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Military-style training is Toronto's latest fitness craze

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / January 7, 2014

O Course TorontoTough Mudder and Spartan Race fans are increasing in number -- and they're looking for between-race training that's just as hardcore (and mud-filled) as the main event.

Enter the O Course which brings military-style obstacle course training to adventure racers -- and anyone else looking to deliver a shock to their fitness routine with a grueling, unusual workout.

"We can say confidently, we've started the one and only training like this in Toronto, if not Canada," says Ivan Ho, who co-created the course with Tony Austin, a former U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor.

The event is an offshoot of Fit Factory, the Yonge and Wellesley gym led by Ho and Austin. "The training here is based on military-style boot camp," the fast-talking Austin says between events. "This is the real-deal training. We don't play around."

The duo says the rise in popularity of extreme races like Spartan and Tough Mudder left a vacuum in terms of between-race conditioning.

"The last couple years, there's been such a buoyant demand for the adventure race industry," Ho says. "A lot of people go to these races, but they just don't know how to train for them. Our training's actually tougher than all those races."

O Course TorontoHo is also quick to point out that the comprehensive, cardio-heavy training events appeal to a far broader demographic. "You've got the moms that come out wanting to challenge themselves. You've got the weekend warriors. You've got the people that just want to try something different. Athletes that are training for different sports that need something to spice up their routine."

The winter training courses are held in the relatively tame and tidy dome in Monarch Park near Danforth and Coxwell. When there's no snow on the ground, Austin says, the events are held at actual obstacle courses, with plenty of mud, sand and water.

He rattles off a rapid-fire list that paints a picture of what to expect: 10K or 15K runs, ropes, cargo bags, sandbags, backpacks, sledgehammers, tires, cinderblocks. 'You name it, we have it. It's all out in the mud, all in the environment. And that in itself, again, is designed to train and prepare for all of the adventure races."

This time around, the event begins with an hour-long warmup that runs the gamut from planks and crunches to group log lifts and sprints with a parachute.

O Course TorontoNext, there's a timed 10-obstacle course that include body weight exercises, squats with wooden beams, hops over spindles and tires -- and sprints while holding 25-pound ammo cases. "We put magazines in these ammo cans. Magazines, not like machine gun magazines," Ho laughs.

The event's military roots pop up again in the "sniper crawls," which involve crawling on your belly while bracing yourself on a 14-pound sledgehammer. "This one is all core. It looks easy, but there's actually a lot of core work, a lot of oblique work," Ho says.

Between events, participants run a lap around the Monarch Park dome. The participants are put into groups, but they eventually tend to break up as people complete the stations at their own pace.

Austin stalks the field in his fatigues and combat boots, barking out orders (or encouragement) through a megaphone and stopping to suggest tips for the stragglers. At one point he spots me standing by the edge of the field and bellows "Drop and gimme pushups, soldier!" through his megaphone. I dump my bag and tape recorder and oblige him. "You can't say no to him, right?" Ho cracks.

O Course TorontoAfter everyone finishes their final laps around the gym, I assume the participants will be just about ready to collapse -- but Austin calls whoever's up to the challenge back to the middle of the field for a tug-o-war, and nearly everyone troops back over for a battle full of raucous yelling and laughter. You really can't say no to Tony.

The O Course costs $35 for a two-hour session. Check the web site for course dates.



Jeff / January 7, 2014 at 10:03 am
I've been to and completed the O-Course down at the Docks a couple times last year. I will definitely be back. Tony A knows his stuff, pushed us as hard as we could go and I loved every second of it!
Edward / January 7, 2014 at 10:13 am
Tony is a straight up guy, inspires you to work hard. Did the O-Course up in Brampton as well as Tough Mudder last year. will probably do so again this year!
adrian / January 7, 2014 at 11:34 am
did tough mudder last year and doing spartan sprint this year. this will be great training for spartan
YMCA DB / January 7, 2014 at 05:37 pm
Are there any hot chicks in these classes?
floo replying to a comment from YMCA DB / January 7, 2014 at 06:00 pm
Lol. It's a fitness boot camp. What do you think, Einstein?
doug / January 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm
I did it last year. I didn't love it. I've been a competitive athlete my entire life but that 1 hour long warmup was boring. Having us hold that piece of wood over our head for the entire time was just the worst. Rather do something that was actually hard versus something that was just annoying. Also, the course it basically a 5km run with 5 not very hard challenges at the end. They do make you do 20 push ups or 50 squats in the run but I don't count those as challenges more like road blocks.

Lastly the 35 dollar price tag is way overpriced.
Chris replying to a comment from doug / January 8, 2014 at 04:08 pm
It sounds like you're upset it wasn't hard enough, so I assume you won the O Course?
Doug replying to a comment from Chris / January 8, 2014 at 04:28 pm
No, I didn't win. I'm not a great long distance runner. My body type is more power and speed. What I meant was the challanges were not hard to complete. I was tired at the end but I found the experience to be rather boring. I was well back after the 5km run. Though I passed maybe 20 people in the sand pit as each "challenge" was pretty easy to complete. The hardest one would have definitly been the bag on the back and crawling.

I suppose I was upset the hardest part was the 5km run. I can do that on my own.
Marisol Brown / January 9, 2014 at 04:53 pm
I used to love the O Course, so much fun and such a great vibe; Tony and Ivan are such great guys too. Let me take this opportunity to introduce Alpha Obstacle Training; the only indoor training facility dedicated to the sport of Obstacle Racing here in Canada. Complete with a rig custom-designed by PremiumRig (that's right, of Spartan Race fame!) and instruction by some of the best obstacle racers in the industry who also happen to be certified group and personal trainers. Be sure to come down to visit us and we will show you our vision, change the way you train and help bring out that inner athlete that lies inside all of us. 2014 is the year of the racer! Arooooo!
dadude_CC replying to a comment from YMCA DB / February 11, 2014 at 09:20 pm
There's a bunch of fat girls that eat shit, and say their weight gain is from "muscle". They are wearing larger sized clothing because of "muscle gain".
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