Ready to mix up your usual exercise routine? Why not try an obstacle race, where you can push the limits of your fitness to a whole new level.

Obstacle races have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years because they're challenging, ever-changing and, most of all, fun. Their are a variety of race options, from those that focus on teamwork, those that push individual boundaries, and others where the goal seems to be to slather yourself in layers of mud. But regardless of the type of race you choose, you may be wondering how to train for an event that challenges your endurance, strength, power, speed, grit and determination.

Obstacle races will challenge you in ways you've never experienced before — so it pays to be prepared. We sat down with gym owner, personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach Richard Wilcock from Flagship Fitness in the U.K. to find out how it's done.


Man running on a trail Take your running sessions off-road at least once a week during your training cycle to get used to running on soft and uneven ground. (Photo: Giorgio1978/Shutterstock)

Whether your obstacle race is a 3.1-mile sprint or a 10-mile slog, the course will involve some element of running and/or walking. And there's no other way to prepare for this than actually getting out there and running and walking. Keep in mind that you may need to take your jaunts off-road at least once or twice a week if you want to prepare for obstacle race conditions. "Obstacle races are always outside and normally involve running through muddy fields that have been churned up by a few thousand other competitors," said Wilcock. "Running on a treadmill at your local gym really can’t prepare you for how energy-draining running through mud can be."

Circuit training

Man doing a push up Push-ups and other body weight exercises will give you the strength you need to conquer those obstacles. (Photo: Ivanko80/Shutterstock)

In circuit training, you move from one exercise to the next with your only rest break coming at the end of one "circuit," which may consist of five to 10 exercises. For example, one circuit may include 10 repetitions (or reps) each of push-ups, pull-ups, squats, bear crawls, lunges and burpees. You move smoothly from one exercise to the next, take a 1- to 2-minute break at the end of the circuit, and then repeat the entire workout as many times as is appropriate for your fitness level. "For your average person, circuit training is a great way to start off," says Wilcock. "With exercises changing every minute and a variety of muscles being worked, it hits a lot of the same muscle groups that are going to be challenged by the obstacles."


Stair running Running up and down a set of stairs during your next workout can help your gain speed and power while you build your endurance. (Photo: Dirima/Shutterstock)

Like circuit training, HIIT — high-intensity interval training — involves moving quickly from one exercise to the next. But the key to HIIT workouts is to keep the heart rate up throughout the whole workout.

"High-intensity interval training is perfect for preparing yourself for bursts of activity," notes Wilcock. "As you're hitting different obstacles throughout the run, you’re going to be moving from steady running to a hard couple of minutes of work before returning to running." To practice HIIT training, try a workout such as a three-mile run interspersed with jumping jacks, burbees, push-ups or stair running.

Weight training

Man and woman doing weighted squats Adding some weights to your squats can help power you through the toughest obstacles on race day. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

"Weight training is something that will help massively with preparing for an obstacle run," said Wilcock. Think of it like the icing on the cake to the rest of your training. Running, circuit training and HIITs will help you carry, throw, wade, crawl and swing your way through an obstacle course race. But adding some weight training to your workouts will help you push past difficult obstacles when things get really tough. Using weight machines or dumbbells, try moves like bicep curls, deadlifts, weighted squats, kettlebell swings, farmers walks and push presses.

How to train for an obstacle race
An expert conditioning coach offers down-and-dirty advice on preparing your body for an obstacle race.