How to Train for an Obstacle Course Race: Weighted Carry

by Nikki Hartacac Charlottesville personal trainer

So, you want to crawl through mud, under barbed wire, over 8 foot walls, up and down mountains, and drag 80 lb cement balls, huh?

Are you insane? Or, are you subconsciously calling your inner super human?

Obstacle Course Racing, also known as Mud Runs, may very well change your life. Transform your life from fun and stimulating to daring and mind-blowing. Pushing your body’s limits to see how fast you can fly over the challenging terrain and through these obstacles is addictive. You know you have it bad when you finish a race with gashes, bruises, and can barely remember your name but are already thinking about where you can find your next race… mud run junkie.

My last race was last weekend at the OCR North American Championships. At the finish line, I didn’t know what to do first: cry from happiness because of my results or hurl from the strain. In case you’re curious, I managed to save my dignity by evading both.

You’re asking your body to do things that you generally don’t do in a day. You need your body to familiarize yourself with the different stresses you’ll most likely encounter on a course in order to do them well. In addition to the cardio aspect, your course will include:

. . .

Here are some workouts to help you practice your weighted carries. 

This is a tough but very doable challenge. Usually, the object you’re required to carry is a bucket of gravel or a 30 – 50 pound sand bag over your shoulder. I highly recommend practicing both! The bucket carry is more demanding on your back and forearms but the sandbag is more difficult on strength and stamina overall. You will almost always be given a hill (mountain) to run (drag yourself) up and down with the weighted carry. The designers of the courses are not trying to make this easy on you by any means. You are testing your superhuman abilities after all, so why not do it on the side of a mountain?

If you are serious about doing (aka surviving) a mud run, get used to hills. With that in mind, here is a combination of both carry and elevation workouts to practice at least once per week.


Get a hill run out of the way at the same time with this workout. After a safe warm up, carry a bucket with about 30 – 40 pounds (I use a kettlebell) in it to a steep hill of choice that’s about 50 – 100 meters long. Now you’re ready to start the workout! 

Carry your bucket to the top of the hill. Set it on the ground and jog back down. Break for 30 seconds. Sprint to the top of the hill where your bucket is, pick it up, and walk your bucket back down. Break for 60 seconds. Walk back up with your bucket, drop it off, and jog back down. Break for 30 seconds. Try to go up the hill 6 – 8 times with this pattern.

Sand bag

Pick another hill that’s about 100 meters long. This time, carry a 30 – 50 pound sand bag over both shoulders (over just the left shoulder and over just the right shoulder). I use a bag of play sand that you can get at Lowe’s and put it in an old pillow case. Change it up on each hill.

Here’s the workout: walk 1/3 of the way up the hill with your bag on one shoulder. Then, bear crawl and drag your bag for the second third of the hill. Finally, finish by jogging with a bag over your other shoulder. If jogging with the bag isn’t doable, pick a lighter sandbag you can jog with. As you get stronger, increase the weight of the bag.

I hope these workouts will help you as you prepare for your next race. Feel free to reach out and let me know how they go! Stay tuned for another blog soon with workouts to help you with your hanging and grip strength portion.

Good luck and kick butt! 

Nikki Hart
acac Charlottesville personal trainer