I’m halfway across the Twister, a diabolical set of monkey bars with rotating handles, and I’m not sure I’ll make it to the other end of this ten-yard nightmare.“You’ve got this!” shouts Timmie Brann, a coach whose name doesn’t match her intensity level. “Don’t let go!”
My legs are ailing, my forearms are fried, and I’m having flashbacks to a 2017 Spartan Race, when I had to do 30 burpees because I fell off this very obstacle.
“Grip it!” she yells. I grab another handle and hang on. Forty sweat-filled seconds later, I’ve survived my nemesis. My reward? I get to do it three more times.
That’s how things go in the Race Day Simulation workout at Long Beach, California’s RUT (Rise Up Training) Camp, where classes are designed to make you an obstacle-course-racing bad-ass—while crushing fat and building agility along the way. Rise Up capitalizes on the growth of Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, and other examples of OCR. Once a novelty sport, obstacle-course racing currently has more than 5 million participants worldwide—and TV attention. Two years ago, NBC aired the series Spartan Race: Ultimate Team Challenge. Now there are Dwayne Johnson’s The Titan Games and LeBron James and Tim Tebow’s Million Dollar Mile, while American Ninja Warrior is in its 11th season.
OCR-focused gyms are springing up around the country. (In Florida, check out the Jungle Gym; in New Jersey, Vita Athletics’ SGX class will wear you out.) “People are used to fitness programs that focus on how they look,” says racer Robin Legat, who runs Rise Up’s Santa Monica location. “Then they try an OCR race, and their mindset shifts to what they can do instead of how they look.”
They join classes like Race Day Simulation, which is packed on this morning. It’s 5:00 a.m., but I’m here with 22 gung-ho types—the kind of people who think crawling in the mud is fun—a 50-50 mix of guys and girls. We’re in a 1,500-square-foot outdoor area that looks like an adult playground—the Twister in one corner, a massive tire that I’m dying to flip in an-other, and logs, kegs, and sandbags all over the place. There’s even a spear-throwing station. “If it shows up in a Spartan Race,” says Brann, “we try to get it in here, too.”
Almost. Most OCRs have you running (and “recovering”) between obstacles, but Brann doesn’t do that. There’s a warmup at the beginning and some ab work at the end; other than that, this class is four four-move circuits. You spend ten minutes at each station, repeating it until time expires. Fail an obstacle and you owe Brann five burpees. “I want you moving the entire workout!” she barks. “We want your heart working hard the whole time!”
Brann and assistant coach Hugo Frausto enforce the edict throughout the 75-minute session. Early on, when my lungs are on fire halfway through a 200-meter farmer’s carry with a giant cement bucket held against my chest, I rest briefly, but Frausto and the rest of my group aren’t having it.“Pick it up! Pick it up!” everyone says.
I learn the lesson, adopting a relentless but deliberate pace that’s perfect for OCR. After the carry, I’m alternately picking up and dropping a 50-pound med ball. Then I’m doing ten deadlifts, the closest thing to traditional lifting here at Rise Up. Shortly after that, I’m wedging my fore-arms under that giant tire, battling to leverage it up, then pushing it over.
Then it’s on to the next circuit, which features a slanted wall that I must traverse using only its chains as handholds. I earn a burpee penalty here (more sucking wind) but get up and fight through more farmer’s carries (this time with logs) and box jumps. I’m breathing hard but not worn out. This is full-body athleticism, and it has me feeling alive.
I’m ready by the time we hit the finale, a rope-climbing relay. I attack the rope, climbing fast and touching the bell on top, then descend to high fives and fist bumps. Brann gives me a hug. “You toughed it out,” she says.
The next time I reach the Twister in a Spartan Race, I’ll be prepared.
Obstacle-ize Any Gym
Want to get a taste of obstacle-course racing without leaving the gym? Try these four moves, each designed to prep you for a different portion of the race.
Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry
Stand holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand, arms straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades and tighten your core, then walk. Walk for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds;
do 3 sets.
HELPS WITH: Bucket and log carries.
Stand to the right of an exercise bench with your left knee near the bench. Place your hands on the bench, then vault back and forth over it as fast as possible. Do as many reps as you can in30 seconds; do 2 sets.
HELPS WITH: Wall climbing, crawling.
Assisted Side-to-Side Pullup
Hang from a pullup bar usingan overhand grip. Pull yourselfup till your chin clears the barand hold. Walk first your righthand, then your left, 6 inchesto the right. Lower yourself fully,then repeat the process to theother side. Do 3 or 4 reps eachway; do 2 sets.
HELPS WITH: Monkey bars, Twister, rope climb, farmer’s carry.
Start in an athletic stance, then lift your left foot off the ground. Leap to the left about 2 feet, landing only on your left foot; touch your right hand to the ground if needed. Jump off your left foot to the right, landing on your right foot. Leap back and forth for 30 seconds, then rest 30 seconds; do 3 sets.
HELPS WITH: Agility for climbing and obstacle traversal.