For most of the FEMPOWER team, Toughest London in April 2016 was our first ever obstacle course race, so we didn't have much clue about what was in store for us. Except that teaser video that had us (well, me at least) quaking in our trainers. Cue excessive Googling of 'how to train for an OCR'. There are three things that you need to focus your training on to complete an OCR like Toughest and stay in one piece: trail running (even more important for long races), strength and grip. I think most, if not all, of my team-mates will agree with me when I say that the one thing I wish I'd done more of in the run up to Toughest is grip work. Monkey bars, rings, traverse walls and other suspension obstacles, combined with the cold and slippery mud, all add up to grip strength being the first thing that will likely fail you during the race. So, in preparation for our next challenge, I give you my top 5 ways to grip strength:
1. Bar hangs and pull-up training: Simply hanging from the bar trains your grip muscles, arms, shoulders and core to support your entire body weight. See how long you can hang for before you loose your grip. For more of a challenge, hang with one hand at a time. Pull-up training, which is useful in itself for building upper body strength, is also a great way to improve your grip strength. Try doing sets of super slow (10 seconds) negative pull-ups and focus on gripping the bar, like you're trying to bend it.
2. Look for fat bars: The thicker the bar, the better the grip workout. Some gyms might have fat bars, or you can look for them in outdoor playgrounds. I find dip bars at my local park are thicker than the pull-up bars, and you can use these for inverted body weight rows as well as dips. Alternatively, you can simply wrap a towel around a barbell and work on grip gains while doing your usual rows or bench press.
3. Farmer's carries: The idea is to pick up something heavy with each hand and carry it over a distance. You can do farmer's carries with barbells, dumbbells, or - my favourite - kettlebells. Pick up the heaviest weight you can (it will be heavier than you think!) and walk in a straight line as far or as long as you can - aim for 10-50m. This is a fantastic exercise, not just for developing exceptional grip strength, but also for strengthening your core and back and developing powerful legs and hips.
4. Plate pinch: Use your fingers to grip an Olympic plate with each hand. Again, go a bit heavier than you think. You can simply hold the plates as long as possible, carry them, row them or even overhead press them. For some fun, try pinching one plate and doing a hula by passing it from one hand to the other around your waist as many times as you can.
5. Bouldering: Work on your grip and upper body strength, plus conquer any nervousness around heights, without even thinking about it!
Incorporate some or all of the above into your training and join me in the quest for vice-like grip and suspension obstacle domination!