KCOCR founder Lucas Pfannenstiel uses Fat Gripz to turn even shoulder press into an exercise that improves grip strength.

Gyms in the Midwest have started to open again with increased measures in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.  At my local gym, there is now a temperature check at the door, a couple of questions about your exposure, and hand sanitizer located even more abundantly than before.  Additionally, the locker rooms, pools, and most group fitness classes remain closed but parts of the gym are open.  As an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) athlete, I was eager to get back to some training in the gym but wanted to take additional precautions so I’m not spreading the virus to my family.  Here are some OCR-COVID friendly training tips you can use in your conventional gym to make you feel more at ease.

Of note, I’m not a doctor nor an infectious disease expert.  I am simply taking what the current (as of this writing) Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance is and overlaying OCR training tips I talk about in my book, “Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite OCR” to come up with a solution that is adhered to both.  CDC does update their guidance based off their understanding of the virus so their findings may change (as they should if you are using the scientific method).  For the purpose of this article, I’ll assume the worst-case scenario that everyone has COVID-19 and ALL cross-contamination will cause infection.  If you want to argue about the threat level or CDC recommendations feel free to take it up with them.

Fat Gripz set up for a drop set (wide, regular and narrow) pull-downs will set your forearms on fire increasing both forearm and back strength.

  1. Fat Gripz: I’ve been using Fat Gripz for years (read the MRG review I wrote back in 2016…several years after starting to use them) and besides being a great OCR training tool for improving grip strength, they are now a COVID friendly training tool. Fat Gripz are rubber sleeves that go over barbell or dumbbell handles to make them harder to hold thus increasing grip strength.  It improves grip strength and helps you avoid touching the same spot everyone else is grabbing on the barbell/dumbbell.  Anyway, now is the perfect time to tell your spouse why you need a pair of regular and extreme size.

  1. Pull-ups: Now is a perfect time to start working on doing pull-ups not on a bar. After you’ve been training for a couple of years your bar pull-ups are probably pretty good.  Instead, practice pull-ups by grabbing onto things like the top of a squat rack, top of a Smith Machine or crossbeam of a pulley machine.  This not only ensures you are grabbing something that few other people are touching but also is more OCR-specific mimicking the grip you will use on things like Conquer The Gauntlet’s Stairway to Heaven, Spartan’s The Box or extra fat monkey bars you might encounter at OCRWC’s The Platinum Rig.  Less exposure and more OCR training, it’s a win-win.

Atomik hold used instead of standard bar attachment on gym pulley machine.

  1. Atomik Climbing Holds: I stopped using the normal bars and pulley attachment years ago. Instead, I bring my own rig holds and attach them to the pulley machines (read the review of Atomik Rig Grips).  Whether I’m doing lat pulldowns, single-arm pulldowns, overhead tricep extensions, machine curls or anything else that involves I pulley machine I make it as OCR-specific as possible.  Instead of using the bar or rope I bring my own holds ensuring my hand is in a similar position that it will be in when crossing obstacles.  The end result is I’m bringing my own holds which limit the number of surfaces I touch that other people are frequently touching and is increasing my OCR capabilities.

CTG Pro Randi Lackey training legs.

  1. Cross Contamination in Unlikely Places: While watching others at the gym I saw a lot of cleaning of barbells and dumbbell handles. What I didn’t see was people cleaning the handle of the spray bottle that everyone was touching and the pins that adjust the weight on each machine. Feel free to clean those or use a paper towel to adjust them.


  1. Feel Free to Go Above What the Gym Requires: My gym doesn’t require a facemask while lifting weights or running on the treadmill. Since COVID, I only use the treadmill in my house or run outside.  While lifting weights I still wear a mask because the strength training I do, and cardio conditioning I have, doesn’t make me gasp for air.  The bottom line is no one is going to chastise you for cleaning the equipment more thoroughly or taking additional precautions, especially those that may live at home with an elderly parent/grandparent or immune-compromised individual.

Outdoor running at Otherworld Fitness in Frederick, Maryland from January 2020.


I’m not saying the above tips will not prevent you from getting COVID but may help stop or slow the spread.  For me, being mildly inconvenienced and doing things that may help others is 100% worth it.  Either way, I’m looking forward to getting in some quality training before races open back up again.


Otherworld Fitness photo from Stoke Shed

All other pictures from Mud Run Guide archives.

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