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How to Train for the OCRWC: Stairway to Heaven

If you have never done a Stairway To Heaven before, you should probably start putting this towards the top of your training list.  The obstacle created by Conquer The Gauntlet has now become a staple of the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships. Check out this video of Brenna “Red Beast” Calvert demonstrating how to complete Stairway to Heaven.

If you are having trouble completing this roughly 16 foot ascent and descent, here are a couple of tips to help you along your path.

1. Practice The Obstacle


The first and easiest solution to getting better at Stairway to Heaven would be to practice Stairway to Heaven. This can be done by signing up for Conquer The Gauntlet’s only race in 2021 in Oklahoma (they held five in 2020).  If you don’t live in the Midwest, consider making a trip, it’s a great experience. If that’s still not a possibility, check out your local Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)/ninja gym or look for another OCRWC qualifying brand* that has a similar obstacle.  Assuming none of these are options, let’s consider some other tips we can use.

2. Mimic The Hand Position


I think most people have problems because they are grabbing a wooden board in a way their hands are not used to. Suddenly their fingers are pointed at a 90 degree angle away from their wrist instead of tightly wrapping around a bar. To get better at Stairway, start practicing that hand position. If you are in a gym, instead of doing pull-ups on a bar, use something that puts your hand in a similar position like the crossbeam of a pulley machine, the top of a squat rack or the top of a Smith Machine. I even have a rig hold that looks like a block that allows me to practice this hand position on something like a lat-pulldown machine.

3. Practice the Ascent/Descent


For the ascent if you can practice doing a pull-up and then reaching with one of your hands before bringing it back to the bar.  This simulates the movement you will do on a Stairway step.  Pulling up with both hands and then rapidly moving one to the next hand hold.  This same method goes with descent.  The one thing to note about the descent is to control your body.  You will find that if descend rapidly your body may start swinging out of control.

4. Practice The Transition


Every Stairway is built slightly different so 2018/2019 OCRWC had a much larger gap at the top then 2016/2017’s OCRWC.  Bottom line is you need to be comfortable making the transition on a variety of obstacles. This allows you to stay flexible on race day. Ideally you have a ninja gym or OCR gym nearby that will allow you to practice the obstacle in a very similar manner that it exists on course. Regardless you should practice on multiple different length transitions to add that versatility to your body allowing you to handle whatever comes at you on race day.

For those without an OCR/ninja gym, I like to use the top of squat racks in the gym (you probably want to clean off the dust first as well as visually inspect it to ensure there are no bolts sticking out of the machine).  After removing all the safety catches and barbells you can practice 90 degree transitions as well as from one side of the squat rack to the other (180 degrees).  The latter is the best simulation for practicing for transition of Stairway.


Stairway to Heaven is one of those obstacles that many people hate because they have trouble with it.  However, once you master it, you will find it goes from your least favorite to your most favorite providing not only a stellar sense of accomplishment but amazing pictures to share with your family/friends.  As with any obstacle that is giving you problems, try practicing it early in your training routine when fresh and not fatigued.  Once you have a good grasp on it (that’s a purposeful pun), you can start doing it later in your routine as well as during/after cardio or high intensity training.


I hope to see some of you at Conquer The Gauntlet in 2021 and OCRWC 2021. It’s going to be awesome and divisions will fill up, so be sure to register as soon as possible. See you on the mountain.

*Just a reminder that qualifications have been waived until races return to a relatively normal schedule.

Evan “Ultra-OCR Man” Perperis, NSCA-CPT,  is an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team, the author of six books on Obstacle Course Racing and known for his record setting multi-day OCR events for charity. Included in his 58 podium finishes is a 2nd place Pro Coed Team at the 2018 North American OCR Championships and 1st Place Team at 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder. Find more of his content at

Want more great training tips?  Look throughout the OCRWC Blog page for more articles in the “How to Train for the OCRWC” series and pick up a copy of Evan’s newest training book “The New Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite Obstacle Course Racing” or if you are more ultra-focused like Evan is “Mud Run Guide’s Ultra-OCR Bible”.

10 Tips to Prep for the OCRWC
10 Tips to Prep for the OCRWC
Get ready for OCR's biggest event with tips from our athletes!
Evan Perperis
Written By
Evan Perperis

Evan "Ultra-OCR Man" Perperis is a National Strength & Conditioning Association- Certified Personnel Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team with 55+ podium finishes including 2nd place Pro Coed finish at 2018 North American OCR Championship. He is best known for his annual ultra-distance charity events for Folds of Honor including a 48 hour multi-lap and the 8 day OCR America. Additionally, he is an author of more than 250 articles and six books on Obstacle Course Racing.

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