Workout Tips

Two Moves to Bulletproof Your Back and Knees

How to bulletproof your back and knees for any obstacle course race.

Man Stretching
Georgijevic / Getty

You’re mentally prepared for your upcoming obstacle course race. Ready to jump over the pit of flames. Ready to crawl through mud during a downpour. Ready to scale a wall of any size. But are your back and knees ready, too?

Like any sport involving intense running and jumping, OCR can put the hurt on your joints. But even if your lower body feels a little creaky, you can still achieve your dirt-splattered fantasies, says

Gerren Liles, a personal trainer and a Reebok-sponsored athlete with more than 20 obstacle course races under his belt.

“The good thing about these races: They’re scalable for all types of fitness levels,” Liles says. While some OCRs require burpees, box jumps, or wall climbs, which may be nonstarters for someone with bad knees, races always allow for modifications, he says.

That said, it’s important to know why your joints hurt to help target the issue. “If there are knee issues, it’s either related to structural damage like torn ligaments or from knots and tightened muscles that pull on the joint,” Liles says.

Consult a doctor to determine which it is. If it’s the latter, Liles recommends foam rolling or sports massages to remove the knots from the muscle fibers. You should start training four to six weeks before your race, with three to four sessions a week, which still leaves ample time for mobility work.

For lower-back pain, the culprit is often tight hip muscles and a weak core, Liles says. Again, consult your doctor to know for sure. If you have a weak midsection, strengthen it by adding core exercises to your routine. Start by holding planks for as long as possible; try to work up to a minute straight. If tight hips are the problem, add stretches into your post-workout cooldown. 

The Workout: The Backup Plan

Two moves to loosen up your hips and help combat lower-back pain:

How to Do It: Perform two sets of five reps for each of the two stretches pre-workout.

Lizard Stretch: 

From a pushup position, bring your left foot forward so it’s next to your left hand. Lower your left elbow to the floor, allowing your right arm to bend slightly. Hold for 5 seconds, then return to a pushup position. Switch sides.

Pigeon Stretch: 

Lie on your back with your left foot planted on the ground, leg bent at roughly 90 degrees. Bring your right leg up, and lay your shin over the front of your left knee. Try to turn your right knee away from you until you feel a stretch. Hold for a few seconds and then switch sides.

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