If you are just starting out in obstacle racing, looking to improve your strength and performance or wishing to bullet-proof your body against injury, then this article is for you.
Base Conditioning is exactly that. It’s the foundation of training whether you’re an athlete, a soldier, or a hardcore obstacle racer. Obstacle racing requires competitors to perform at a high intensity over long sustained periods. Every muscle and fibre in the body is called to action at various stages during the race. Increasing strength, fitness and range of movement are essential to improving your performance and form the three fundamental principles for base conditioning.
A. MOBILITY/FLEXIBILITY – Essential stretches & dynamic warm up drills.
B. STRENGTH EXERCISES – Primal Movement Patterns & Core conditioning.
C. FITNESS – to fuel your performance.
This is essential for gaining range of movement & reducing risk of injury. When you have a good level of thoracic mobility, you significantly reduce risk of injury to your shoulders and lower back (lumbar spine), as it allows for correct loading through the upper body. These two mobilisation exercises are a great place to start. The key here is to relax, breathe through the exercise and consistently implement them into your warm up routine.
- Thoracic mobilizer – STATIC
- Lying thoracic mobilizer - DYNAMIC
Thoracic Mobilization - STATIC
- Lying on your back with your leg bent, place the foam roller at the bottom of shoulder blades. Support the neck by placing your hands behind your neck and bringing your elbows in tight.
- Take a full breathe in. Exhale as you sink into the foam roller, as opposed to over it. Do this for 5 breaths. Keep the abs engaged, elbows in tight and bottom in contact with the floor.
- Once finished, allow roller to move up your spine 1 inch, and then repeat steps 1 & 2. In total, the foam roller moves up your back in 4 different positions, for 5 breathe on each position.
Lying Thoracic Mobilisation – Dynamic (working through range)
- Take a full breathe in to start. Exhale as you open up the chest, taking your top arm across the body.
- Finish with the leg still comfortably resting on the foam roller. You should aim to get your shoulders flat on the floor. This will become easier with each repetition. Repeat 5 times each side.
Here are some of the best dynamic warm up drills /exercises prior to training or racing.
- Hamstring dynamic walk
- Walking knee tucks
- Lateral lunge – for hamstrings / hips / adductors
- Extended lunge / thoracic mobility exercise
POSTERIOR CHAIN / HAMSTRING STRETCH
1. Cross one foot in front of the other.
2. Reach down towards the floor, keeping your hands on your legs.
3. Return to standing position. Take a stride forward then repeat with the other leg. Keep the back leg locked out at the knee. Perform 10 reps each side.
WALKING KNEE TUCKS
- Take a stride forward.
- Balancing on one leg, raise your knee up to your chest using your arms. Repeat on the other leg.
- Stand tall keeping your chest up throughout the drill. Perform 10 reps on each leg.
LATERAL LUNGE – BEND PATTERN
- Stand with feet apart, one and a half shoulder widths.
- Lunge laterally, alternating from side to side.
The aim is to keep a straight back, driving your hips backwards, along with your arms. Keep your chest up and try to gain an increase in range on each movement.
Perform 10 lateral lunges each side.
HIP FLEXOR / THORACIC MOBILITY EXERCISE
- Start in a push up position. Bring your right foot forward to the lateral side of right hand.
- Once balanced, raise the right hand vertically. Extend through, eyes to the sky and hold for 5 seconds.
- Return to the push up position and repeat on the left side. Perform 5 reps each side.
- Stand with your feet in a squat position. The key here is to think about spreading the floor apart (outwards) beneath your feet. Keep your arms dead straight and chest up.
- DROP straight down through your knees. Pause for 2 seconds at the bottom of squat and then drive up through your heels, bringing the arms across your body on 45 degree angle. Perform 10 reps each side.
You now should be good to go, ready to get stuck straight into your workout or dominate your race.
B. STRENGTH EXERCISES - PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERNS FOR BASE CONDITIONING
Primal movement patterns – Squat / Lunge / Bend / Push / Pull / Gait or Twist formulate the exercises covered in this section of strength endurance training. I have only used bodyweight as resistance, purely so that it can apply generally to everybody and can be performed anywhere with very little equipment.
The following exercises will build balanced strength endurance which will improve your running technique & overall performance. Perform each exercise in a “circuit” style, 3 rounds. If you’re a novice, perform each exercise individually: 3 sets with 60 seconds rest in between each set.
- Not too dissimilar to our mobility warm exercise, drop straight down through the knees, knees out over toes.
- Spread the floor between your feet, chest up, arms dead straight. Pause for 2 seconds at the bottom of the squat then drive hard out of the squat through your heels.
Perform 15 – 20 reps.
RDL – ROMANIAN DEADLIFT
This a great exercise to strengthen your HIP stabilisers, glute mede and piroformis.
- Standing on your right leg, reach down slightly in front of you with your left arm, whilst at the same time, extending your left leg backwards, similar to a pendulum.
- Keep your back straight and hips level. Pause and return to the start position. Perform 12 – 15 reps on the one side before repeating on the other.
BACKWARD LUNGE with TWIST
- From a standing position, step backwards with your right leg into a lunge.
- Clamp your hands firmly together, arms straight, twist to the left (same side as your front foot). Return to the standing position and repeat on the other side. Perform 12 - 15 reps each side.
PULL UPS – Bodyweight using Lebert Equalizers
This training tool uses Bodyweight as resistance & allows you to workout anywhere, as they are light & portable.
- Lay down on your back, shoulder blades flat on the floor, arms vertical, ensuring the hand grips are in line with your shoulders.
- Push through your heels, driving your hips up and keeping your abs engaged.
- Pull straight up, squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
Perform 10 – 20 reps / 3 sets
PUSH UPS with Lebert Equalizers
There are two advantages to performing the Push up with Equalizers:
- Neutral wrist grip helps build grip / forearm strength which is a huge plus in Obstacle racing.
- Depth / range of movement are increased significantly allowing for more strength.
DIPS with Equalizers
(into an L – SIT for the more advanced)
The dip can easily be performed by anyone as ‘self spotting’ (taking some load in your legs / feet) will enable you to complete the exercise.
- With a 2 second lowering phase, pause at the bottom then drive your bodyweight upwards until your arms are straight. Perform 10 to 15 reps.
- If you’re looking for more of a challenge, raise your legs out in front of you at the top of the dip.The L-SIT (2nd photo) can also be regressed by raising bent knees.
TIP: roll a towel up and squeeze between your knees to engage the lower abs more effectively.Lower abdominals are the most important part of the abdominal chain, as they help stabilise the pelvis.
Also an advanced exercise and a good gauge of where your leg strength is really at.
The heel raised removes some dorsa flexion from the ankle, which makes the squat more achievable.
- Stand tall through the upper body, chest up, arms straight and hands clamped tightly.
- Raise your left leg, balancing on your right leg.Lower your weight down for 2 seconds,pause for 1 second at the bottom of the squat, then drive up through your heel.Alternate legs, 3 to 10 reps each leg, 3 sets.
PUSH UP STATIC HOLD
This a great static exercise that:
- Overloads the nervous system which in turn makes it stronger.
Why is this so important?
The nervous system is like the conductor of an orchestra. The more in tune it is, the better the overall performance.
- Teaches a person what “NEUTRAL SPINE” is and what it feels like. The dowel rod used in the photo should touch the base of the spine, between the shoulder blades & the back of the head.
Work up to a 3 minute HOLD – you could do 3 x 1 mins or 2 x 90 secs .
TIP: watch you don’t start to sag between shoulder blades, as you fatigue.
C. FITNESS – to fuel your performance
For fitness, you can’t go past High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Although it is important to build up to race distance and have that built into your fitness / running program, HIIT delivers quick results with less impact.
Here are 2 types of HIIT that I highly recommend:
- Fartlek Training
5 min slow running warm up followed by
30 sec fast pace (80-90%) then 30 sec slow pace 40-50% to recover.
45 sec fast/45 sec slow
60 sec fast/60 sec slow
90 sec fast/90 sec slow
Complete 3- 4 rounds.
It can be performed outdoors or on a treadmill set at a minimum of 2 degrees incline to simulate outdoor running.
- Find yourself two cones or markers. On an oval or in the sand at the beach, set down the first starting marker
Time a 10 sec sprint from the first marker, placing the second marker on the ground where you finish.
You have 20 secs to sprint from one marker to the other and recover, before sprinting again. For example, if it takes you 12 sec to get to the marker, you can rest for 8 sec. Complete 10 rounds.
To increase the intensity, double the distance you sprint and go from a 20 sec time frame to a 40 sec time frame. Complete 5 rounds of this after your initial 10 x 10 sec sprints.
The aim of the game is to keep on the pace allowing for a longer recovery period in between rounds. This is a real lung busting drill that is great to do with a group.
So now it’s time to put it all into practice. The most important aspect in training is consistency so schedule it into your day just like any other appointment. Dedicate the time to it and you will not only build physical confidence & strength, you will also be mentally more prepared. Most of all, enjoy what you do. If you love doing it, you will be great at it.
Adam ‘Coach’ Carter is the owner of INTUNE HEALTH and is a leading
Strength & performance coach in Sydney.
Ex Navy diver & fitness leader, Coach has extensive experience in athletic conditioning, rehabilitation / corrective exercise and is the Australian & NZ master trainer and education facilitator for Lebert Training Systems – Canada.
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