The Marine Corps Obstacle Course (affectionately known to Marines as “the O-Course”) is a superb functional fitness test. Unless you are a Marine, former Marine, or have access to a Marine base its going to be hard to train on an official O-Course. However, some of the individual components can be trained anywhere.
I first ran the O-Course at USMC Officer Candidate School (OCS) in 1990 and 1992, then again at The Basic School (TBS). Its extremely challenging as the course demands strong metabolic conditioning, agility, coordination, skill/technique, and aggression. Towards the beginning of the course are “skill + aggression” components and later the obstacles get more brute force in nature and the course ends when you slap a log atop the rope climb. The rope climb obstacle is easy, unless it happens to be located at the end of the course. As it turns out the rope climb really sucks for some folks for that reason.
The purpose of the O-Course is to test the skills Marines need to survive combat. Climbing walls, sprinting, hurling themselves headlong across ditches, and climbing ropes are all important warrior skills. Your adrenaline is pumping and your lungs feel like they are going to burst when running this course, as I can personally attest.
The obstacles are built mainly of treated logs designed to have a longer service life that the Marines using the course. It turns out that telephone pole sized timbers that are sunk several feet into the Earth do not “give” much if you mis-time a jump and ram into them. Also, hard landings can result. Marines will get black and blue on the Obstacle Course from time to time and so can you so be careful.
In a related note CrossFit athletes memorialize Travis Manion with a hero WOD. This video shows UFC fighter Brian Stann visiting Quantico Marine Base’s new Manion Hall and remembering his buddy Travis. After this touching visit, the fighters run the O-Course (or a portion of the O-Course…they don’t video the whole thing for some reason).
Fortunately, CrossFit athletes can practice a couple of O-Course skills with standard implements we find “around.” Prior to attempting any of these movements, here are the appropriate steps to follow:
1. Ask your coach if it’s ok to practice the movements described in this note,
2. Review the area to ensure it is safe to train, being sure to move chalk buckets (easy to fall on or kick over), j-hooks (easy to skin knees or hips on), oly ring straps, etc,
3. Ask your coach how to perform these movements,
4. Place crash pad beneath you, and
5. Definitely ask a coach to spot you until you are 100% confident in the movement.
The second obstacle on the Marine O-Course is the single high bar, which closely resembles the single high bar on a pull-up rig. One method to surmount the single high bar is called “the college boy roll”, a name not derived as a result of the agility of their namesake. Here is a great demo video explaining how to perform the college boy roll. I couldn’t find any source for the name, though that may be a good thing.
One of the later obstacles on the Marine O-Course is the double high bar, which resembles a pull-up rig double cross-member. The method I learned to surmount this obstacle has no name (that I am aware of, but we will name it “the chicken wing.”), but the movement is well explained in this video. It is important to note that the distance between most common double pull-up cross member bars is not as wide as that those used in the standard Marine O-Course. As such, technique will need to be altered a bit.
Feet getting caught in a narrow pair of cross-members can result in death, feet separating from lower limbs, or other terrible maiming. If you have access only to narrow double-cross members, a better bet would be to “chicken wing” the first cross-member and pull the opposite leg over the top cross-member, bypassing that first cross member with the foot entirely on the way up.
Always keep in mind, once you climb a tall obstacle like a wall or pull up bar, you need to drop off the other side. Practicing the “dismount” is just as important as practicing the ascent and helps avoid turned ankles and other problems. It may help to practice this movement on a lower set of double cross members first.
Of course the rope climb is a staple of CrossFit conditioning so there is no need to dwell on that obstacle.
Here is a video of a Navy SEAL running the Marine Obstacle Course pretty fast. He uses some unconventional techniques to surmount the obstacles, but is fast none the less.
Enjoy the videos, and train SAFELY and WITH A COACH.