Obstacle Course Races Increase in Popularity, Athletes Thirst for Higher Level of Competition

Athletes of all fitness levels and backgrounds are challenging themselves, in droves, to the hottest fitness trend – obstacle course races.

Races like Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash – two of the most recognized competitive adventure-style obstacles – have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Dubbed by some as the era of the “obstacle race boom,” extreme event participation has increased 85 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to The Outdoor Industry Association, a leading advocate representing outdoor recreation. And, popularity continues to increase as participants seek out the bragging rights of completing an adrenaline-pumping, physically challenging terrain.

But with the rise of obstacle-style races come an increase in the probability of injuries at all levels, especially among novice athletes racing as a means to catapult themselves into better shape.

NASM, the nation’s premier certifying body and education authority for Certified Personal Trainers, recognizes the multitude of choices individuals have to get into shape, and with that, the likelihood of getting hurt in any sport, fitness routine or competitive event. For this reason, NASM created a specialization completely focused around injury-prevention and movement preparation– the Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES). The specialization is utilized by trainers around the globe to identify potential problems in posture, muscle imbalances and proper body movement – all with the goal of correcting movements that are susceptible to injury.

Mike Fantigrassi, an NASM CPT and CES, has trained and competed for these obstacle-style races and recommends taking the following precautions:

  1. Look in the Mirror. When training for a physically demanding race, perform a few simple exercises in front of a mirror or video camera to determine areas of weakness. In a standard squat, look for knees that turn inward or outward, take note of posture when standing straight and go for a short jog to see if feet are turning in or out.
  2. Train Properly. Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and other similar races should be treated like elite fitness events for the amount of strain put on your body. Because of the intense race obstacles, training should include a combination of running, weight lifting, and even climbing.
  3. Common Injuries. Understanding the most common injuries for this type of sporting event is key in prevention. Ankle and knee sprains are the most typical and often happen from navigating uneven surfaces, and jumping and landing from significant heights.
  4. Know Your Capabilities. At the end of the day, know your fitness level. It’s OK to take it easy on an obstacle that you may not feel confident in tackling. Working with a certified personal trainer leading up to the race can help you determine how ready your body is for the competition.

“These races are an excellent way to push your body, and take on a challenge that is much more exciting than running on a treadmill or lifting weights in a gym,” said Fantigrassi. “But we are seeing individuals not taking the proper measures and not recognizing these events for the high level of agility and intensity that they involve. Simple precautions like identifying a weak ankle or balance issue can help you improve a problem area prior to race day.”