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Obstacle course racing is an increasingly popular international sport and about 4.5 million people completed a course in 2015, according to Sports Business Daily. Obstacle course races (OCRs) are different than mud runs or themed runs, since OCRs are timed competitive events, like Spartan Race, compared to more experience-based events like Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash.
In a market that continues to grow annually, (there were about 100,000 OCR participants in 2010), top adventure race companies have secured corporate partnerships, including a television show Spartan, set to air on NBC in spring 2016. Increased mainstream exposure is beneficial for the elite athlete but what about people hopping off the couch or guys who hate cardio?
There are different levels of difficulty in OCRs, typically starting with a 5K distance (3.2 miles). Since every race and every participant is different, how one prepares for a race will vary. Functional training is for everyone, not just CrossFitters or obstacle racers, and if you can’t fathom three miles outside, improving your mobility, strength, and aerobic endurance can be useful. Regardless your athletic background, performance-based workouts should be considered in personal training and coaching settings.
Alex Nicholas (at right, below) is an elite obstacle course racer who opened his own group fitness class in 2012, Epic Hybrid Training, while he was a personal trainer. This was before Spartan Race developed its official coaching certification Spartan SGX. The former halfback at Gettysburg college and Brazilian-jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and muay-thai competitor was training people to be more functionally fit before OCR was an Olympic-hopeful sport like it is today.
“Epic Hybrid Training came about before obstacle racing but it was the perfect type of training for obstacle racing,” says Nicholas. “I concentrated on functional fitness through circuit training, high intensity movements, and animal movements. We got more specific for the obstacles in our training when OCR become more popular but the foundation was already there.”
Nicholas, 36, has won five Spartan Races, has competed in more than 50 and counting, starred on Spike TV’s Sweat Inc., owns four Epic Hybrid Training studios in the U.S., and plans to open 10 franchised locations in 2016. Shortly after opening his first studio in New York City, Nicholas decided to earn the SGX certification.
“I saw how many people are attracted to this new fitness phenomenon and what I’ve realized through being SGX certified is how many people you can reach and how many people want to be educated on the most effective ways to prepare for races,” says Nicholas, “SGX constitutes what Spartan is all about: healthy living, a competitive atmosphere and a come togetherness between many realms of people.”
The first Spartan Race certification workshop was held on November 10-11, 2012 and it included four hours of written tests, eight hours of practical exams, a month’s worth of exercise, and six hours of interviews. Nobody earned the certification that weekend. Today, there are 500 Spartan SGX coaches in 15 countries with more than 1,000 workshop attendees (athletes, Spartan fans, etc) to date. An SGX coach will focus on both the mental and physical aspects of becoming a better person and that translates into achieving new goals. SGX programming has three phases, function, fitness and performance, and each phase has exercises that can be modified for intensity.
Each coach designs their own program based on the SGX guidelines, and in phases two and three, equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, TRX, sandbags, kettlebells, resistance bands, weight vests can be incorporated to improve athleticism. Phase one is all about proper form in bodyweight movements, but that can adjust based on the client. You don’t have to be a personal trainer to get SGX-certified, but you’ll have to pass a “Foundations Exam” before you go through the process if you’re not already certified.
“The Spartan SGX certification is a specialty certification that brings together Spartan philosophy and intelligent program design with our training tools,” says Jeff Godin, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., S.G.X. and professor of Exercise and Sports Science at Fitchburg State University. “A fitness enthusiast that attends Spartan SGX Workshop will leave knowing precisely how to structure their Spartan training, nutrition and lifestyle in a way that produces results and builds Spartan Race-ready athletes.”
Dr. Godin, the Director of Fitness Education at Spartan Race, helms many of the certification workshops and shares his advice on what to do with the specialty certification.
“Some Spartan coaches add Spartan SGX classes to their gym’s fitness class schedule and others set up complete obstacle-focused training gyms,” Godin says. “Their Spartan SGX classes can serve many different kinds of clients, from people looking to improve overall health and wellness, to those preparing for their first Spartan Race, to Elites seeking competitive race training. It’s a way for people to affiliate with the Spartan brand and elevate themselves within wider fitness community as an authority that can help people to build the health, competence and confidence they need to be successful everyday and in Spartan Races.”
In 2016, Godin says Spartan Race looks to double its number of SGX certified coaches to 1,000 and will hold 50-75 workshops including the new Spartan Obstacle Specialist, for those who really want race-specific guidance.
At 6’2” and 205 pounds, Nicholas is no skinny ultra-runner and there’s a host of big, strong SGX coaches, for example strongman competitor and athlete coach Todd Cambio, C.S.C.S., SGX, who are athletic enough to run these races. That’s what SGX is all about: creating mentally tough well-rounded athletes. It’s basically a certification that has A.D.D.-it can’t focus on just one element of fitness since building both aerobic and anaerobic training are crucial to being a better athlete.
For fitness junkies that don’t want to coach, attending SGX classes will offer a unique move set and provide goal-based training.
“You’ll get a lot of content you aren’t used to and if you keep an open mind, you understand they are so many different realms of fitness,” Nicholas says. “More fitness education creates a dynamic within yourself where you can determine from what you’re learning what your perfect workout is.”
If you already are a personal trainer, becoming an SGX coach may broaden your clientele since once you become certified, you’ll be able to use the Spartan SGX logo for marketing purposes, receive free Spartan Races, you’ll be listed on the SGX coach finder where people can contact you to take a class, plus other benefits.
“When you discuss goals with clients ask if they’re involved in Spartan Races or have any interest in obstacle races,” Nicholas says. “Sometimes, you can put that bug in someone’s ear and all of a sudden preparing for a race becomes a goal.”
Obstacle race training can be compared to the likes of mixed martial arts training in many ways. First, many companies are opening studios designed for training in both of these sports. Second, even those that are not competing at an elite level train like a fighter/obstacle racer just for the fitness benefits. Third, people seem to be afraid to start training these ways.
“One of the biggest barriers with people to do these races is they’re intimidated and they don’t think they can get through it,” Nicholas says. “I think SGX has a very strong chance of being a leader in certifications through the sheer impact of how many people are excited and getting involved with obstacle racing.”
What’s the biggest takeaway from an SGX workshop and training like an athlete? Do burpees. Like a lot of them, right now.