First off, you may be pondering why, as an obstacle course racer, would you want to build lean muscle in the first place?

Well, note when we use the term ‘lean’ here, we’re talking not talking about packing on a lot of muscle mass. You don’t want to be laden with dense muscle when you’re tackling an obstacle course race, but having lean muscle will allow you to navigate the challenges with greater ease.

1. Focus on your diet

While many look solely at the training methods of building lean muscle, nutrition is equally important (if not more so). You can do all the right training but if you’re not eating correctly, you won’t see the progress you deserve. Nutrition for lean muscle is a blog topic in itself, so here’s three big factors to keep in mind first:

  • Periodise carbohydrates. This means not habitually packing carbs into every single meal, but rather using them tactically depending on your training for that day. If you’re relaxing with your feet up at work during the day (!) but have a big session in the evening, for example, then you don’t need a carb-heavy breakfast but will need to consume a hefty dose of carbs (depending on intensity and duration of session) an hour or so ahead of your training. On the other hand, if you’re having a day off, you could reduce your overall carb consumption for the day. There’s lots to write on carbs and training (maybe it’s the topic of another blog!)
  • Drink plenty (of water!). Hydration is key to maintain overall health but also in developing lean muscle. Thirst is sometimes disguised as hunger, so make sure you’re hydrated and you won’t come unstuck here.
  • Get the protein in. Aim for a minimum of 2g per kg bodyweight if you’re looking to maintain or increase lean muscle mass. So, for a 75kg man, that’d mean shooting for ~150g protein per day. Focus on lean sources (white meats and fish) and avoid super-fatty cuts of red meat

2. Do HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training is a form of cardio training that switches between short bursts of hard effort with periods of recovery. The idea is to get your cardio system (heart and lungs) pumping hard, but for a short enough duration that you can push through the discomfort. It’s basically the opposite of a long, slow run where you have to clock up a lot of miles before the cardio system gets stressed!

HIIT sessions can take many forms. For example, on a rowing machine it might look something like this:

  • 20 seconds hard
  • 10 seconds easy
    X 8 reps

That’s only four minutes of work, but I guarantee that if you work really hard during the 20-second intervals it’ll feel like the longest four minutes of your life! Equally, you might jump on the treadmill and complete:

  • 20 seconds sprint
  • 40 seconds standing recovery
    X 30 reps

On the stational bike, you could go a little longer and do:

  • 60 seconds hard
  • 30 seconds easy
    X 5 reps

Again, you’ll be counting down the seconds by the time you reach the last couple of reps!

The sport, duration of intensity / rest and number of reps don’t really matter that much. What matters is that you elevate your heart rate for a period of time which wouldn’t be possible with one long effort.

3. Lift heavy weights

I know what you’re thinking: “lifting heavy will pack on muscle”. Well, only if you also pile in a tonne of calories. You see, to build muscle you need to create a surplus of calories – ie, you need to eat more calories than you’re burning. If you’re lifting heavy weights and burning a lot of calories (particularly if done alongside HIIT sessions) then you need to eat a lot of calories. Like, loads!

In addition to a surplus of calories, you need to be incredibly strategic about which muscles you’re targeting from one session to the next. This often means hitting small, specific muscles to really stress them, such as bicep curls. In contrast, to build lean muscle, you need to focus on compound exercises which target large muscle groups (and burn a lot of calories), such as deadlifts, lunges and squats.

You can read a blog all about the best strength training exercises for runners on the DB Max blog here 👇

5 Great Strength Training Exercises For Runners

Once you’re on track to building the body you want, don’t forget to challenge yourself further by entering one of our Obstacle Course races!

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