Three Ways Obstacle Course Racing Will Make Nearly Anyone's Life Better

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New book from Human Kinetics shows how athletes can prepare physically and mentally for the fastest-growing sport in America

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Too many adults have forgotten what it feels like to compete with their peers in a purely physical activity, so obstacle racing is good not only for the body but also for the mind.

Nearly four million people took part in obstacle course races in 2014, an exponential increase from an estimated 200,000 in 2010 when the pioneers of the sport held the first few events. Each year, obstacle races are becoming more accessible, and people are likely to find a nearby race that is a good fit for them regardless of their skill and athletic level. As David Magida points out in his new book, "The Essentials of Obstacle Race Training" (Human Kinetics), there are countless reasons to try an obstacle course race (OCR).

Magida, founder of Elevate Interval Fitness, founding member of the Spartan Race pro team, and host of NBC Sports’ "Spartan Race," believes the most obvious reason for participating in an obstacle race is that it can change a person's life. He pinpoints three major benefits to racing:

1. Physical benefits. Competing in an obstacle race provides an opportunity to dramatically boost physical health, mainly because the participant suddenly has a specific rigorous event for which to prepare. “Very few people show up to the starting line completely unprepared,” observes Magida, who regularly provides expert commentary on obstacle race training for Men’s Fitness. “They prepare ahead of time, adopting a mentality of ‘suffer now so I won’t suffer on the day of the race.’” For that reason, from the day they sign up for a race a person can expect to see and feel physical improvements.

Over the course of an OCR training program, the most noticeable change might be weight loss or weight management. Weight loss can be a simple result of increased training or better eating. But weight loss is only the beginning. As someone pushes toward their peak condition they will notice other physiological improvements, including enhanced cardiorespiratory conditioning; the ability to run faster, farther, and with less fatigue; higher daily energy levels; and increased strength, power, and explosiveness.

Balance, coordination, mobility, and flexibility will also improve significantly as they prepare for race day, particularly if they previously had a sedentary lifestyle or work in a seated position, such as in front of a computer. Finally, they’ll find that they will have increased functional fitness: activities of daily living, such as lifting heavy boxes or standing on their feet for long periods, will become easier.

2. Health and wellness benefits. One of the most noticeable wellness benefits of obstacle race training is a significantly improved immune system. Studies have shown that consistent exercise can flush bacteria and carcinogens from the lungs and accelerate the outputs of fluid wastes like sweat and urine. Exercise also accelerates the rate at which white blood cells and antibodies are pushed through the body, improving the body’s defense against disease.

Stress reduction is another wellness benefit of establishing a training program. The exercise associated with training for an obstacle race can be a tremendous stress reliever. Regular exercise can help clear a person's head, get rid of nervous energy, and destress. That destressed state often transfers to other aspects of their life, allowing them to be more relaxed, more focused, and less anxious. “An obstacle race training program can be integral in establishing exercise consistency in terms of effort level and day-to-day consistency,” Magida says. “So as your exercise consistency increases, your daily stress levels decrease.”

3. Mental and social health benefits. It’s not just the training that can improve overall wellness. The race itself can prove to be fantastic for mental health as well. Obstacle racing can provide participants with an outlet for some excitement and for something new. As Magida points out, it’s an opportunity “to climb into the mud, get dirty, push your body to its limits, maybe even bleed a little.” He says many people come back from a race shocked at how much fun they had.

OCR can be a shared experience as a team, such as a group from your office completing a race together as a team-building activity, or it can be competitive. Obstacle racing provides a healthy, appropriate outlet for people to release their competitive side. For some, it’s an opportunity to rediscover competitive spirit. “Too many adults have forgotten what it feels like to compete with their peers in a purely physical activity,” Magida stresses. “So obstacle racing is good not only for the body but also for the mind.”

Whether someone is looking for a challenge, a fun day, an opportunity to act like a kid again, or even an opportunity to slay some internal demons, they will find other racers with the same goals and mind-set. It’s possible they will develop a healthy social life as a result and build friendships with people who share the mentality that an active lifestyle is a good one, which will be a positive influence on their life.

Co-written with Melissa Rodriguez, author of the first-ever industry report on obstacle racing, "The Essentials of Obstacle Race Training" features full-color photos, step-by-step instructions for 113 exercises, 46 programs, preparation tips, and professional advice. For more information on "The Essentials of Obstacle Race Training" or other books and resources on extreme sports, visit

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Maurey Williamson
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