What's the Difference Between Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) and Ninja Warrior Training?

July 17, 2023

Ninja Warrior and OCR: What's the Difference?

Obstacle course racing (OCR) and ninja warrior training have exploded in popularity over the past decade. While both sports involve conquering challenging obstacle courses, they actually require slightly different training approaches. In this blog, we’ll break down the key differences between OCR and ninja training.

The Courses

The most obvious distinction is the course itself. OCR courses are designed for running and tend to be miles long, with 20+ obstacles spread out over mud, trails, water and more. With OCR, the focus is on maintaining speed and efficiency over distance. Courses test overall athleticism and durability.

In contrast, ninja courses are much more condensed, with multiple obstacles packed into a small area. Courses emphasize upper body strength and technique vs. running endurance. Whereas OCR racers face obstacles every few minutes, ninjas face them every few seconds. The aim is completing as many obstacles as possible within a strict time limit.

Training Differences

To excel at OCR, you need to build an endurance base with plenty of trail running. Long steady runs, tempo intervals, hill training and obstacle-specific grip work are all key. Upper body strength is still important, but improving run speed and economy are a priority in OCR training.

Ninja training is more focused on gymnastics strength - maximizing power-to-weight ratio with moves like muscle ups, inverted climbs and dynamic swinging. While ninjas incorporate some cardio, training is biased toward perfecting technique on specific upper body-centric obstacles via drills and repetitions.

Grip Strength

Grip strength is crucial in both OCR and ninja, but the specific demands differ. In OCR, obstacles like rope climbs, hanging obstacles and monkey bars require maintaining grip for extended periods of time. Training with thick climbing ropes, dead hangs and farmers’ carries helps.

Ninjas rely more on crushing grip strength - the ability to tightly grip small ledges and handles for controlled swinging and transitions between obstacles. Targeted exercises like plate pinches, grippers and fingertip planks help build the finger and forearm strength needed.

Recovery Methods

The longer duration of OCR races demands greater recovery practices. Foam rolling, ice baths, active recovery workouts, compression gear and massage help OCR athletes bounce back between events. Nutrition and hydration are also critical during and after races.

While still important, recovery methods are less emphasized in ninja training given the shorter, more explosive nature of courses. But ninjas still benefit from active recovery, proper nutrition and sleep to aid muscle repair and nervous system recovery between training sessions.

OCR and ninja warrior events may appear similar to spectators, but the differences in demands illustrated above show why training must be tailored based on athletes’ specific goals. Understanding these nuances will help you design programs that allow both OCR racers and ninjas to thrive.