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Why Bands over Burpees is a silly thought ..

Let me get something clear immediately. I don’t care if your chest touches the ground, or if you have full extension at the top.


burpees2In fact – in the context of this article, “burpees” could be “7 count body builders” or “pushups” or “jumping jacks” – or any other penalty, levied when you fail an obstacle at a competitive obstacle course event, like Spartan or Battlefrog.

Since 2010, when Spartan issued pushups in return for a failed obstacle, the penalty has been present. In some ways, it defined the difference between fun run’s, like Warrior Dash, and countless local events – and races, like Spartan Race and Battlefrog.

The line has been blurred in the last five years – with Spartan’s open waves being much more about fun and personal accomplishment than competition, and many events implementing a dedicated elite wave with enforced penalties – leaving the open wave to make it up on their own – the idea that you have to get down and work out when you fell off a rig, or couldn’t make it up a rope, or simply missed a spear has been present and accepted.

Then OCR World Championship 2014 happened, and change that shit up.

Removing all physical penalties, and implementing a mandatory completion rule for anyone who expects to place themselves on the podium, the game was changed. When you get to an obstacle – you could keep retrying things until you passed it – or you could simply quit. Give up your band. Take the walk of shame passed the rig, and you were done. No podium chance for you, you just gave up your band. The perfect solution, right?

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 2.56.41 PMAnd “bands over burpees” was born.

It’s a solid idea, of course. This is obstacle course racing, and we should expect the elite, podium placers to be pretty damn good at that obstacle thing. Spartan has notoriously struggled to implement their burpee penalty cleanly and effectively – trying everything from paid officials in snazzy ref shirts, to video camera’s and timing mats in roped off “burpee zones” – this whole situation is especially important for them, as they plan on heading to the Olympics – you can bet the Olympic committee is watching re-runs of the Spartan TV show, and wondering what the heck is going on.

So, lets do the band thing shall we? Lets just make every competitive OCR out there mandatory completion, and we have a clean sport.

Not so fast. The band thing has it’s own problems. OCR World Championships kicked it off, with the Battlefrog elite waves also following it through, and it’s a frequent topic on the pro / elite scene.

OCR is growing and developing. Race Directors are always looking for an edge to and to keep their courses fresh and stop their races from getting too dull. Sometimes, they step over the line a little, and make something too hard, or ill timed in the course, and the failure rate on the obstacle becomes high.

This is fine. This is growth. Until race day, when mandatory obstacle completion is a requirement – and you have an obstacle that is eating people alive, or has become unsafe.

12080290_10153750966569468_3182918675422560631_oThe 2014 Platinum Rig at OCR Worlds chewed people up. Massive attrition, when the crew simply over built it. Solid performers in age groups gave up their band, simply so they could move on – sacrificing their podium option. Back at Spartan, can you imagine mandatory obstacle completion on a spear throw obstacle? That seemingly random pot luck of “did I get a straight spear today” would be a game changer, shuffling the elite division simply because the spear didn’t fly right.

Lets also consider retries. OCR Worlds had a retry lane, which became a major sticking point and backlog for athletes who were too exhausted and cold to make rigs on their first pass. Crowds of people at the sternum check could potentially be blamed for more people failing, as they second guess themselves.

So we come back to this idea of – how do we fairly, accurately and consistently penalize elites for obstacle failure at the elite and professional level?

Do we implement an inconsistently enforced, difficult to track physical penalty?
Or, do we implement this mandatory completion, who’s good intentions can quickly be derailed if an obstacle is taken one step too far, or the retry lane backed up?

Or, have we simply not evolved OCR to the point we can run an elite level, professional sport yet?

I have no answers. I know each competitive race brand is trying to figure it out – while local and smaller series are just getting rid of the “elite headache” all together.

What do you think? Burpees or mandatory completion? Do your penalty and move on, or sacrifice your podium spot when you’re sick of waiting for your 5th retry?

(us open wave “fun runners” are happy enough with our sloppy burpee’s and losing our chance at a podium when we give up our bands, thank you very much)

5 thoughts on “Why Bands over Burpees is a silly thought ..

  1. Bands over burpees. This is about obstacles. We want them to be difficult. Looking at the success rates I think OCRWC nailed it this year.

  2. I like the ability to try a particularly difficult obstacle more than once to take us past our comfort zone a bit. I also do like the concept of bands IF and only if runners approaching the obstacle for the first time are not held up from repeat attempts of people who failed the obstacle initiatlly. I also like the concept of what "The Toughest" race series does – if you fail an obstacle you have to complete a penalty obstacle (this may be a swim to a buoy if the initial obstacle was over water or a sandbag carry etc) whereas people who successfully completed the initial obstacle can move on to the next obstacle in series. Aside from the penalty side of OCRs I think there should always be a high degree of safety in the build and to allow for flexibility should there be any issues on the day of the race such as extraordinary weather conditions or someone being injured for whatever reason. One nice hybrid is a obstacle that has varying degrees of difficulty. For example monkey bars with the thinner bars (my personal favorite) in some lanes, medium further spaced monkey bars in other lanes and lastly set of monkey bars that both ascends and decends. One obstacle three degrees of challenge.

  3. I am pretty new to the whole OCR realm and I am not going to even pretend that I am remotely competitive in them but… like a previous comment started to mention… maybe some level of a time penalty with multiple bands. Depending on the number of obstacles you get "X" number of bands. If you cant complete an obstacle you get a band cut. At the end of the race for every missing band you have 2 minutes added to your time or something. I feel like the time penalty should be somwhat substatial though as to not encourage a "screw it i will save some time by skipping this" attitude.

    You cold also do time penalties based on a per obstacle basis but that would take a lot of overhead and oversite versus just a one size fits all to each band cut.

    While I can see the "it sucks" feeling for getting your band cut in the current system … I don't have a big problem with it for the elite waves. I mean even if an obstacle took out 50% of the field… that 50% it didnt has that much bigger a accomplishment to stand on.

  4. Absolutely, and maybe the idea of bands and time penalties is the right choice, but the development needs to be in obstacle construction / difficulty. The sport is growing, and RDs are trying new things – we've seen extremely difficult obstacles wipe out entire waves, seen obstacles best described as "dangerous" that were mandatory, and even weather factors in, with super cold.

    The debate is less a "which is best" and more a "are we even ready for "professional" leagues"

  5. I'm in favor of the bands although I have seen courses that were extremely hard take more than 50% of them. Sometimes it's not even the RD and it can be the location and limitations of where obstacles can be built. As OCR evolve, so does the training for the unknown and past unknown obstacles that unexpectedly took your band. I think that's a good things. Anyway, another option may be a time penalty. Volunteers would have to be diligent at documenting failed obstacles but losing a minute on a failed obstacle may still keep you in contention or may keep you off the podium.

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