers to get in a great workout alongside friends and motivators. And why not? The group atmosphere provides a unique environment that’s hard to re-create in a solo lifting session with your headphones. But group fitness classes aren’t for everyone. We’ve outlined their top pros and cons to help you decide if they deserve a spot in your weekly routine.
- MORE MOTIVATION
The thought of pushing through a gut-wrenching workout on your own might not get you excited about hitting the weights—but killing it in an hour-long workout alongside 20–30 other people? That’s a different story. Group fitness classes are known to be a great way to kick yourself into gear on those days when all you really want to do is plant yourself on the couch. Between vibrant instructors and motivational music, group classes help rev up lackluster energy levels, making them ideal for individuals who consistently find themselves skipping the gym for beers with coworkers.
- ACCOUNTABILITY FACTOR
Skipping a solo workout has few consequences. Ditching your friends, however, could lead to some unwanted social shunning. Simply put, meeting workout buddies for a sweat session makes you much more likely to head to the gym. Now, multiply that effect by, say, 20 (the number of fitness buddies counting on you to show up), and you’re that much less likely to slough off your workout.
- VARIETY AND FUN
Doing the same old routine over and over can feel dull and mundane after a while. But group fitness classes tend to emphasize variety, providing an always-fresh level of fun while still getting you in shape. And, with the growing number of class types, there’s bound to be one to fit whatever mood you happen to be in. Also, since instructors usually vary from session to session, even an “identical” class can seem unique depending on who’s teaching.
- LACK OF INDIVIDUAL PROGRAMMING
Whereas fun and variety may help ward off boredom, this same lack of consistency from class to class could actually keep you from seeing any results. Since a group workout is, by its very nature, written for everyone (read: not just you), it may fail to address individual differences or weaknesses. For example, someone with a previous shoulder injury performs the same workout as another participant with an ankle injury. Granted, good teachers are quick to provide progressions and regressions for individual cases, but it’s often difficult to address each unique situation.
- LACK OF ATTENTION TO FORM
The motivational benefit of having a crowd of other bodies sweating next to you also has some downsides. With larger class sizes, it becomes difficult for instructors to watch and critique individual performance. This means that, for example, if your form on new exercises is less than perfect, there’s a good chance no one will be available to correct you. Although talented instructors give cues both orally and through demonstration, it can still be difficult for participants to nail down a technique—particularly when using new equipment.
- OVERTRAINING POTENTIAL
Group fitness classes, including many bootcamps, often have a similar “work till you drop” mindset. While this may push you to do a great workout at the time, it’s not a sustainable mantra in the long run. In fact, attending too many classes that push you to your limit and beyond may well set you up for a case of overtraining. Since most classes feature a different mix of attendees, it’s impossible for instructors to plan for repeat visitors, leading them instead to push each class to go 110%. Eventually, participants may find themselves feeling listless and lacking motivation.
To prevent overtraining, avoid relying solely on group fitness classes as your only method of training. Instead, incorporate them into a well-rounded program that also includes days specifically designated for rest and recovery. You’ll see better results and also feel better the next time you hit your favorite group workout.
Obstacle Course Racing:
The Wall Street Journal claims obstacle course racing (OCR) “may be the fastest-growing participatory sport in American history.” As of 2008, the sport was virtually unheard of, consisting mainly of small, local races and events, but as of 2012, more than 2 million participants flooded the booming industry, with as many as 4 million expected to take part in 2014.
Anything that gets people up and moving is generally considered a good thing. But there are risks that arise when sports go from zero to 60 in a matter of months – an exponentially exploding industry opens up itself, and its participants, to problems.
Understanding Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)
Given the dynamic growth of the OCR industry, it’s a little tricky to positively define OCRs. In general, they’re exactly what they sound like: Races, during which participants come across, and overcome, specific obstacles (for example, crawling through mud pits, climbing over walls, or jumping over fire).
OCRs are held all over the country, typically in large, open parks or outdoor spaces where the racing companies have room to build their obstacles. Races vary in length and time, but most range from a 5k to half-marathon distance (roughly 3 to 13 miles), and most can be completed within one to four hours. They typically take more time to complete than a standard road or trail race because it takes participants longer to overcome the course’s obstacles.
Because of the boom in participation, you can expect several hundred to several thousand participants at any given OCR event. And because many of these races are designed to encourage teamwork, there are usually options to join either as an individual or as a team. Sometimes races even offer discounts to those registering as part of a team. If a typical race entry ranges in price from $60 to $200, team registrations might receive a 5% to 10% discount for each person registering as part of the team.
There tend to be two types of OCR races: those focused on competition, and those focused on fun. Hardcore OCR racers want this difference to be more defined, drawing a clear line between races designed to get participants dirty, such as The Original Mud Run, and those focused on creating better athletes who are capable of facing tough, daunting obstacles. Some of the most well-known OCRs include Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and Rugged Maniac.
Advantages of OCRs
There’s a lot to be said for obstacle course racing, and I see no reason most interested parties shouldn’t try one out. These are many of the reasons I’m an overall proponent of the sport:
- Enhance Cardiovascular Fitness. Obstacle course races are races typically ranging in length from 1 to 13 miles, depending on the event. Participants must train to be able to walk or run the full distance of the course.
- Encourage Strength and Flexibility Training. Unlike traditional road races, where you simple travel the distance of the course powered by your heart, lungs, and legs, OCRs introduce difficult obstacles that require additional training. To be able to effectively climb over a 10-foot wall, you must develop upper body strength. To be able to climb up a 30-foot rope, you must develop full-body strength and coordination. To be able to climb through some obstacles, you must develop greater flexibility. All-in-all, OCRs require greater total-body fitness than your standard race.
- Challenge Mental Toughness. It’s one thing to run for three miles – but it’s another thing entirely to run, jump, and crawl a total of three miles. For individuals looking for a new challenge, or those wanting to test the boundaries of their body and mind, OCR racing is a great place to start.
- Encourage Teamwork. Most OCR courses are designed for promoting teamwork. In other words, there may be some obstacles you can’t get through without a little help – you may need others to help you crawl up a 30-foot cargo net, or to help you out of a mud pit. The industry as a whole is community-focused, with a desire to help participants achieve and feel accomplished.
- Draw More People to Fitness. Because there’s a focus on teamwork, and because many OCR races seem novel, more people are drawn to the sport. Any time people sign up and train for events is a step in the right direction for overall community health.
- Options for Every Level. Whether you’re a total beginner or an elite athlete, there are obstacle course races perfect for your experience level. For instance, women can sign up for the Pretty Muddy OCR – an un-timed race that’s perfect for anyone just starting out, or as a fun race for the more competitive athlete. Likewise, those who want to earn a living running OCRs can sign up for the Spartan Race, where it’s not uncommon for top competitors to be supported by sponsors as they race for generous prize purses from the racing company. Spartan has awarded more then $200,000 in purse money.
Disadvantages of OCRs
Unfortunately, not everything about the OCR industry is good. When any industry experiences a boom, there’s an inevitable bust that may take place before the industry normalizes.
- Too Many Races
First, the industry has been saturated with hopeful entrepreneurs starting races with the goal of becoming the “next big thing.” But putting together big events isn’t cheap – you have to have the space, the insurance, the online presence, the obstacles, the staff, and the marketing to draw competitors in. According to Obstacle Racer Magazine, a typical obstacle course race costs between $130,000 and $420,000 – that’s serious cash. Some entrepreneurs are realizing their work isn’t generating the rewards they predicted, and are being forced to close their doors.
I actually experienced this myself. About a year ago I was signed up to take place in a 5k Run for Your Lives obstacle course race. Several weeks prior to the event, I received an email stating that the company had filed for bankruptcy and no further races would be held. There was no recourse for those who signed up and spent money on the event. Luckily, another race company stepped in and took it over, so those who signed up were still able to compete.
If you’re going to spend $60 to $200 on a race entry fee, you want to be sure the race will be held. Check for races that:
- Start Small. If it’s a new race you’re signing up for, it’s a good idea to choose a company that’s only starting in one or two locations. If a new company is trying to organize 10 to 12 events nationwide, there’s a good chance they’re overextended.
- Have a Good Reputation. You can be fairly certain that the well-known national names in the industry, such as Warrior Dash and Spartan Race, are going to hold their events and put on a good show. Check to see how many years the company’s been around, and ask friends and family for recommendations before signing up.
- Clearly Spell Out Locations. It’s a red flag if a race company hasn’t nailed down the specific location of the event. It’s one thing to say “Austin, Texas,” and an entirely different thing to say “Williamson County Regional Park, Cedar Park, Texas.” If the location is nailed down, you can feel confident that the race company has done the work necessary to secure the race date and time.
- Poor Regulation
As a whole, the OCR industry has grown too fast for regulations to keep up. In fact, the industry is largely unregulated. This means there aren’t standards for staffing, obstacle type, obstacle safety, or even course length.
There are three main problems with the lack of regulation:
- Companies Can Implement Obstacles Without Standardized Safety Testing. Almost any company can come in, open up shop, and create whatever obstacles they want without any real guarantee that they’re safe or reasonable. In fact, many companies start up with the hopes of making bigger, better, wilder obstacles to draw participants, but there’s no way for participants to be sure they’re safe.
- Course Safety Can Be Compromised With Crowds. The number of participants and the lack of regulation can lead to otherwise safe obstacles becoming unsafe. Take, for instance, the drowning death of Avishek Sengupta in a 2013 Tough Mudder race. While a wrongful death suit is still pending in court against the racing company, the speculation is that there were too many people on the course that day, which made normal regulation of the obstacles more difficult to maintain. Without standardized regulation for how to handle crowded courses, this type of tragedy is more likely to take place.
- Professionalism as a Sport Is Difficult Without Standards & Regulations. For individuals who want to seriously compete in the sport, the lack of regulation prevents the industry from seeming professional. Compare it to any other sport – running, for instance – and you know there are standards to follow. A marathon is a marathon, no matter where you run it. A 5k is a 5k, no matter where you run it. There are records to break, rules to follow, and governing bodies to make sure athletes are participating appropriately. However, the OCR industry is all over the place when it comes to standards and regulations. For instance, there are no standardized obstacles or race distances, and there’s not a governing body to enforce athlete drug testing.
There are associations trying to increase the regulation in the industry – the Obstacle Racing Association and USOCR, to name two – but the only way they’ll see success is if they’re widely accepted by the racing companies already ruling the industry. The jury’s still out on this matter, and only time will tell.
Deciding to Race
Generally, there’s no reason you shouldn’t decide to race in an OCR – but you should understand the risks involved and take steps to minimize your own risk.
- Train Appropriately
Don’t sign up for a race and then show up on race day completely unprepared. Racing companies want you to be successful and free from injury, so follow their suggestions for training and nutrition. In general, give yourself a minimum of one month to prepare, and incorporate strength and flexibility training into your workout regimen.
- Ask Questions
If you’re in doubt about what you should do to prepare for a race, don’t hesitate to communicate your questions to the racing company. If they’re slow to answer, or don’t seem equipped to answer your specific questions, you may want to consider canceling your registration and signing up for a different event.
You may also want to seek out a trainer or coach to help you prep for your event. A trainer can walk you through specific exercises that will mimic the type of work you’ll need to do during the event.