Building an adult obstacle course a la Tough Mudder or Spartan Race or Ninja Warrior is a noble goal, but not everyone wants to spend their weekends constructing a complex network of lumber-heavy structures that fill up your backyard. There are prefabricated adult play structures you can buy or companies you can hire if you want to go that route. If you’re handy, you can do it yourself, but, again, it will take a lot of time. I’m more interested in constructing ad hoc adult obstacle courses using simple objects you might already have lying around or can easily obtain at Home Depot. It’s a bit more attainable that way for the average person.
Adult Obstacle Course Ideas
The beauty of these types of obstacle courses is that they are endlessly modular. You can adjust the layout, bringing the jumps closer together or farther apart as you progress in skill and strength. You can bring them to the park or the beach and set up an obstacle course wherever you want. Your creativity flourishes. It can be a different course every single time. Here’s some of the supplies I’d recommend getting your hands on and what you can create with them.
Long pieces of lumber are relatively inexpensive balance beams that are easy to transport. You could attach support pieces underneath on either end running perpendicular to raise the beam off the ground and provide more stability, but you don’t really need to. Simply laying the pieces directly on the ground works too. It’s also safer, since you’re not “falling” off anything.
2×4 if you’re not very comfortable on a balance beam
2×3 if you are
1×2 if you really want to learn to balance
You can use these for balance beams. You can use them for crawling—bear crawls along a 2×4 is a great exercise and a nice change of pace for an obstacle course.
River stones for a balancing pathway
Every time you spend a day at the creek or river, grab a few large flat-ish stones and take ‘em home. After a dozen visits you’ll have enough. Or just head down to the landscaping supply store and fill your truck/trunk with some decent sized stones.
Then, make a walking path using the stones that players have to traverse. The key is to get stones that are flat enough that you can stand on them but also have some wobble to them. They should be unsteady but relatively safe, making it a great way to walk across uneven, non-linear “ground” and activate all the muscles and connective tissue in your lower body (and balancing neurons in your brain).
You can also jump from stone to stone, as if you were at the creek. For added difficulty, spray them down with the hose first.
Yoga balls get a lot of flack in the “functional fitness” community. They don’t deserve it. Sure, I don’t recommend doing squats on them or overhead presses. That’s silly, and dangerous. What I do recommend is burying it halfway up in sand or dirt to use as a small trampoline.
Get 4 or 5 of them spread out in a line and bounce your way along it. Advanced movers can even do flips, although you won’t find me doing that anytime soon.
If you have a tree in your backyard, you can hang a rope from it. What can you do with a rope?
Climb it- Great strength workout and a mainstay at the toughest obstacle course challenges.
Swing from it- Just like Tarzan, scream optional.
Leap and grab it- Stand on a chair, rock or anything high and leap to grab the rope. How far can you safely do this? Four feet? Six feet? Test yourself.
Logs or railroad ties
Something long, heavy, and wooden is a great addition to an adult obstacle course. You can have players lift the log and carry it to the next station. You can have them do a set of overhead presses, deadlifts, or squats with the log, either with one end on the ground or both ends off the ground.
Buckets filled with gravel or sand
Spend 30 bucks on 4 buckets and a couple bags of gravel or sand from the hardware store and you’ve got yourself a nice setup for loaded carries. You can carry the buckets by the handles. You can hug it to your body. You can even carry them overhead. They’re awkward and messy and gritty, and that’s the point. Whatever the course designer requires, the players have to do.
The beauty of the gravel bucket is you can adjust the weight to fit the players. Fill the bucket all the way with gravel and it’s about 75 pounds. Two of those are going to be pretty heavy. Fill it halfway and it becomes more manageable for younger, smaller players.
Light pieces of wood laid between two boxes or two chairs
These might be the most important element of all. By laying sticks or light pieces of wood across boxes or chairs, you can create hurdles to leap over or crawl under. You can even make a string of them to create a tunnel to crawl through, or an alternating series of jumps and crawls.
Tennis balls on strings
Punch holes in the tennis balls and tie strings onto them, then hang them from something overhead like a trellis, tree or gazebo. Create a series of tennis balls at varying heights that contestants have to dodge and weave through without touching. Wind will make it harder. Purposely prodding them so they swing a bit will make it even harder.
If you want, you can coat the tennis balls in charcoal dust so they leave a mark as evidence of being touched (or not).
Little cones (like you use in soccer practice) are great for creating paths you have to weave through and around. Creating a path makes things more “official,” and people are bound to be more into the obstacle course if you have a predetermined path—a journey for them to complete. It’s a little thing but it’s very important.
Every obstacle course should have a throwing element. In the Spartan Race, contestants have to throw a javelin at a target. You could do that—they even sell javelins on Amazon—or you could have upright sticks and a pile of rocks you have to use to knock them over. You could use a dart board, or throwing knives, or axes.
The point is to introduce an element of throwing accuracy into the course. You don’t want everything to be brute strength.
I still love splitting wood rounds. Takes me back to my childhood in Maine. And there’s no better workout than actually performing a functional activity. In fact, one study showed that wood chopping triggers a higher testosterone response than an equally intense bout of working out.1
If you don’t want to set up wood round splitting, you could get a sledgehammer and some old tires and have contestants do a set number of hammer slams. The point is to lift a heavy handled object and slam it down with great purpose and intensity.
Remember to Get Creative
Take all the ideas up above and then put them together. Have a balance beam running through the tunnel. Bounce off a buried yoga ball onto a balance beam. Carry buckets of gravel while traversing the wobbly river stones. Swing off the rope onto the yoga ball course. You get the idea.
The most important thing is to introduce all the elements of human movement: speed, balance, strength (upper body, lower body, total body), skill, dexterity, throwing accuracy, cardiovascular fitness, upright, ground-based (crawling), jumping, landing. Oh, and fun.
Now I’d love to hear from you. How would you put together an adult obstacle course?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.