Obstacle coursing is the new fitness trend for the fun loving. Crawling through mud, jumping through fire hoops and climbing ladders has never been more fun. DID YOU KNOW? The first gymnasiums in history can be dated to over 3000 years ago in ancient Persia? They were known as zurkhaneh, areas that encouraged physical fitness.
COURSE TO FITNESS
Over the past few years, you'd be hard-pressed to scroll through your social media news feed without seeing some of your friends posting pictures at the finish line of an obstacle course. Events like the Jeep Warrior Race, Impi Challenge and Gladiantics have become well-known parts of the South African recreational scene.
You may think these mud-filled tests of stamina, toughness, and agility represent a new cultural phenomenon; but their roots actually trace farther back in history. Before becoming the latest in fitness trends, courses were used as training devices; designed to build the mental and physical fitness of soldiers, sailors, and marines preparing themselves for combat dating back to the 19th Century.
Obstacle course training not only became widely implemented in the armed forces, but made its way into civilian culture as well. Universities around the world sought to prepare their students for military service, and some instituted mandatory physical education classes.
Flash forward to today and you'll find millions of participants taking to obstacle courses around the world to challenge their athleticism, toughness and determination on kilometres of dirt paths, in muddy water and past semi-insane obstacles.
The roots of this fitness phenomenon are typically traced to an event in the UK called the Tough Guy. Started in 1987 by eccentric former British army soldier Billy Wilson (aka Mr. Mouse), the 15-kilometer obstacle course takes place on a farm near Wolverhampton, England. Wilson specifically designed the course to induce fear and pain and to push participants to their very limits. While this event may have inspired the obstacle fitness of today, variations of the concept have crafted different types of obstacle fitness serving various participant needs.
OBSTACLE TYPES Puzzle Solving / Scavenger Races
Think Amazing Race only without the film-crew. Events that fall into the scavenger race category usually require some form of puzzle solving, orienteering, and feature elements that resemble a scavenger hunt played out on a grand scale ' in some cases across an entire city. Some of the activities will be mental gym, while others require you to perform various physical tasks like lunges or push-ups. You're generally part of a small team who receives the list of challenges to complete and the winning team is the group who completes the most tasks on the list in the shortest time.
Racer vs. Obstacles
This is possibly the most common form of obstacle fitness. These kinds of events are purely based on defeating man-made or natural challenges; you'll have to get over, under, around or through all the barriers that are placed in your way along the course. Jumping over burning fires, crawling through mud under a wire fence, battling up slippery slopes and running or swimming across water obstacles are just a taste of the type of challenges you might encounter along the course. Your challenge is to beat the course, or your own personal best time.
Racer vs. Course
In these types of obstacle events, the course fights back; the obstacles are moving, changing, or feature the race staff actively trying to unnerve you as you attempt to complete the course. For instance, racers are pelted with water balloons, sprayed with hoses, fired at by paintball guns or forced to dodge swinging balls as they run through a gauntlet across balance beams suspended over water.
This type of challenge was most likely popularised in the United States by ABC's gameshow, Wipeout. Events of this nature grew into prominence on Japanese game shows where contestants are bounced, cajoled, tricked and even pummelled while attempting to navigate safe passage through the course. Many obstacle fitness courses drew inspiration from these popular game shows which held appeal for viewers of various fitness levels.
In a pure Mud Run, you won't find any walls or ropes at these events; the primary obstacle is deep, thick, soupy, slimy mud that you need to navigate from start to finish. Equal parts running and mud slogging, these courses are notorious for saving the wettest, dirtiest element for the finish line where you'll usually have to belly-crawl through a pit of mud to end the race.
LOCAL OBSTACLE FITNESS
Many of the obstacle fitness races are a combination or hybrid of mud-runs and typical obstacles. The Jeep Warrior Race, for example, is notorious for leaving contestants bearing the brown-stained mark of a mud-crawl days after the event. This race takes place throughout the year all over the country with thousands of warriors getting involved in each race. Standard features in each race include the Mud Monster and Tower of Rage. The Mud Monster is usually a 100m stretch of mud riddled with 3m humps and 3m dips athletes have to navigate and the Tower of Rage is a 6.3m platform athletes need to jump off into a pool of water.
According to the Warrior Race Team, one of the reasons why obstacle racing is so popular is because anyone can participate. All you need is a pair of old running shoes and a great sense for adventure. What makes obstacle racing unique is that it is one of only a few opportunities for athletes from different sporting arenas, like cycling, trail running, road running, Crossfit, karate, rugby, soccer or hockey get to compete against each other on a level playing field.
Exhilarating obstacles, mud, music and an amazing festival areas are the ingredients that make up the Impi challenge. It's an adrenaline-charged experience, no matter your level of capability or fitness. Similar to the Warrior Race, venues are specifically chosen for their exclusivity and ability to accommodate fun obstacles that will challenge participants both physically and mentally in the ultimate adventure challenge. Participants can enter individually or as part of a team and there's even a Best Dressed element in this particular race. IMPIs are encouraged to get creative and express themselves. The best dressed individual and/or team stand the chance to win awesome prizes.
For those less extreme obstacle lovers, Gladiantics has been around for many years in South Africa. The company was founded in 1997 by Pieter Spiller and Phelp Stevenson who were both career soldiers in the then, SADF and later in the SANDF, with more than 50 years joint service. Their custom-made setup, with 11 various fun items is formulated on an obstacle course layout. The drive behind Gladiantics is more fuelled by team building fun than hard-core fitness but still promises to be a challenge to participants and serves as a gentle introduction to obstacle fitness.
Get into the obstacle fitness trend in the comfort of your home with a few of these simple challenges:
Bear crawl - Forget banged up knees. Instead crawl across the garden with your hands and feet like a bear.
High knees marching - March like a marching band leader, pulling the knee up and parallel with the ground as you walk forward.
Frog jump - Channel your inner frog and squat low to the ground, jump forward into the air, and squat back to a hovering position. Do this until you've crossed the finish line.
Box hop - Using chalk, draw boxes at an angle, half a metre apart from one another. To begin, stand in the first box and jump sideways to the next box, and then sideways again to the next. If you don't land with both feet in the box, you have to go back to the last box and try again.
Weighted-ball toss - Using a small medicine ball, partner up and toss the ball back and forth. After each toss, take a step back. If you drop the ball, start over.
Hula-hoops - For a good cardio station, keep a hula-hoop going for 20 seconds. If you drop it, start over.
Skipping ropes - If you have a few skipping ropes, you have a ready-made station. Each person has to jump 15 times before going to the next station.
Dash - A great way to round out the whole obstacle course is to end with a 50-meter dash. Mark off the dash starting with the end of the previous station and let everyone run to the finish line.
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