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Training for OCR - You’re (Probably) Doing It Wrong
Taylor McClenny  |  03/14/2019

Training Specificity - Competition Mimicry

By far, the single biggest improvement we make to anyone’s training is improving their use and timing of Training Specificity. Most athletes training for OCR with far too high of Specificity, for far too many months of their season.


“Training Specificity” (or “Specificity”) is defined by how much your training resembles your competition. Although it feels comforting to know that your training is highly specific to your competition, constantly high Specificity in OCR leaves a lot of General Athletic Development on the table. General Athletic Development is where most OCR Elites, aspiring Elites, and Weekend Warriors will make the majority of their training progress, improve their health and training safety, and improve their competition finishing placement.


We believe that (for most Athletes, in most cases):

  1. Your training should only closely mimic competition shortly before your competition.

  2. The majority of your training should separately train the various skills and fitness modalities that will improve your OCR performance:  Endurance, Speed, Strength, & OCR-specific Skills.

  3. Your compartmentalized training sessions should focus on progressively increasing your potential with each modality, rather than just repeating the distances, speeds, and loads seen in competition.

  4. Your training should be driven by real-time autoregulating protocols that ensure a predictable training, performance, and recovery environment, with consistent, measurable feedback.

  5. As you approach competition, your training should progressively combine your now higher skill and fitness potentials to closely mimic your competition.


OCR is a somewhat unique athletic performance as it combines so many different fitness modalities and sport-specific skills. Endurance, speed, strength, and various skills are all required in OCR competition. As they are all combined in competition, it’s tempting to combine them all in training. However, when combined in training, you significantly stunt the development potential of each modality.


We believe that optimizing an athlete’s development potential is their key to success. Then, as competition approaches, we progressively increase competition mimicry (or Specificity) and progressively decrease non-competition specific stimuli - Arriving at competition with your highest fitness potential and recently sharpened OCR-specific skills.


Separating Skill & Fitness Modalities

For the majority of your training, activities that require OCR-specific skill and activities that develop various aspects of fitness, should be trained separately. When combined, your development in all is compromised.


If the majority of your training combines running, burpees, obstacles, and low-load weight training you are varying aerobic, anaerobic, muscle system, and skill stimuli too much to significantly overload and improve any specific adaptation. You are doing a lot of work and requiring a lot of recovery, but your stimuli (or stress) are so varied that you are unable to trigger the appropriate adaptation response.


Each of these expressions of fitness and skill have different biological responses and different potentials. The majority of your training should separate these stimuli so that you may work each to their individual potentials. Then, as you approach competition, you put them all back together, sharpening your abilities to perform these individual components of fitness and skill as sport-specific competition.


What to Train - Skill VS. Fitness

Most athletes specifically tell us they’d like to improve their carry performances. Most often, they cite the Bucket Carry as their weakest, most energy-draining carry.


Let’s isolate your performance and training with Bucket Carries to show the what’s, why’s, and how’s of Training Specificity. First, let’s consider which contributes more to your Bucket Carry performance:  (1) skill or (2) fitness. Although there is skill involved, and there are “tricks” to shifting the load around and accommodating tired muscle systems while in competition, you are just carrying a bucket - It doesn’t get much more simple than that. Here, we’re establishing that improvements in your Bucket Carry-fitness, are more important than improvements in your Bucket Carry-skill.


Given that fitness, not skill, is the major contributor to success in your Bucket Carry performance, your training should reflect that. Your training should focus strengthening the muscle systems used in Bucket Carries. If you decrease the Relative Intensity (how heavy/hard it feels) of your Bucket Carry, not only will your Bucket Carries be easier, but this obstacle will fatigue you less, and your remaining performance will improve.


Additionally, training focused on fundamental strengthening of the muscle systems used in Bucket Carries is highly transferable to all other carries, pulls, climbs, and hoists. Whereas the training adaptations from carrying a bucket more often, are not nearly as transferable to other obstacles and performance outcomes.


How to Train - Progressive Overloading

Your goal is to make the bucket, and all other carry obstacles, feel lighter. If you get 50% stronger and can handle 2-3x your previous work output the bucket will feel about 50% lighter.


For training, it may seem tempting to simply increase the weight or distance of your Bucket Carries. However, the Specificity of sticking with a bucket as your go-to training implement presents issues with your ability to overload. You may only be able to add 20 or 30lb. to the competition weight of the bucket, your grip will likely give out before you can properly overload the major muscle systems you need to target, and overloading this “front-loaded position” is not particularly safe or productive.


By training with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and hex bars (or trap bars) you are able to more efficiently and safely progressively overload the necessary muscle systems.


Your training should focus increasing your absolute strength potential with heavy lifts, carries, and holds. Deadlifts and Rows will target the necessary muscle systems and provide your major stimuli of progressive overloading. Hex Bar Carries will supplement the strength potential developed with Deadlifts and Rows, by targeting the stabilizing muscle groups utilized while moving with a load. Hex Bar Carries can be easily and more safely progressively overloaded than Bucket Carries.


As you approach competition, you’ll drop the least specific movements and add back in your competition specific movements. You’ll drop or decrease Deadlifts and Rows, modify your use of Heavy Carries, and now refocus Bucket Carries in preparation for competition.


Training Endurance, Speed, Strength, & Skill

The same is true for your remaining endurance, speed, strength, and skill training.


The goal of your endurance training sessions should be to increase the duration you can run and work at an intensity relevant to the intensity you’ll maintain in competition.


The goal of your speed training sessions should focus increasing the speed you can generate while experiencing an internal biological environment similar to that produced by your competition intensity.


The goal of your strength training sessions should be to increase your absolute Power and Work potential in muscle systems used in competition.


The goal of your skill training sessions should focus repetition to build neurological adaptation for your OCR-specific skills. Always mixing skill and fitness together will hinder top-end neurological adaptation (ex. Always practicing spearthrows while at high heart rate).


Each of these goals are different. The training demands for each are different. The more training goals and demands you combine into a single training session, the less you’ll accomplish each goal.


Strive for Predictable Training & Performance

Ensuring a predictable training, performance, and recovery environment, with consistent, measurable feedback is the key to long-term development. If you don’t have specific expectations and feedback mechanisms for each training session’s performance and recovery, you won’t know when things are off-course until the wheels have fallen off. You’ll then have to seriously dial back training stimi, detrain, and be in a state of higher injury risk.


Every training session should focus attaining the optimal training “dose” (or stimulus or stress) for your current state of stress and recovery.


Training dose (how hard you work, how far you run, etc.) should be determined by protocols that factor in your current training recovery-adaptation and lifestyle stressors. This ensures a predictable training and performance environment, with consistent, apparent feedback.


To account for an Athlete’s current training recovery-adaptation state and (non-training) lifestyle stressors, we use Autoregulated Volume and Intensity prescriptions. This means that both your Volume (how far you run, how many Sets/Intervals you complete) and Intensity (how fast you run, how heavy you lift) are uniquely customized during your workout, based on your performance within said workout. This ensures that you receive the adequate dose for your targeted adaptation without incurring so much stress that fatigue and tissue damage delay progress and risk overtraining or injury.


Workouts properly executing these protocols rely on (1) establishing your target Intensity for the day and (2) maintaining that Intensity, until you’ve achieved the proper Volume stimulus for the day. We use RPE (“Rate of Perceived Exertion”) to prescribe target or “Relative Intensity” for a workout, set, or movement. We use AR (“Autoregulated”) Volume prescriptions to inform the Athlete when they’ve received the proper amount of stress from a workout, set, or movement.


   ex. Speed Intervals

   Complete ARx 400m Intervals @ RPE 8->9

   Begin with your 400m RPE 8 Pace, complete Sets until your effort becomes an RPE 9.


These protocols allow us to properly account for the stress that recent training and life-style factors (sleep, diet, work stress, family/friend stress, etc.) have taken on your recovery-adaptation state.


Using these protocols does require that you take on appropriate responsibility for understanding your own training output and feedback. You must be honest with yourself in establishing how hard you are truly working and when it’s time to end the workout. We find that most Athletes, when following our methods, are able to achieve moderately high competency in these skills in 1-2 weeks.


Preparing for Competition

As you approach your competition, your training should progressively piece back together all of your individual training modalities to provide you a highly specific, competition mimicking performance environment.


Depending on your experience, fitness, skill, goals, and upcoming competition priority, your progression from low to high Training Specificity may change dramatically. Factoring in all of these variables, as well as the psychology of the Athlete, is the crux of a proper training program, competition preparation, and long-term success. If you’re going to dedicate time, energy, money, and your health to training and performance, we suggest you utilize a training system and support team that tracks, accounts for, and responds to all of these variables.


In summary, striking the appropriate amount and timing of Specificity should be a major training focus. The more training time you spend mixing various training modalities together, within a workout or movement, the more development potential you are leaving on the table. Consider the contribution that various skills and fitness modalities make to each component of your competition performance. Consider your goals, experience, strengths, and weaknesses. Use this thinking to determine how much training time you should spend developing your fitness and sharpening your skills and how much you should spend putting it all together, mimicking competition.


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Jonathan Maharajah FRIDAY, MAR 22ND
Wow-at last I get it. I always doubted that building things separately works-this really helps explain why it does! Awesome article fellas!
Taylor McClenny TUESDAY, MAR 26TH
Thanks Jon! Glad to have you training with us!
Veronica Quinones WEDNESDAY, MAY 8TH
I really love this article. I think OCR is such a great and unique sport. But it’s also incredibly tempting to “need to do everything every workout”. It’s easy to fall into the trap, and then not actually see progress in any one thing!

I really appreciate my recent programming, it’s simple - but effective. The biggest improvement is that I can see measurable improvements. The strength + running combo has been incredibly effective for me and I feel like I am making the most with my time 💪🏻💜
Dustin Livengood WEDNESDAY, MAY 22ND
I have been a LeaderBoard athlete for over a year now my Fitness has gone through the roof. I thought i knew how to train before I started with LeaderBoard, but all i knew how to do was run my self down. Since working with LeaderBoard i am a totally different athlete and my results show it. At 40 I achieved my 1st elite spartan podium. But I didn’t stop there i earned two more that year. Now in 2019 i am the leading 40-44 Spartan National Series Age Group leader. If you want to stop working out and start training come join the team 💪🏻 The results will speak for themselves!!
Michael Crimmins THURSDAY, MAY 23RD
I love LeaderBoard I feel like I have a progression plan that's working for me, better than any other OCR training program I've tried before. I've only been training for a couple of months, but am seeing huge improvements with my running and OCR skills.
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