Obstacle Descriptors

Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. Each obstacle has it’s own unique characteristics that make it special. In this section we will define some terms that help coaches describe how obstacles are behaving when athletes interact with them.

Obstacle Movement

Most modern obstacles move as the athlete interacts with the obstacle. We will cover four primary terms coaches use to describe how obstacles are moving.


Tilting obstacles move up and down in the same direction the athlete is moving as the athlete interacts with the obstacle.

Rotate or Pivot

Obstacles that rotate or pivot will move up and/or down to the athletes’ left and/or right as the athlete move through the obstacle.


Obstacles that swivel will spin the athlete in a flat circular motion.


Obstacles that swing are generally mounted to only one fixed point and provide flexibility to move in different directions.

Obstacle Stability

The amount or speed at which obstacles move is commonly referred to as the obstacles stability. With the exception of obstacles that swing, obstacles that feature no movement are considered stable. Obstacles that tilt, rotate or swivel are considered unstable. Swinging obstacles that don’t tilt, rotate or swivel are generally considered stable. While swinging obstacles tilt, rotate or swivel are considered unstable. The rate at which obstacles move often dictate the difficulty. Unstable obstacles that move faster are generally harder then stable obstacles.


Obstacles that don’t tilt, rotate or swivel are generally considered stable obstacles. Stable obstacles tend to be easier then unstable obstacles.


Obstacles that tilt, rotate or swivel are considered unstable. Unstable obstacles become increasingly more difficult the faster they move.

Surface Area

The surface area of an obstacle refers to the amount of an obstacle available for an athlete to stand on. Generally speaking, a larger surface area often means its easier for an athlete to engage the obstacle. For example, a lily pad with a large surface area is easier to stand on that a smaller lily pad.

Surface area applies to feet only obstacles. There is another set of terms to describe the concept as it applies to hands only or full body obstacles.


Lower body obstacles with large surface area are easier to stand on. Obstacles with larger surface areas generally allow a larger margin of error when it comes to foot placement on the obstacle.


Lower body obstacles with smaller surface areas require more effort to remain engaged with the obstacle. Smaller surface areas require more precision from the athlete to complete the obstacle.

Hold Type

Obstacles that athletes complete using their hands can feature different types of holds. The types of hold vary based on how the athlete is able to hang from the hold. Let’s take a look at a few different types of holds and they scale in difficulty.

Pocket or Bar

Bar and pocket holds allow athletes to wrap their hand around or into the hold. This hold type allows the athlete to engage a large portion of their hand to support their weight.

Generally speaking, pocket and bar holds tend to be easier because the athlete can engage the obstacle with most of their hand.

Edge or Ledge

Edges and ledges prevent the athlete from wrapping their hand around the hold. These holds typically put more stress on the muscles around the athletes fingers then bar or pocket holds.

Ledges become increasingly difficult as the ledge decreases in thickness. Thinner ledges mean less room for the athletes fingers and therefore fewer muscles that can be activated to keep the athlete on the hold.

Vertical or Pinch

Vertical or pinch holds require the athlete to compress or squeeze the hold in order to stay on the obstacle. Vertical holds allow the athlete to curl their fingers around the hold more where pinch holds often stop the athletes hand in a U position.

Typically the easiest vertical hold is one the athlete can wrap their full hand around. These holds can become more challenging as they become bigger and smaller. Additionally, It is important athletes train different size vertical and pinch holds. Training thicker vertical or pinch holds will not help athletes on thinner vertical or pinch holds and vice versa.


Slopers are large rounded holds. This hold type is not often found in obstacle competitions. However, they have been know to make rare appearances and are still important to be familiar with.

Athletes depend on friction to keep themselves on sloper holds. Sloper holds typically don’t feature any surface area to grab. Instead, athletes stay engaged through body positioning and friction created from the hand placement. Occasionally, athletes can also hang from slopers by compressing the hold.


This concludes our training on obstacle descriptors. In this section we learned about the following:

  • The various terms used to describe how obstacles move.
  • The stability of different obstacles and how stability impacts difficulty.
  • Surface area and the differences between obstacles with greater surface area or less surface area.
  • The various hold types and how each type is different.