For athletes entering the ever-popular obstacle course racing (OCR) scene, a performance advantage could be a backyard monkey bar away.
Coloradan Andrew Adamowski regularly podiums in regional OCRs like the gritty Spartan series. The 44-year-old former Ironman competitor finished second twice in the Elite Masters category at the race’s world championships.
Handmade backyard training grounds might have something to do with his success.
Adamowski has transformed his front yard, backyard, and even living room to host obstacles and strength trainers. He has a pegboard next to his TV, a series of grip trainers beneath his porch, and a nearly 20-foot climbing rope in the center of his living room.
“It has definitely helped diversify my training. If anything, it works to build confidence when approaching obstacles during a race,” he said. “And it definitely has made training more interesting.”
Obstacle Course Features
Obstacle course races come with lots of prefixes like “Spartan,” “warrior,” “ninja,” and “mud.” And they can include a wide variety of physical feats.
Common obstacle racing challenges include ladder and wall climbs, monkey-bar moves, sled drags, heavy ball carries, cargo net scales, and the almost-upside-down Tyrolean traverse on a rope. Serious upper and lower body strength is required.
It’s not possible to train for all of these techniques in a regular gym or convenient class. So having OCR training gear right out the back door can be helpful.
Backyard Obstacle Training a Necessity and Hobby
Adamowski’s DIY setup is more than two years in the making. It started with an old sleeping bag stuff sack filled with sand. Just carrying that around the yard built better upper body strength. But inventing a yard’s worth of mostly recycled training tools has become a hobby for Adamowski, a landscaper by trade.
Like many working parents, Adamowski finds time limited. Moving some of his training into his home helps streamline his workout regimen.
Sometimes he rides bikes to and from the city, some 50 miles both way. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He also stashes weights in the woods so he can pump iron on the hilly walk to church.
“I have a ‘proving ground’ on a little trail loop up the road, where I’ve stashed some logs and cinder blocks, and there’s a sturdy tree branch for pull-ups,” he said. “I will grab stuff to carry on the way.”
Creative Rigs for Home-Based Obstacle Race Workouts
Adamowski applies the same DIY mindset to constructing training obstacles inside and outside his home.
“One day I was looking at the joists under the deck and thought it would be a good framework for adding a pull-up bar. Things just evolved from there,” he said. “When I got the swingset for the kids it seemed logical to add some more supports to create monkey bars.”
Modifications to the weathered swing set make for a sturdy setup for “ape hang” training. The decking that overhangs the front of the garage contains an old pipe pull-up bar, rope-hung baseballs, gymnastics-style rings, a used fingerboard, and other under-mounted devices ideal for body-weight resistance training.
Adamowski’s training gadgets span a wall in the basement as well as the deck, carport, garage, front yard, and backyard. His home is petite, so there’s a climbing rope hanging above the couch. At $60, it was his most expensive piece of warrior training equipment.
Adamowski also bought a $25 slackline on Craigslist. “Most everything else I found or is a leftover from other household projects,” he said. “The indoor pegboard required the most ‘engineering’ because it needed some big drill bits, but I think it may be one of the best training tools.”
The narrow pegboard rests above a room joist within earshot of a downstairs TV. Adamowski literally hangs out here a lot.
Outside, Adamowski drills and anchors used baseballs for grip-strength handholds and uses old duffels for sandbags. There’s a manhole cover in the front yard for dragging across the driveway, and a solid wood station for vertical box jumps. A friend was throwing away a perfectly good wooden cube.
A few haystacks make a safe backdrop for javelin-throw practice. Adamowski fashioned that device from an old shovel handle and a yard tool prong.
Adamowski found a firehose on the side of a highway that works perfectly for a full-body rope-slamming move. An industrial-grade rope strung between two trees in the front yard creates a horizontal expanse for practicing the Tyrolean traverse.
Evolving Backyard Playgrounds Are for Everyone
But the household warrior training platforms are not just Adamowski’s playground. His wife, Chris, a competitive endurance athlete, dabbles as well. She won her age group in the one Spartan sprint race she entered.
Her friends also show up once a week at 6 a.m. for an outdoor circuit-training workout — a few rotating exercises starting with under-the-deck pull-ups — with one-mile neighborhood run repeats in between.
The Adamowski kids use the living room climbing rope while making pancakes or during “American Ninja Warrior” binge sessions.
So what’s next for Adamowski’s backyard setup? As he prepares for summer Spartan races in Utah and Colorado, a big wall would be nice, he said.
“I’d like some walls to climb over and for throwing heavy stuff back and forth. I don’t think the barbed wire crawl would go over very well with the kids.”