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Using the Cube Part 4: Intensity and Supporting Exercises

Posted by Strength & Speed on October 2, 2017 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

This is the final article in the series. The first one covered a general overview, the second one covered crushing (open and closed hand), the third one talked about pinching (open and closed hand) and now to complete the cube we will talk about intensity along with supporting exercises.


Working on intensity it just a matter of working your rep schemes for any of the above training tools. If you want to improve your 1 rep max strength you are going to follow very low reps, such as five and below. If you want to work on endurance, you are going to follow higher reps, like 8-20. Both are important for OCR. While most obstacles are primarily endurance focused, 1 rep max strength is also important as demonstrated by anyone who has grabbed an extra wide bar on a rig but failed to have the strength to hold on.

Supporting Exercises

You may be thinking, where do all those wrist curls and reverse wrist curls come into play for grip strength? Exercises like that will strengthen the forearm, which help stabilize the hand providing power and muscle balance. Bottom line is you still want to finish off your grip strength focused workout(s) with some standard forearm curls, reverse forearms curls and weighted wrist rotations to ensure you have covered all the facets of grip strength. Just like with pinch grip training, if you are going to purchase grip tools, focus on crushing tools first before buying items that focus on support muscles. Items like:

Heavy Hammer II or Wrist Reinforcer: These are basically an adjustable dumbbell but you can only add weight to one side, making what resembles a weighted hammer. Where it differs is the handle is thicker than a normal handle so not only is it training those supporting muscles but also working your crushing open hand grip.

Twist Yo’ Wrist and One Wicked Wrist Roller: Both are variations of a piece of gym equipment I rarely see anymore. They involve twisting a spool (Twist Yo’ Wrist) or a bar (One Wicked Wrist Roller) with a weight dangling from a rope. As you twist the rope gets wrapped around the spool or bar pulling the weight higher. These definitely burn the forearms as the weight reaches closer to the top and fatigue sets in.

Wrist curls, Reverse Wrist Curls and Wrist Rotations: Finally, using standard dumbbells, or if you have them available thick bar dumbbells, wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are great to finish off your forearm training. These are great for a final forearm pump at the end of your workout. Adding in some rotations while holding a weight, helps build endurance in those supporting muscles along your forearm. While most people can go pretty heavy in wrist curls, reverse wrist curls and rotation will require you to drop the weight significantly due to the smaller muscles involved. You can even use a thicker barbell to further stress your crushing open hand strength.


After four posts, we have covered the eight facets of grip strength in depth. If this did not satisfy your quest for the ultimate grip strength knowledge be sure to look at and think about ordering their publication MILO. Specifically be sure to check out the June 2016 issue, which has an article by me. In those articles I list one of my favorite grip strength workouts for Obstacle Course Racing, which uses a mix of Ironmind store bought products and items found around the gym.   If you have ever raced and failed an obstacle due to inadequate grip strength, then you are not going to want to miss these training tips. MILO is the only place this specific workout has ever been published since my book had already gone to the publishers by the time I developed these techniques. Do not miss it.


Using the Cube Part 3: Exercises for Pinching & Intensity

Posted by Strength & Speed on September 18, 2017 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)


Last article I covered crushing, which is the main prime mover for grip strength related to Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). Crushing is where you should spend the majority of your effort and the majority of your money when purchasing grip tools. However, having good pinching ability is still relevant for a couple of reasons. First, it creates a well-rounded athlete. Second, you never know what the course designers are going to throw at you.

Since pinching is less relevant to OCR, I would spend my money first on crushing products and improvise for pinching products. However, if your birthday wish list still has a couple of empty spots on it, here are some options:

Closed Hand:

Blockbuster Pinch Grip: The Blockbuster Pinch Grip is essentially a block with an eyelet at the bottom, which allows it to be connected to a loading pin or a pulley machine. Just as with any attachment, this can be used an a pulley machine to turn any of your exercises into a pinch grip exercise such as upright rows, one arm triceps pull-down, one arm lat pull-down, lateral raise, reverse lateral raise or front raise.

IMTUG: IMTUG are what appear to be mini-grippers. However, IMTUG are not grippers for children, they are smaller versions of their big brother Captains of Crush (COC) that are designed for individual finger strengthening. By using only a couple of fingers on IMTUG you can improve your pinch grip along with strengthening individual digits. Just like COC, there are various levels to test your pinching ability. Unlike COC, the IMTUG are rated differently so just because you can close an IMTUG No. 3 do not think that you will be able to close a COC No. 3.

Pinching thin plates together: Without buying any fancy equipment you can still train pinch grip by plate pinching. Pinching two plates, whether they be Olympic style bumper plates or the standard barbell plates (you will probably max out at 25 lbs. plates for both, style of plate and exercise dependent). These can be used for low carries, holds for time, shrugs or upright rows. All work muscles in your upper body while simultaneously enhancing your pinch grip.

Open Hand:

Hub: The hub is designed after the center hole of a York 45 lbs. plates. Although you can still find gyms with York plates that allow for hub lifts, most people I have met cannot lift the 45 lbs. plate initially. By purchasing the hub you can incrementally work your way up to the 45 lbs. goal using either the loading pin to add weight or a pulley machine.

Titan’s Telegraph: If you are looking or a piece of equipment that just does pinch gripping, then Titan’s Telegraph is for you. The machine looks like a giant telegraph that you add weight to and practice pinch griping closed. If the little IMTUG gripers are not doing it for you, this will take training to the next level and allow you to find tune the amount of weight you are adding to your pinch grip training.

Pinching thick plates together: If you do not want to spend the extra money, pinch grip training can be accomplished by pinching plates together. To work your open hand pinch grip try using thicker plates whether that be thicker versions of standard plate loaded weights in your gym or the rubberized Olympic plates. Just like training with thinner plates while pinch gripping, these can be used for low carries, holds for time, shrugs, upright rows or even lateral raises.


With many options for pinch grip training from Ironmind and around your gym, a well-rounded training routine using all aspects of the cube will help advance your grip strength. Although not the primary grip facet used for obstacle course racing (OCR), you should not neglect pinch gripping in your training. After all, the world of OCR is constantly changing and the only real limit is the imagination of the course designers.


Using the Cube Part 2: Exercises for Crushing

Posted by Strength & Speed on September 4, 2017 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)

If you missed the last post about Ironmind’s methodology for training, be sure to go back and review it now. Now that you have a basic understanding of the 8 facets of grip strength, we will examine some of Ironmind’s more popular products to help you improve specifically as it relates to Obstacle Course Racing.


Closed Hand:

Captains of Crush (COC) Grippers: COC Grippers take gripper training to a new level. These are not the cheap grippers you will find a sporting goods store where you can do 30 repetitions while driving your car, these are serious training tools that require concentration and time spent in the gym, just like any other exercise. They provide strength along a full range of motion by stressing open hand crushing at the beginning and closed hand crushing at the end. They come in various strengths from Novice (rated at 60 lbs.) to Number 4 (rated at 365 lbs.). I recommend purchasing 1.5 or lower since I have yet to meet someone in person that can consistently close a Number 2.

Little Big Horn: Little Big Horn is an attachment that is shaped like the point of an anvil. This unique shape provides closed hand crushing training by presenting an odd shape to grab. This can be used not only for low rep near max lifts for strength improvement, but can also be used as an attachment to a pulley machine for endurance focused training.

Silver Bullet (and Silver Bullet Disc): Using a COC Gripper with the Silver Bullet accessory you can change COC Grippers from low repetition maximum strength training to primarily endurance focused. Closing the gripper with the silver bullet in between the legs of the gripper allows you to hang weight from it and hold the gripper closed for time.

Any other thin bar training options (such as a normal dumbbell or barbell): This does not require specific tools but anytime you grab a bar in the gym, that is crushing closed hand training. Whether that involves regular pull-ups or standard dumbbell farmers carries, you are working crushing, closed hand and endurance.

Open Hand:

Rolling Thunder: Rolling Thunder is a thick bar attachment where the center can rotate. The standard method for using this is attaching it to a loading pin and doing one arm deadlifts. However, it can also be used as a handle for almost any exercise you would normally use at the pulley station from one arm lat pull downs, to reverse grip tricep extensions to single arm curls.

Eagle Loops: These are fabric loops for your fingers that attach to a dumbbell or pulley machine. By putting your fingers through the loops, it forces your hand into an open hand position while exercising. They can be used for lat pulldowns and cable rows, but they can also be attached to a dumbbell for things like bent over dumbbell row. Using less than the full four fingers in the Eagle Loops can help target individual fingers along and in focus on specific parts of your forearms.

Endless Loops: Although endless loops are not a tool that can be used by themselves for grip strength training, they can be used to build a rig. By looping the sewn heavy duty fabric loops over the crossbeam of a pulley machine and adding in different grips like rings, climbing holds and ropes, it creates a mini-rig in your gym. This allows you to practice traversing from one side to the other and then back to the beginning. The medium, long or extra-long loops are going to provide you with an appropriate length of material to ensure you can tie a girth hitch over the crossbeam and on the attachment.

Any other thick bar training options including Olympic Husky Handle Dumbbell Bar: Whenever you grab any thick bar or oversized handle, it is also working open hand crushing strength. This can be accomplished through a special bar or simply by doing pull ups on different objects like the crossbeam of a pulley station, support structure of a squat rack or the top of the Smith machine. Basically look around the gym and be creative when choosing where you plan on doing pull-ups.

This Is just a sample of crushing grip training options using a mix of store bought equipment (from and objects already in your local gym. Not everything needs to be purchased to enhance your grip strength training, but having a couple of products with you in your gym bag can help take things the next level. Finally, as you continue your grip strength journey, be sure to be creative and find your own awkwardly shaped objects and techniques for training your grip.


Using the Cube Part 1: Ironmind has Solved Grip Strength Training

Posted by Strength & Speed on August 15, 2017 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

One of the things I have been telling people about Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is that although the sport itself is new, the problems facing the athletes are not new. So when looking to improve various aspects of OCR I look towards other sports to solve the problems at hand. For improving endurance for events like World’s Toughest Mudder (24 hr OCR) I look to ultra-runners. For maintaining a lean physique with low body fat but quality muscle I look towards the bodybuilders. So when it came time to improve grip strength, I look towards the people who turned it into a sport on its own, Ironmind.

Ironmind is a website for serious grip strength training. In fact it is so serious they have competitions that revolve around the various aspects of grip strength including but not limited to the ability to bend nails, close grippers, hold grippers closed for time and a variety of lifts using what I call non-standard holds. One of the key aspects of Ironmind’s training methodology is the Crushed to Dust Cube. This cube provides eight different facets of grip strength broken into three categories:

Prime mover: Crushing (majority of power provided by four fingers)

Vs. Pinching (majority of power provided by thumb)

These prime movers can each be broken down into open hand or closed hand positions.

Crushing: The primary force holding the object is coming from your four fingers and not your thumb.

Closed Hand: Used when finishing off a gripper, grapping a thin monkey bar or carrying a jerry can with a thin handle

Open Hand: When lifting a thick bar, carrying a weighted bucket, grabbing a thick monkey bar, or the top of a wall

Pinching: The primary force holding the object is coming from your thumb rather than your four fingers.

Closed Hand: When gripping a thin object like a barbell plate

Open Hand: When you pinch a thick object like bumper plates

Each of these four options can be trained using two different modes of intensity.

Intensity: One Rep Max: Used when grabbing an awkward shaped obstacle or powering through a tough obstacle like the Platinum Rig.

Endurance: The ability to repeatedly use the above techniques over the course of a race, whether that be a 8 mile Spartan Super, a 6.5 hour Battlefrog Xtreme or a 24 hour World’s Toughest Mudder.

The two different intensities multiplied by the two different hand positions of the two different prime movers creates 8 total facets of grip strength. Additionally a supporting role is played by the wrist/forearm and the extensors to stabilize the hand. By doing thing like wrist curls and reverse wrist curls it specifically targets these supporting muscles.

For obstacle course racing, we want to focus on primarily crushing by doing both closed hand and open hand work. This is due to the variety of objects we grab over the course of an event from extra wide bars, tops of walls, thin monkey bars and objects used for farmer’s carries. However, in order to be well rounded some pinching work should be incorporated because you never know what obstacles the course designed will throw at you. While this may still be confusing for some, in the next post I will give you specific exercises associated with each and tools you can make or purchase to enhance the 8 facets of grip strength.


The Overlooked Nutrient at the End of the Alphabet

Posted by Strength & Speed on July 31, 2017 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Between running mileage, skill work, and dedicated strength training, diehard obstacle course racing (OCR) athletes have a lot on their plate (both training and dietary wise) for peak performance. Along with this, the sport is characterized by obtaining ideal body composition to improve strength-to-weight ratio. Inadequate intake of certain micronutrients secondary to caloric restriction for weight loss in combination with fluid/micronutrient losses (I’m talking about sweat… and a WHOLE lot it!) can become disastrous. I can already tell what you are thinking… “Oh, not another article on iron, sodium, potassium, B-vitamins, blah-blah-blah.” Although all of these nutrients are important, today the focus is on an often overlooked nutrient that can largely impact your health and exercise performance. Cue zinc.


Zinc deficiency, a condition that is not well known or addressed by the OCR community, is quite common in endurance athletes. Dietary practices adopted by endurance athletes may lead to suboptimal zinc intake in up to 90% of athletes. Although zinc deficiency is associated with poor immune function, metabolic function, macronutrient metabolism, and wound healing, there are several other sports specific implications. These include decreased peak work capacity, decreased oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide output, and decreased muscular strength and endurance. In fact, there is research that has indicated that suboptimal zinc status is associated with decreased training mileage for distance runners. In some circumstances a suboptimal zinc intake will be mistaken for an iron deficiency due to the temporary mild symptoms similar to zinc deficiency. After all, inadequacy of both minerals will result in decreased endurance performance for runners. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may not hurt to visit your physician to conduct lab work and then fortify your diet with this mighty mineral. 

The recommended intake for most athletes lies between 11-15mg/day (dependent on sport, weight, gender). Optimal absorption can be obtained through avoiding coffee with zinc-rich meals. Zinc absorption may be increased when paired with green tea. Foods rich in zinc include but are not limited to: various beans, peas, eggs, legumes, meats, fish, poultry, nuts, shellfish, wheat germ, and whole grains. Zinc found in animal-based foods are generally more bioavailable and easier to absorb. It is not uncommon for vegetarians, females, or athletes undergoing caloric restriction to require a dietary supplement to meet their needs. If relying on a supplement, avoid consuming multiple mineral supplements in one meal (especially iron); these minerals will compete for absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. Often times a well-rounded diet and generic multivitamin supplement (when taken with a meal) will meet the needs of even the most competitive athletes. Standalone zinc supplements are generally not required and may result in toxicity (>40mg/day). Always make sure to check with your physician before starting any new supplement practices.

-Luc LaBonte, MS, RD, LD


Luc is a registered dietitian with his M.S. in Nutrition and certifications in personal training and wellness coaching. Luc hones his professional skills through counseling athletes/fitness enthusiasts and through his career as a clinical dietitian at East Carolina University. As a member of the Strength & Speed Development Team, his main hobby is competitive obstacle course racing with notable appearances at Obstacle Racing World Championships (2014-16) and a 50 mile completion at Worlds Toughest Mudder 2013. Luc can be followed through his facebook ( and Instagram ( accounts.

What the Tour De France Can Teach Us About Elite OCR

Posted by Strength & Speed on July 10, 2017 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)

As we watch the largest sporting event in the world, the Tour De France, I like to try and pull lessons from other sports into Obstacle Course Racing. As a warning, if you know nothing about cycling, you may not understand good chunks of this article, but I encourage you to read anyway. The principles are still important, you just will not get the comparisons.

Not Everyone Gets to Win the Grand Tour: There are around 180 riders that start the Tour De France every year. I consider myself a cycling fan but could probably only identify about 30 of them by name. There are racers who work their whole lives and come away with a stage win at the TDF or maybe just a stage win at a different lesser known stage race like the Tour of Qatar. Cycling fans may think, “Who cares who won Stage 3 of the Tour of Qatar?” The winner of that stage cares because he busted his ass for that win. The lesson to learn here always try to reach higher but at the end of the day be happy with what you achieve. Not everyone can podium at the OCRWC. You should be proud of your competitive accomplishment whether it be a podium at a local OCR, an age group placing or just a personal best. Although you should be proud, you should never be completely satisfied. This ensures you always have the hunger to go back out there and strive harder to reach higher goals next race/month/year.

Go for the Points: One man keeps winning the green sprinters jersey at the TDF (Peter Sagan), but he usually is not the one that wins the stage sprint. How does this happen? He plays the game well, is consistent and goes after points. If you are not the fastest, you can still achieve some other goals through points systems. Spartan has a points ranking and previously OCRWC and the defunct BattleFrog had a points ranking. Consistent strong efforts and finishes can get you high up on that leader board. Try going for a new PR on the leader boards as a different type of goal that you can be proud of.

Specialize: The TDF has sprinters, climbers and all around riders. Not everyone in the peloton is good at every aspect of the race. As an OCR athlete, feel free to specialize. If you never run more than 5 miles, why are you trying to compete at the Ultra-Beast or World’s Toughest Mudder? The same goes in reverse. If you know you have great endurance but poor speed, maybe you should stick to events like the Beast, Shale Hell 8 hr or 24 hr and Toughest Mudder. Guys like Junyong Pak and Ryan Atkins who do well at ultra distance and short races are a rare breed. Not everyone has to be good at every distance. Take a look at Cassidy Watton, her specialty is stadium sprints and she dominates without trying to enter events like WTM.

Go for a Jersey: Just as cyclists specialize, they also only go for one jersey at the Tour De France. Some go for the Green Sprinters jersey, others the Polka Dot Mountain jersey and of course some are aiming for the Yellow GC jersey. Typically, athletes only go for one of these. If you are racing an event like WTM, which has different color bibs like a sprint bib, black ops bib and overall mileage bib, it is probably best to set your sites on one. Rarely does the winner of the sprint bib walk away with a overall high mileage (Wesley Kerr you are the exception that proves the rule).

Enjoy the Tour De France as cyclists compete in what I consider the most grueling endurance event on the planet. While I have run OCRs for 7 days straight as part of OCR America, the thought of cycling around the country of France makes me nauseous. Even with all the doping scandals that have rocked the cycling world, these are still incredible athletes that go through three insane weeks of cycling every year. Some even do it multiple times a year at races like Giro D’Italia and Vuelta A Espana. Put on your spandex, saddle up and enjoy the ride.


It's Time for OCR

Posted by Strength & Speed on July 5, 2017 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

You may have heard the term before OCR aka Obstacle Course Racing or you may just know it by the common brand names Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, BattleFrog and Conquer The Gauntlet. The events involve running, climbing, crawling and jumping your way to the finish line. Regardless of your fitness level or athletic background, it is time to give OCR a try and here is why:

For the overweight: Whether your goal is to lose another 5 lbs. or another 50 lbs. OCR can help. The events are fun but still challenging and the open waves allow you to attempt/complete obstacles according to your current fitness level. After a day out on the course you will be having such a good time you will not even notice that you spent the day exercising. Furthermore, the desire to do well at OCRs has led many people to embark on extensive training between events. This goal focused method of exercise is much more effective at reducing body fat than just trying to lose weight. Do not worry about being last or slow, the multiple waves of people means no one is even keeping track of who is the slowest on the course.

For those looking for something different: OCR is not your standard 5k on a road. OCRs provide an off road experience with man built obstacles you will not find anywhere else. There is a reason the sport has been growing at an exponential rate including recent television coverage for both Spartan Race and BattleFrog Series.

For those looking to be a kid again: When was the last time you jumped in the mud, went down a big slide, jumped from heights into water and had fun on the playground? OCR is basically an adult playground, except you will not have to lift your legs when you go across the monkey bars. Plus, you will not creep out the other parents who are trying to watch their children on the playground while your sweat covered body tries to get some exercise.

For the online obsessed: Feel like may have found the end of the internet and are still bored? OCR can redirect that obsessive online behavior into something more healthy (and interesting). With tons of articles on websites likes Mud Run Guide, podcasts like Overcome and Run and video from Obstacle Racing Media, OCR provides a direction to channel that online addiction.

For the Ninja enthusiast: There you are watching American Ninja Warrior (ANW) thinking, “That is so easy….I can do that.” Well, put your money where your mouth is. OCR brings obstacle racing to your backyard and you do not have to put tons of time developing a submission video, waiting around all night and then getting 2 minutes of exercise, which may not be aired on TV (talk to some people who have had the ANW experience if that last sentence confuses you). Skip all that and just sign up for an OCR online and show up to race. If you miss your wave…no problem, most events have multiple waves running all throughout the day.

For the bodybuilder/gym rat: You spent all year working on those gains, sculpting your abs and building those biceps. But typical gym…they will not let you work out shirtless. That’s not a problem in OCR. Show up with as little clothes as you want on the starting line. Is Planet Fitness not letting you wear that cut off sleeveless shirt or that stringer top? Not a problem, the OCR world is actually “judgment free” and you can even show up dressed in costume if you really want. Furthermore, almost every strength athlete hates cardio but this is one cardio session you will not dread, I guarantee it.

For the competitor: Maybe you have not played sports since high school but still have that competitive drive. If you are the guy (or gal) who turns everything into a contest then you need to come out to OCR. The earlier waves offer a competitive experience typically with things like timing chips and mandatory obstacle completion. Instead of bragging about how you had the best parking spot at work or ate dinner the fastest, start bragging about your race results from the past weekend.

For the Strength & Speed athlete: If you are like me and enjoy running but also lifting weights, than OCR is the sport for you. Tired of getting beat in running races by people with no upper body strength? OCR fixes that problem with obstacles. If you are an all-around athlete who does more than just run or a runner who is looking to be more well-rounded, check out Strength & Speed and then sign up for your first OCR.

Whatever your goal or fitness background is, OCR has a place for you. From waves that offer prize money and sponsorships to non-timed waves where people complete on the obstacles they are comfortable with. The sport brings in everyone and I have never seen such a strong sense of community in any other sport.

(This article was originally written for JRen Fitness on their Facebook page and has been reprinted here in its entirety)


Race Review: Dirt Runner's DRX Games

Posted by Strength & Speed on July 3, 2017 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Every weekend that I am fortunate enough to participate in the great sport of obstacle course racing, I hear countless people talk about how they love the obstacles and loathe running. I for one am getting the running thing under control as I learn to train correctly for it, but I can empathize with the sentiment expressed by these great people. Dirt Runner has created an event unlike any I have seen up to this point, it is perfect for those who love to show off their strength and obstacle proficiency.

Dirt Runner’s DRX Games can best be described as a Pentathlon or Decathlon of OCR skills. I had the pleasure of participating in one of DRX Games in 2016 and placed just off the podium, so I wanted to come back for a little bit of redemption in 2017 and I am glad I did. I will preface this by saying, the turnout was underwhelming. This was for a couple reasons in my opinion, the first being that many OCR athletes who train specifically for racing may not possess the strength needed to place highly in this style of competition. (Sorry if I hurt anyone’s ego with that one.) Ultimately, the regular 140-170 lbs. elite racer is going to have a tough time beating a 200 lbs. athlete in a test of maximum tire flip reps for time. The second reason I believe the turnout was lower than last year was the choice to hold this event on Father’s Day, Sunday. It’s difficult to entice people away from their families on a day like that; I however, made this event my Father’s Day gift!

The Venue:

For anyone who attended a Spartan Race near Chicago from 2011 to 2015, you would be familiar with the Cliff’s Insane Terrain venue that Dirt Runner calls home. It’s hard to describe how cool this venue is, with a multitude of permanent obstacle built on it. One of my favorite aspects of this property is the multiple types of terrain that is available for them to get creative with. The format of DRX Games unfortunately, does not utilize much of the property. Those creeks, ravines, fields and single tracks are reserved for the other events put on at Dirt Runner; such as the DRX Dash, Midwest Mayhem, and Warrior Rush. However, you can come out and train for most of the summer and fall if you look up their training days on the website. (They allow onsite camping as well)

DRX Games takes place in the main festival area, which includes most of their feature obstacles and strength based implements. One portion includes a roughly 300 meter loop with 15+ obstacles back to back.

The Competition:

The DRX Games have to be one of my favorite events in OCR, simply because of the style of competition. Each games event is unique and will feature different challenges. Last year there were Log flips and a spear throw, this time the event consisted of 5 challenges that I will do my best to bring to life.

Event 1:

A giant tire “box jumps” for maximum reps in 1 minute. This was no little tire!! If I had to guess, I would say it was around 30-34” in height for the men, and about 20” for the women. You were required to jump up and stand before dropping back down to the ground for a completed rep. This event required not only the explosive power to jump that high, but also a level of endurance to keep cranking out reps as fast as possible.

Event 2:

This event named The Dragons Nest, was an interesting take on a tire pull. You had a medium size truck tire pulled out on a 30 ft. rope with a 72 lbs atlas stone sitting inside of it. This event was to be completed for time. When the horn went off you were to sprint down to the tire and pick up the atlas stone. You then carried the stone back to the start point, and proceed to pull the tire all the way to you. Then grab the tire and drag it back out until the rope is fully extended. Now you get to sprint back, retrieve your atlas stone, return it back to the tire where it began and sprint your way back to the start. It’s a grueling, heart pounding challenge to test your strength & speed!

Event 3:

Now that your legs a burning a bit… its time to go flip some tires! They don’t let up on you here at Dirt Runner. The tire flip challenge was another time trial test. You were required to flip your truck tire about 15 flips to the other end of the area, then turn around and flip it back to the starting point until it settles around the concrete block it was sitting on. At that point, you must pick up the concrete block and sprint it down to the end of the area and back, returning it to your tire to complete the challenge.

The finish at this one was incredible, and highlighted why I like this event so much. You had a 260 lbs. strength athlete tie with myself, about 195 lbs. Everyone has a chance to compete at the games due to the various challenges, not just a single discipline that dominates.

Event 4:

Rope climb time! Taking a break from the strength obstacles, we head over to a technique based challenge. To make these rope climbs more challenging, the competitors were not allowed to jump off the ground to start their ascent. You could only reach up high, and then bring your feet up to begin. Your goal, climb the rope and hit the bell as many times as possible in 1 minute. As usual, those who can climb a rope without using knots placed much higher; so get your rope climbing skills ready if you plan to come out to a DRX Games event.

Event 5

The Games always close with a test of speed and obstacle proficiency. Now you get to see how you stack up against the 300 meter DRX Dash course. We had the pleasure of starting the course with a repeat run at the Dragon’s next that we previously competed in. This turned out to be an advantage for me, as I won that event the first time we saw it. During the sprint course, the longest stretch of running is about 20 meters before you are tested against another obstacle. These includes a cargo net monkey bar, a giant slip wall, a 150 lbs atlas stone roll, a difficult weaver, and finally finishing up with Dirt Runners take on what most of us would know as the “Tip of the Spear” from the good ole’ days of Battlefrog.

By ending the games with the DRX Dash course, it allows you to give everything you have left for this sprint. And there is no better way to end a race than exhausted with the gas tank on empty.


Dirt Runner has some of the coolest trophies around. The overall DRX Games series winner in 2016 received full size tridents, the DRX Dash champions won lightning bolts, and the recent Midwest Mayhem champs received swords and golden dragon’s heads. This time was no different, the champions received a large golden skull medal with the Dirt Runner orange lightning bolt across the face. This bad boy will look pretty good on my wall!

This may be one of the smaller local events, but every event I attend at Dirt Runner always turns out to be one of the most memorable races of the year. There are multiple options left in 2017, hopefully you can find a chance to experience one of their race formats soon.

Upcoming events at Dirt Runner:

July 22 – DRX Dash V – Time trial event on the 600 meter 20+ obstacle short course. (Multiple race options, including the Extreme unlimited laps for 60 minutes)

July 23 – DRX Brute - Similar to the DRX Games but with heavy strength challenges

Aug 6th – Warrior Rush Challenge – 5k obstacle course with 50+ obstacles. (Offers a 6 or 12 hour option as well)

Aug 20th – DRX Games VII – The second 2017 games, come on out and see if you can compete for a podium spot.


Christopher Balven is a member of the 2016 Strength & Speed Developmental team and a Battle Corps member representing the permanent OCR facility just outside St. Louis, MO.

Why Are There So Many PED Posts?

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 5, 2017 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)

As a lifetime drug free athlete I post about Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) a lot, probably more than I should. However, I try to provide Strength & Speed with new, interesting and fresh content. Many of my friends no longer subscribe to magazines like FLEX, Muscle & Fitness or do not pick up new ones like’s Train because the content is just rehashed year after year. How long can you tell people to lift weights, follow rep schemes and eat high protein healthy food. There is only so much you can write about the topic without just reusing information.

None of the above magazines ever talk about PEDs. The only fitness magazine I have found that takes about PEDs is Muscular Development (MD). MD is generally “pro-steroid” but still gives out advice like consider risks and understand side effects prior to use. While steroid use seems very obvious to me when I look at bodybuilders or fitness models due to years of reading magazines, reading books and watching documentaries, it is not obvious to the average consumer. When I first started reading these magazines, I thought no one used steroids because drugs are illegal and bad, so why would anyone use them? However, after spending some time in the fitness industry you realize that major stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, The Rock, Mark Wahlberg and Van Dam have all used them at one point (they all admitted it or their usage signs were very obvious).

As a drug free bodybuilder (although I do not plan on competing for another couple of years), I struggle to find information that has not already been beaten to death. The social taboo of PED use leaves that topic relatively unexplored in many fitness magazines. While not an advocate of PEDs, I do think that not talking about them at all is worse for sports. To me, not discussing PEDs, is just ignoring the elephant in the room and sets false expectations for people.

Just as I have seen many people complain about the beauty magazines photo shopping their models and how people should be aware of this, I think the same should be true about bodybuilding magazines. Readers should know that being 240 lbs. at 5% is possible but only through the use of anabolic substances or even being a lighter weight than that and staying shredded all year. Anyway, I hope you enjoy some of these posts and learn something in the process and I try to space out the PED articles with some other relevant strength content that is not just rehashed Muscle & Fitness articles.

Arnold photo found via a Google Search

Big Ramy photo from FlexOnline


What Runner's World Doesn't Tell You

Posted by Strength & Speed on May 17, 2017 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Every fitness magazine series has their elephant it he room that they rarely talk about. For lifting magazines it is drug use. Rarely talked about but clearly visible are advertisements filled with bodybuilders or fitness models clearly on steroids. Instead magazines like Flex, Muscle & Fitness and Train are filled with rep schemes and diet advice. That is all great stuff, but they never talk about the steroid use used to achieve the physiques that accompany the pictures of the good diet and training advice. The running “elephant in the room” is far less dramatic, but is just as important. The “running elephant” is volume.

Magazines like Runner’s World fill their pages with new shoe types, diet and articles like “How to get faster while running less.” All of that is good information but the secret to getting faster for readers of Runner’s World is usually just run more. People reading these magazines do not want to hear that the secret to getting faster is just more work, because they feel like there has to be something else. The truth is that most people who are reading this magazines are running below 30 miles a week (that is based off talking to friends and coworkers that read running magazines). That is well below the almost 100 miles many professional runners put in each week.

You can change shoes, tweak your diet or buy new garments all you like, but the answer to getting faster is usually just consistent hard work. I’m not saying don’t read these magazines, because you will learn a lot regarding running related topics, but don’t forget that at some point you need to put in the work. If every issues just said do more work, it wouldn't be very interesting so I understand why they are written the way they are.  The magazines provide much more than just training advice, they help you connect with the sport.  I know I have used these magazines for motivation in the past, which makes the hard work required for success easier. Keep reading and enjoying, but also keep that consistent hard work going.


Star Wars Anti-Fitness: Porkins

Posted by Strength & Speed on May 4, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

     Last year we covered Inspirational Star Wars quotes on May the Fourth.  Since we used up most of the good quotes last year, this seems like a perfect opportunity to go in the opposite direction.  Here are my favorite pictures and memes from fatest human in the Star Wars Galaxy, Jek Porkins.  Enjoy!

Everyone I know on Steroids Looks Like Crap

Posted by Strength & Speed on April 16, 2017 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

      “Everyone I know that took steroids looks like crap.” I have said it before and I will probably say it again in the future. I am not referring to the damaging health effects of steroids but I am referring to the quality of their physique. If you are reading this, you may be thinking I am saying steroids do not work effectively at building muscle. That is also not what I am saying.

      What I am saying is that most of the people I know who have admitted to anabolic substance use currently have mediocre to poor physiques. People who I work with or have trained with that used Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) usually look like crap because they were missing the key ingredient to begin with….consistent hard work. Most of the guys I know who turned to PEDs is because they were looking for the quick fix from a couple months of hard work. However, eventually other things take priority, the drugs become too expensive or they just lose interest. The missing ingredient, consistent had work comes back to bite them in the ass.

      Once they stop using and the major effects of the drug wear off, their shitty work ethic shines through. This leaves them with less than exceptional physiques, often leaving me with the thought “You used steroids?!?! Maybe you should ask for a refund.”

      There are obviously a ton of exceptions to this as demonstrated by hundreds of bodybuilders and physique competitors just one Google search away. There are also a ton Facebook and Instagram which are also just a click away. Consistent hard work plus PEDs will produce significant results as demonstrated by Lance Armstrong, Alberto Cantador, any professional IFBB bodybuilder, Rita Jeptoo or Justin Gatlin.

     If you plan on using PEDs (which I am against), then make sure you are at least putting the key ingredient of consistent hard work before using them. Furthermore, if you do plan on using them stay away from competitive races (see my article about Lance Armstrong showing interest in Obstacle Course Racing) and organizations/events that are declared as drug free. If you do your research feel free to legally take them if you plan on competing in drug using events (NPC, IFBB, some powerlifting and strongman organizations) or are using it solely for aesthetic reasons. In my opinion if you are not competing it is not much different than getting plastic surgery to improve you appearance and consists of a personal choice.


Book Review Comparisson: Mental Training

Posted by Strength & Speed on March 15, 2017 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

                If you have not looked into the value of adding some mental training to your repertoire you are missing out on achieving your peak performance.  I covered a little bit of the importance ofmental training in my book “Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite ObstacleCourse Racing” but there are so many topics to cover, I could not cover mentaltraining in depth.  To truly understandall the benefits it really requires a book focused on just mental training.

                I recently picked up Matt Fitzgerald’s book “How Bad Do You Want it” and wasblown away with how great his book was. He provides real life scenarios of top level athletes using the power oftheir mind to unlock their full potential. He takes examples of athletes like cycling’s Thomas Voeckler, GregLemond and Cadel Evans explaining how they could summon super-humanperformances when the conditions were right. Add in some running examples of Sammy Wanjiru, Jenny Simpson and StevePrefontaine and you have an all-star line up of truly amazing stories. 

                I personally thought it was the best book on mental training that I have read sofar.  It is definitely something I planon reading again as I get ready for major competitions.  The stories included in the book and thescience that supports them will help you create your own stories of greatness.    

               His book was go good, I wanted toread more on unlocking my personal mental potential and immediately picked upanother book called “The Champion’s Mind” by Jim Afremow.  With such high expectations, I wasimmediately disappointed.  MattFitzgerald is heavily involved in both competing in running/triathlons and anexperienced journalist.  His bookreflects that.  Jim’s background is inpsychology and his book reflects that.  Althoughhe works with athletes, he is not a high level athlete himself unlikeMatt.  Matt understands the importance ofthings like reserving mental strength for races , periodization, trainingcycles, peaking and the importance of rest. I felt like Jim’s book did not reflect that as well focusing more onjust doing your best every day.  In reallife when you give 100% everyday, that leads to burnout, injury and loss inmotivation.  Unlike Matt’s book, I won’tbe reading Jim’s book again.

              Matt used real life examples andJim’s book is filled with fictional stories that don’t necessarily translateinto real life.  Bottom line is if youare looking to pick up a good book on mental training, buy How Bad Do You WantIt”.  “The Champion’s Mind” fell short ofexpectations. 


Movie Falsities: You have been brainwashed

Posted by Strength & Speed on March 1, 2017 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

     Not surprising to anyone, but movies often show stuff that is completely inaccurate, improbable and sometime impossible. They are provided to us so companies, actors and staff can make money while providing the rest of the world with entertainment. Here are some classic examples pulled from a variety of sports based movies. Typically the underdog comes from behind to win the big game or match even though he does a lot of the following. These are my top 5 movie falsities that have been brainwashing you negatively.

1. Train hard and it will make a difference in a week

The season starts and the team is getting their butt kicked all year. However, the first playoff game is in a week….so it is time to step up our training. Actually, if the big game is only a week away you should probably train hard for two or three days and then taper. If it is a race, then maybe you should have been tapering the last two weeks. Either way a week of hard work is not going to fix things unless you come up with a magical play like the flying V.

2. Go hard all the time

BEAST MODE!!!! Wait a minute, as my favorite OCR athlete and Olympic Biathlete says “Beast Mode is a Myth”- Marco Bedard. Training montages often show tons of high intensity work really crushing things to get to that peak level. However, for events like running, OCR and even team sports, your fitness is built through consistent low to medium intensity work mixed with some high intensity training. Which leads directly into the next falsity…

3. A lifetime of sloth can be fixed in a couple of weeks

If there are two people and one has been training hard for months and years on end while the other just started training this season. Chances are the sloth is going to lose. There are exceptions due to the genetically gifted but chances are the new athlete is in a for a loss.

4. Nonsense training leads to dramatic results

Nonsense training actually violates the rule of specificity. Specificity means you practice whatever task you have to perform because it will make you better at it (better neurological pathway, stronger muscles for that activity, more fluid movement, etc). Paint the fence, carry this bucket up this hill, toss eggs back and forth or whatever else is portrayed in movies often loosely relates to the actual activity they are being trained for. These scenes typically just make dramatic parts that film well. Those athletes would be better suited training for whatever sport/race they are doing instead of doing supplementary exercises.

5. Bad attitudes are turned into great ones

The people who do really well in sports do not show up thinking, “Man I hate practicing”. In fact it is the opposite. It is the love of the game, which makes their behavior obsessive and even unhealthy. Although unhealthy is usually the difference between achieving results and someone’s opinion of not achieving an appropriate outcome based on work input. Chances are if you are someone you know is showing up to train with a bad attitude they will no longer be part of the team/club/sport in a couple of weeks or months.

      Pay attention next time you watch any sports based move of an underdog coming from behind to win the big one. Chances are perpetuating several or all of these falsities. I guess telling people that a mix of genetic gifts and a lifetime of hard work produces great results does not make for compelling movies. Aw well, at least you know the real answer now.