Obstacle Course Training’s Missing Link

By Todd M. Cambio, CSCS, SFG- Westerly, Rhode Island

I love body weight exercises.  I think they should be the basis of any training program.  Body weight movements can be used for warming up, for cooling down, for flexibility and mobility.  Body weight is way more than just push-ups, sit ups and planks…which are all great exercises by the way!  Once you learn these movement patterns, they can be progressed to truly test one’s individual strength. You can progress body weight exercises to advanced movements like pistol squats, pull-ups, handstand push-ups and one-arm push-ups.  However, there always seems to be one major body weight exercise that is left out of the equation, it is my missing link exercise, the body row.

When I design my training programs, I train opposing muscles groups or movement patterns.  For every action – there is an equal and opposite reaction.  For example, we all know that the push up is a fantastic upper body strength exercise – but when overused, it can cause some issues.  The big muscle groups like the upper pectorals; shoulder and the internal rotators of the arm and shoulder can become shorter and tighter than the external rotators and scapula retractors.  This tightness can possibly cause a forward rounding posture and possible neck and shoulder injuries.  So to make sure I don’t cause these possible issues, I always have an opposite movement paired with the exercise, in this case, the body row.  This is my push/pull relationship method of training.

The body row is the sister exercise to the push up, however, it is much less utilized.  It also incorporates almost all the same muscle groups as the push up.  The exception is that the prime movers are the back of the body (posterior chain) as opposed to the front (anterior chain) of the body.  Most of the attention goes to the Pull Up as the ultimate body weight back exercise, which is of course an awesome exercise, but until my clients are strong enough to do them correctly, the Body Row rules the roost!

In fact, as I prepare for my mud runs and obstacle course races, I progress up my body row progressions using the Lebert Equalizer.  In races, you are always pulling your self up ropes, up walls, up cargo nets and up other numerous obstacles.  There is also always a situation where I am reaching down for a fellow racer (see picture below) to help pull them up, so why not train this pattern more effectively?

The Body row is technically a horizontal pull.  Like I said, I use the Lebert Equalizers for my horizontal pulls because I can add some great variety to the pulls as well as bring them with me to where ever I want to train, inside or outside.  Always having a place to do a pull up is sometimes an issue.  So, if I am outside and want to add in some pulls, I can.  I will also use a barbell set up in a squat rack and a TRX to mix it up.

Here are the main points on proper form for doing a body row using the Lebert Equalizers.  When you get into your starting position, dig your heels into the ground and fire your glutes to keep your hips locked and aligned.  Think of it as a straight line that continues from your knees to your hips to your shoulders to your ears.  Think Perfect Plank too.  Grab the black grips with a firm hold to fire the forearms.  Before every pull (rep), make sure you are really squeezing the bar.  Keep a neutral spine as you pull yourself off the ground.   When you progress to the single arm body rows, your body will want to rotate on you.  Do your best to keep your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor.  Your core will get quite a workout here too!

Body Row Variations:

1. Half Body Row (ball under the glutes is to help cue you to keep hips up) – Get in the ready position and pull your self up until your are about half way to a full pull.

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2. Full Body Row – Get in the ready position and pull your self up all the way up until your thumbs are in line with your chest.

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3. Single EQ Chin upUse a single EQ.  Get in the ready position but grip the bar with about 6” between your hands.  Pull all the way up.

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4. Single Leg EQ Body RowThis is a full body row variation where you simply extend one leg all the way while you are pulling.  Really drive your heel into the ground while the opposite leg is extended.

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5. Single Arm Half EQ Body Row – This one is tough!  The key is to set your self up appropriately.  I will refer to the right hand in my description since it coordinates with the picture.  Lay beside a single EQ on you right side.  Assume the ready position with the exception that you will want to spread your feet apart a little wider for extra stability.  Grab the single EQ on the black foam handle and squeeze hard.  Get the body tight as can be.  When you are ready to pull up, really dig your opposite heels into the ground, especially the right one.  The left heel will already take most of the weight, so by digging in with the right heel too, you will get more strength.  Breath in, then exhale with an “S” sound and pull your self up half way.  Lower yourself in control.

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6. One Arm EQ Body RowThe BIG time body weight row!  Same as described above, just dig in a little more and go for the full pull! 

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So there you have it, the missing link in obstacle course/mud run training that not only enhances your racing but also increases your overall strength.

Todd M. Cambio, CSCS, SFG

Todd is a strength and conditioning coach that specializes in spots performance and obstacle course race training.  He is also a Spartan Group X Obstacle Course Coach, a StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor, a published author, a Master Body Weight Trainer for Lebert Fitness and the owner of Precision Fitness in Westerly, RI.  See what Todd is up to by visiting www.ToddCambio.com.


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