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The 5 Skills Needed to Crush an Obstacle Course Race

  Photo of Hanlie Signorini by SPARTAN RACE, INC
Photo of Hanlie Signorini by SPARTAN RACE, INC

The 5 Skills Needed to Crush an Obstacle Course Race

Obstacle courses have become increasingly popular over the past few years as they are great way to challenge yourself and work together with a group of friends for a common goal. In October, members of the TS community will be running the Tri State New Jersey Spartan Sprint. Sprints are usually about 3-4 miles with least 15 different obstacles. Since the course map is not released beforehand, there is little way of knowing what you could expect on race day so you will have to be prepared to face anything!

So how do you train for such a race? Typically obstacles will test your upper body and grip strength, crawling ability, hill running capacity, overall endurance, and teamwork skills.

Grip and Upper Body Strength

Spartan Races are known for their tough challenges. In the past, participants have had been required to climb ropes, launch over walls, and swing from across the monkey bars. Each of these obstacles are require a strong upper body and great grip strength. You are only as strong as your weakest link.  Many times that’s your grip strength

Farmers carries are an excellent exercise to improve your grip strength and are simple to do. Stand tall with two kettlebells by your side. Keep your shoulders tight and your back straight while you take steps across the gym. Since the gym size may not facilitate long walks, go for time instead of distance.

As for upper body workouts, you can prepare with pull-ups or chin ups. If these exercises are difficult, you can improve your upper body strength TRX Rows. Coach Noam demonstrates how to do the TRX row in the video below.


If you have done some research on the Spartan Race, you know there will definitely be some activity that requires you to crawl. Though you may have had a lot of experience in the crawling department as an infant, practicing crawls will allow you to quickly move through the mud, likely under barb wire.

Coach Noam walks through the Leopard Crawl, which keeps you low to the ground, in the video below.

Hill Work

Courses are not typically flat and require you run between obstacles over grassy hills which may be a new experience for some urban runners that are used to relatively low incline runs. Though New York may not be the hilliest city, you can find areas of decent elevation in Central Park, like the Harlem Hill. If a quiet, relatively serene park is not your thing, try running the pedestrian paths alongside the bridges between the boroughs (except the Brooklyn Bridge, cause tourists….). Bridges offer a great incline along with a well paved surface that will get your heart working and help increase your anaerobic threshold. To really get a great workout, sprint up an incline and jog back down.


Since each of the obstacles are spread out over the 3-4 mile course, you will switch between light jogging to high intensity exercises multiple times during the race, testing your endurance. One of the best ways to improve your endurance is through High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.  Just like a Spartan Race, HIIT is based on being able to go to maximum intensity followed by a short rest so that you can then repeat that intensity again. Our HIIT classes incorporate compound movements such as squats and swings for the lower body and pressing and pulling exercises, like pushups and rows, for the upper body.  This means you are using multiple joints rather than doing isolation exercises, mimicking some of the movements you may do on the course.


You can finish a Spartan Race all by yourself but what is the fun in that? Signing up and training with a team will give you the tools to finish. At TS, we believe that whenever you’re working out with a partner, the intensity is always going to be greater than when you’re alone. Whether it is keeping you accountable, or helping you through a particularly tough obstacle, team workouts will push you to be better. We incorporate our community in both our HIIT and GPT sessions, putting you through a workout with like minded athletes who will help motivate you to be the best version of yourself.



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