Obstacle Race Magazine – How to train without obstacles

Obstacle Race Magazine Interview with Michael Cohen
Obstacle Racing Magazine

How to train without obstacles

by Michael Cohen

Issue 2
April 2014

Obstacle Race Magazine asked our in house obstacle race training expert Michael Cohen how he trains his elite OCR athlete’s at TEAM Wild Forest Gym without obstacles.

As a TEAM we can’t always be on an obstacle course to practice the techniques. But that said, we do not actually need to be on one. When we look at the individual elements of an obstacle, it is about understanding the functional natural movements that are involved in the obstacle. These include: climbing, balancing, crawling, running, jumping, pulling, lifting and throwing.

So how can we practice these skills without walls, cargo nets and monkeys bars? You will be quite surprised by what you can find in the environment, close to your home or work. Sometimes it needs some imagination, and other times you just need to think outside of the box.


Training is dangerous. Particularly when you train outdoors or in a non-coached and supervised environment. It can lead to serious injury or even death. Not all apparatus and natural objects are suitable for training on. It is important that you check that whatever you use is fit for the purpose and that it can hold or take your body weight (Always check breaking strain guidance. Training in the wet, cold and winter conditions makes surfaces slippery and dangerous. Always be aware of the risks and seek coach advice and supervision. Trees, branches, walls and other natural and man-made objects, surfaces and obstacle are DANGEROUS. There is always a risk of slipping or falling. Always use a safety mat to reduce impact and risk of injury. Always train in groups rather than on your own. Always tell someone where you are training.


•    Trees Limbs – Every park or woodland has trees with low limbs i.e. less than 2 metres from the ground. Great for variations in pull-ups, body hangs, lateral traverses, inverted scrambling branch to branch. Hand only techniques and hand n foot.
•    Low Tree Climbing – Tree climbs where you can fit your hands around the trunk and clamp your feet on either side is excellent for core and upper body strength.
•    Gym rope climbing in tree – Climb a gym rope in your park tree. In addition to the rope you will need a throw rope and throw weight to install and retrieve rope from park or forest tree. Rope climbing is one of the best upper body and core ways to train.
•    Park Playground – Most kids playgrounds have monkey bars, pull up bars or just a apparatus with a horizontal or angled bar.
•    Gymnastics Club – Check out your local gymnastics club where you will find high bars, climbing ropes.
•    Crossfit – Usually have frames and ropes to climb with.
•    Parkour – See if there is a local parkour group or centre as most sessions will include an element of climbing.

Training without obstacles


•    Logs – In the forest use horizontal tree trunk or large branches to jump over.
•    Branches – Use 2 thin branches as jump markers for your launch line and your landing area. Puddles – In this wet weather just puddle jump. It may sound simple but it is affective. Plus it will remind you of your childhood days probably.
•    Streams – Jump across small streams.
•    Trenches – Jump across/up/down trenches.
•    Park benches – Jump up/down.
•    Tree stumps – Jump up/down.

Lifting, Throwing, Dragging

•    Logs – Every log has a different centre of gravity, shape and grip. This will train you muscles and you mind multilaterally, rather than only doing specialised movements.
•    Stones – Every stone similarly has a different centre of gravity, shape and grip.
•    Web sling & chain – Used to drag stones and logs. Great for working shoulders, arms, core and legs.


•    Forests – Use fallen tree limbs and trunks to balance. Each will have a different texture, diameter and sturdiness.
•    Park Bench – Use the top edge to balance and traverse.
•    Tree stumps – Use different size and height stumps.
•    Park railings – Advanced techniques.
•    Park paths – Traverse narrow path edges in park.
•    Playground – Traverse raised edging around play areas.
•    Gymnastics club – Always have beams to balance on.

Coaching Advice

“Anyone can climb, jump, lift, throw, catch, carry, pull or balance. However optimum performance, speed and power come from learning advanced techniques & skills, rather than using strain or brute force. What do you use?”

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