Don’t skimp on your functional training!

Obstacle racing combines numerous disciplines and requires training in running, strength work and obstacle techniques. Whilst running forms the fundamental basis for getting around the course, some runners neglect the exercises which will help drag and pull them over the many obstacles assembled testing their strength and agility.

I’m someone who doesn’t enjoy running so much but I love working on the strength and functional training element. One year ago I couldn’t even complete one decent chin up…I actually thought I could do many and my PT pointed out that they weren’t ‘proper chin ups’, and I had to learn how to do them again!

My focus on functional training has improved my grip strength, hang time and general upper body strength. So, I thought I’d share 5 functional body weight exercises which my PT incorporates into my training schedule (thanks Nicolas Fabri!). However, as I’m not a PT I’m not going to try and explain the muscles utilised and best techniques – you can find that kind of stuff on YouTube. Instead here’s a suggestion on things to consider for your training.

1: The mighty chin up

This should be one of your core exercises on strength day and it’s pretty cheap and unobtrusive to put up a bar in your home, so there is no excuse! Although you can find dip chin assist machines in some gyms, and you can purchase assist rubber bands I’d recommend you just use a bar and take it back to basics. If you can’t do a chin up, begin with negative chin ups and build up the reps per set until you feel ready to try a full chin up. Negative chin ups are where you begin the exercise at the top of the movement and then slowly release yourself down to the ground (use a chair or step to start in the right position). Tips I’ve found helpful are to ensure you take enough of a break between sets and add a weighted vest to increase strain on your grip.

Oh, and don’t make the mistake I made…arms should be fully extended at the bottom of the chin up – if your arms are locked at half way then you are missing out on full range (and it’s easier).

2: Pull ups

Similar to the chin up, start with low reps, complete negative pull up sets to improve strength before progressing to a full pull up. Once you have mastered the pull up on a bar try doing these moves on ropes, nun chucks, balls and rings…all of this will improve your strength and grip strength further.

This move will help with climbing up walls, Irish tables, sternum checkers and rope climbs. In fact, a pull up is one of the best exercises to help build muscle, as you are engaging a large number of muscles and shifting your entire body weight.

3: Squats

Strong glutes, hamstrings and quads are going to help you with your running, ability to pick up and carry heavy objects and balance. I’ve not got great balance and so squats using an Olympic bar is an exercise which will build muscle, reduce fat and help improve balance. Again, my tip would be to go old school on this exercise, and avoid using a Smith. The Smith reduces the benefits of the exercise as the structure provides your support system. Once you have the movement mastered you can start loading the bar up with weight. And full squats please – arse to the floor!

4: Parallel bar dips

I use a parallel bar for two main reasons, to move up and down it using my arms so I can complete the dip low obstacle on the Toughest and Spartan course, and to work my triceps and lats. Dips are a great body weight exercise and also help with grip strength. You can alternate between traditional dips or dips with legs extended. But don’t forget the chalk…I once fell off the end when my hand slipped and I wasn’t concentrating. Highly embarrassing!

5: Wall walks

I am not a fan of a wall walk and I’m often cursing my way through this exercise as it’s tough but I can see that it’s made a positive impact on my upper body strength. Start in a press up position with a wall against your feet and then use your legs and arms to move backwards up the wall to handstand position. Then walk back down the wall to press up position and repeat. And don’t forget to breathe!!

And put it all together!

Once the movements are mastered it’s time to combine them into a functional training session. I combine squat sets with sprints to destroy the legs – this results in me running like Bambi in distress. Combining wall walks followed by chin up sets will really work your upper body.

Hopefully this gives you something to consider in your training and might just give you the edge when you are really tired and faced with an obstacle which requires upper body strength…and may help you avoid the dreaded burpees!