In today’s fitness/sports training world, the term “sport-specific workout” has become a phrase for coaches and trainers to attract clients based on a specialty of the coach. In the ever increasingly competitive commercial market, trainers are looking for ways to set themselves apart. They are thinking up inventive exercises and movement patters that pertain to what a special niche of the market will use. OCR is no different in this accord, and in my humble opinion we are among the worst offenders of “sport-specific training”.

Jaeme Simmons at the top of a strong overhead press

Sport-Specific Training

Let’s start with what the difference between sport-specific and what we will call “general” training is. As I alluded to previously, sport-specific training is using movements and skills specific to or very near the movements needed for a specific sport or activity. General training will use some movements of the sport but won’t train the exact same movement pattern of the sport. With OCR we have a different challenge that I have seen and heard others talk about which is boredom. Some athletes in the sport feel that if they aren’t moving at 100% for the entire workout, they get bored with a workout or feel as if they aren’t getting the full potential out of the session. Which to one point I understand, we don’t get to rest in a race, why should we rest in a workout designed to make an athlete better at racing?

Because science.

We have 3 difference systems in the body that provide energy at different rates and for different durations of time. Without diving into the textbook too much, our system to fuel maximum power and strength (obstacles that require jumping or other explosive movements) can fuel us for 9-10 seconds at the most. Our next system is the which provides energy for that grey area between a sprint and a jog (the miserable 400-800m pace) can last for a little over two minutes in elite-level athletes. The last energy system is where most of our racing is done, anything over that two-ish minute mark will be primarily fuel by the last and slowest system… cardio. All 3 of these systems are fluctuating back and forth all of the time. Based on the needs in the moment one system will override another to provide the needed energy. Training each of these systems individually is very different than a 45-minute sufferfest,

The first system I mentioned for power movements can take 3-5 minutes to fully refuel while we are resting, let alone running a race, or going max effort on a WOD. Conventional wisdom would tell us “If I can do it while I am tired, I am getting better”. Unfortunately, that isn’t entirely true. We aren’t actually improving that system, we are working what is most likely the cardio system due to the duration of most workouts. Similarly, with the second system to adequately rest that middle system or lactate, we need to rest 3-4 times the duration of the exercise. For example, running a 400m repeat may take you 90 seconds (6 min mile pace). For that pace, you will want to rest at least four and a half minutes. Even if you want to keep a 2:1 rest ratio where you are resting twice as long as your work rate that is still a 3-minute rest. If you start your next sprint before then you are not working on the desired system, thus not maximizing the results of your workout.

The next issue I have seen (admittedly less of) is adding weights to skill type movements, as in people using a weighted vest to work on the rig. Can I ask you when the last time you saw a football player wear their pads to the weight room? Or, when they wore weighted gloves to catch the ball? I can understand wanting to improve grip strength, but there are better ways to do so. For a lot of people, beginners especially, rig practice can lead to some gnarly tendonitis in the forearms. Adding weight can expedite the process and potentially make it worse. This is where general training can provide cross over adaptations while not risking injury. By no means am I saying to skip the rig work, that is a SKILL that needs to be perfected. We work on skills in practice, we work on traits (like grip strength) in the gym.

In closing

Using general principles of training with science-backed approaches can be a great way to improve strength, power, speed, and endurance; all of which are properties we as OCR athletes need to stay or become more competitive. A workout doesn’t have to be completely draining to get the desired result. If you employ proper set and rep range toward your desired outcome you will get more focused results and a better overall outcome.