Obstacle Runs: The Fitness Industry’s Next Big Nemesis

July 2, 2015 2:43 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Challenging the physical fortitude and grit of its competitors, obstacle runs, which prominently include Tough Mudder and Warrior Run events,
predispose its participants to a disproportionate number of health and safety risks.

While the feat of completing a grueling competition consisting of a myriad of challenges is bound to earn adulation from friends, coworkers, and social media
connections, the dangers of such challenges are capable of provoking adverse thermoregulatory and physiological responses.

Take for instance the Arctic Enema, a recent addition to the assortment of Tough Mudder obstacles, which confines participants beneath a chain-link fence and forces them
to submerge themselves in frigid water.

Another obstacle named the Shawshank, which more than likely infringes on the name of the acclaimed prison film, involves laboriously plodding though a muddy tunnel before plunging into a pit
of water.

Repeated submersion will cold water inevitably rob the body of heat thus elevating the onset of hypothermia. While a person is submerged in water they are losing heat through a process known as conduction, which
involves a body having direct contact with a cooler object.

The cold water also saturates clothing encapsulating the body and triggers an inflammatory response, involving lesions, blistering, and swelling.

If scarring is not enough of a deterrent, how about losing eyesight?

A young mother from Dallas, Texas, Brittany Williams, recently lost her vision shortly after competing in her first mud run. Her doctors chalked up her sight loss to debris cutting her eye, causing flesh-eating bacteria to seep inside which destroyed her cornea.

Yes, the muddy water is replete with bacteria. An investigation conducted last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the bacteria burrowed in the mud is capable of infecting the bowel. The CDC report revealed that 22 mud run participants became stricken with camplylobacter poisoining stemming
from a porridge of soil and animal feces.

To top things off, the Tough Mudder added an obstacle earlier this year which would make terror groups and fascist regimes proud – tear gas. Tear gas, a lachrymatory agent, irritates the nerves of lacrymal gland in the eyes, which causes tears, pain, and vomiting.

Fitness professionals and strength and conditioning coaches should urge prospective participants to thoroughly muse over the potential risks of engaging in an obstacle run, especially those laden with
water, mud, and most ostentatiously, chemicals. The random nature of the event does not contribute to short and long term objectives which support athletic performance. While it could be argued that mental toughness can be
gained from preparing for and subsequently participating in obstacle runs, doing so will needlessly elevate musculoskeletal injury risk while potentially compromising metabolic health.

If you’re a serious athlete, obstacle runs are not worth your time. Worse yet, if you are an everyday paper pusher, obstacle runs can claim your health and as a result, establish negative perceptions regarding physical activity and athletic competition.



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