Full-Body Exercises

How to Scale a Wall Like an Obstacle Course Pro

Here’s how to conquer the walls of any OCR race.

How to Scale a Wall Like an Obstacle Course Pro
Viktor Drachev / Getty

You’re standing in the mud, staring up at the edge of a wall that’s eight feet high. If you want to finish the race, you’ll need to grab it and pull yourself up and over. But how?

According to Ian Adamson, a veteran adventure racer, there’s good and bad news. Unfortunately, says Adamson, “it takes a human about 10,000 repetitions before it’s an automatic movement.” However, “most people have 10,000 repetitions of the components of what it takes to scale a wall. If you can do a jump, a pull-down, and a dip, then
 you’re good.”

For the jumping
component, Adamson recommends you practice
your technique on an
actual wall. “You run
 at the wall, but you gotta
lean back,” he says. “This is a hard thing to do because your head says, ‘Don’t do it’—and then you run up the wall.”

For more leverage, focus on using the traction on the bottoms of your shoes.

Once you’re airborne enough to grab the top of the wall, you’ll need to pull yourself
up. To replicate that movement, the pull-up is an obvious choice, but Adamson also suggests that you find a cable machine: “Grab the cables and pull them from your head all the way to your mid-thigh, so your arms are extended down below you.” This will help train you for the transition between pulling up and pushing down.

Once your chin is above the wall, you’ll need to get the rest of your body there, too. One way, which is effective but not particularly elegant, is to use your feet to “run” up the wall and then flop your upper body over it. Another way is to pull up high enough so that you can then start pushing down against the wall, similar to a muscle-up or, in Adamson’s words, “getting out of 
a swimming pool.”

To train this component specifically, Adamson recommends dips.

“I understand why people are intimidated by the wall,” he says, “but having the physical capability will give you the confidence to do it.”

How to Dominate the Wall:

  1. Do a set of 10 box jumps. Work to the highest box that you can safely and reliably clear.
  2. Do as many unbroken, dead-hang pull-ups as possible. If those are too hard, do assisted pull-ups with either a band or an assisted-pull-up machine.
  3. Do 3 sets of 6 cable pull-downs, making sure to pull the cable down fast and then releasing it up slowly. “That’s where the gains are,” Adamson says, “the eccentric.”
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