- How a 4-Time American Ninja Warrior™ Trains for Victory
- Jessie Graff reveals the top secret job that kept her out of the National Finals
- Here’s a Ninja workout you can do right now with zero equipment
- What it takes to be a top competitor on ‘American Ninja Warrior’
- What It Takes To Become An American Ninja Warrior
- MODERN-DAY NINJAS
- BECOMING A NINJA
- ATTRIBUTES OF A NINJA
- NINJA WARRIOR TRAINING
- SMALLER MAN’S COMPETITION
- BREAKING BARRIERS
- MY EXPERIENCES BECOMING A NINJA
- NINJA JIM TRIES OUT FOR THE SHOW
- Benefits of Ninja Warrior Training
- How to Get Started
- Try It Yourself
How a 4-Time American Ninja Warrior™ Trains for Victory
Strength sports are awesome, but let’s be honest, it’s still pretty hard to get the average American excited to watch them on TV. They’re still sports that require a pretty intimate understanding of what’s happening onscreen — what a 400 pound deadlift might feel like, how the athlete’s hamstrings must be sore going into those cleans, and so on.
That’s why the American Ninja Warrior™ phenomenon is so interesting. This is undeniably a competition of strength and fitness, and it’s important to note that because the course isn’t the same every year your training can’t be too specific. You just have to hone a lot of areas of your fitness, like grip and back strength with heaping doses of agility, accuracy, balance, coordination, stability, and muscular endurance.
It’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch and if we’re categorizing it as a strength sport — which is debatable, but let’s just do it — it’s got to be the most popular strength sport on television, with the last five seasons averaging well over five million viewers per episode.
We spoke with four-time American Ninja Warrior and occasional “Ninja Vs. Ninja” competitor Nicholas Coolridge to get a glimpse of what training looks like for a modern Tarzan. (Watch his latest performance below.)
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American Ninja Warrior Is Just Rock Climbing, Right?
“There really is a lot more that goes into it,” says Coolridge. “Rock climbers have a really good base as far as strength goes, but the thing a lot of people have experience with is parkour. If you have parkour and rock climbing dialed in, you’ll probably do really well.”
Also called free running, parkour is sort of considered a complement to martial arts: if the latter is the art of fight, the former is the art of flight. In other words, it’s about moving through space (usually urban areas) as quickly and creatively as possible, although Coolridge minimizes the “creatively” part.
“My parkour style has always been a little bit more slow and strategic than explosive and twirly,” he explains. “So instead of jumping and bounding, I’ll find the most efficient way to move and stay light on my feet.”
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The Forgotten Skill of Precision
Of course, there are many other ways to train for this game, and athletes with backgrounds in gymnastics, dance, or martial arts often find themselves at an advantage. That’s partly because they’re skills that require extreme precision: precise technique, balance, and awareness of where one is situated in space.
That can be hard to train with basic gym lifts and while gymnastics provides a relatively accessible method of training this quality, Coolridge is a big fan of slacklining for American Ninja Warrior.
That’s basically a less tight version of tightrope walking.
“It’s become very popular in the rock climbing world because it’s used with their extra rock climbing equipment,” says Coolridge. “You can set it up between two trees and you have to be so precise to hold and maintain your balance, it hones your control like crazy. I would recommend it to anybody who wants to do ninja stuff.”
Get Your Head In the Game
Funnily enough, the biggest mistake with new competitors isn’t a lack of physical fitness, but a lack of mental fitness.
“I see a lot of people who appear stronger than me, but they don’t have the mental experience to get ready to be under so much pressure,” adds Coolrdige. “They’re under the spotlight with the cameras and the crowd and all the energy that come at them, they get too much adrenaline and by the time it starts they’re already exhausted.”
Practice breathing and try to train in front of people as often as you can.
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4 Exercises to Train for American Ninja Warrior
Here are some basics that Coolridge suggests you master before you even think about applying to compete.
Surprise, the sport that largely consists of climbing and swinging requires pretty serious pulling power. Incorporate towel grip, neutral grip, supinated, weighted, and high-rep, every kind of pull-up you can think of — there are a lot of different things to hang off of in a ninja challenge.
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As mentioned above, an excellent way to build stability and precision.
Precision Broad Jumps
“Broad jumps would be great, but what’s even better is setting up markers so you can broad jump to precise spots and so you can learn to stick it without falling over,” says Coolridge. “When you land, stick it for like three seconds to get your balance, and make sure you’re getting a feel for how far each of your jumps are you so you can estimate distance in the game.”
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Swing for the Fences
A final piece of advice is to train weird: try different ways of lifting weight or doing pull-ups that will hit lesser-trained parts of your body. This aspect was emphasized so heavily by the athlete we interviewed that we got the impression strongman exercises could be useful supplements for the sport.
Just don’t forget your mental game and you’ll be ahead of most of your competition from the get go.
Jessie Graff reveals the top secret job that kept her out of the National Finals
American Ninja Warrior Jessie Graff is not taking part in the National Finals, although she was one of the top competitors of the season. But it’s definitely not for a bad reason! Before her runs in Miami, Jessie told us she almost didn’t get to compete. She had a “dream job” as a stunt performer and she needed to take care of herself.
On night two of the National Finals, she revealed what she’s been busy with.
Jessie’s top secret job is as a stunt person on Wonder Woman, 1984!
Wondering why @JESSIEgraffPWR isn’t competing in National Finals?
Here’s a special message from the one and only! #AmericanNinjaWarrior pic.twitter.com/wx4ZxirsVA
— Ninja Warrior (@ninjawarrior) September 4, 2018
Due to the intense filming schedule of Wonder Woman, Jessie wasn’t able to slip away to Las Vegas. Fans were anxiously anticipating seeing her on Stage One. In season eight, Jessie became the first woman to clear that course and head to Stage Two. Despite her busy work schedule, Jessie had a great season 10. She completed the Miami Qualifiers course and ranked 10th overall.
In the City Finals, Jessie made it all the way to the Stair Hopper and ranked fifth overall.
For the Miami region, Emily Durham will move on to Las Vegas. She’s a Ninja Warrior veteran and has been competing since season seven. This year, she placed third among the women in Miami when she made it to the Slippery Summit. This will be her first time at the National Finals.
We’re so excited that Jessie is making her dreams come true by taking part in the film! After all, can you really think of Wonder Woman without thinking of Jessie Graff?
Here’s a Ninja workout you can do right now with zero equipment
Two-time American Ninja Warrior competitor Sarah Schoback knows the struggles of fitting fitness into an already busy life. Sarah is mom to two small girls and the owner of Obstacle Academy, where she is also a coach. On top of that, she has to make time for her own training to make sure she’s ready for her next chance at the American Ninja Warrior course.
In an interview with Sarah, she told us how she likes to help moms (and dads!) looking to find a way to incorporate exercise into their day with at-home workouts. “I gave them workouts that they could do in their home with things that they have at home,” Sarah said. “Things like using their own kids. Just to help them, one, be able to tie in their own kids and have fun with that, and two, it’s really hard to get to a gym. Being able to do workouts at home really saves a lot of time.”
Sarah shared one of those workouts with us and we’ve included it below. Be sure to read her advice first and remember to take things one step at a time. Even if you don’t get anywhere near the numbers she suggests, doing ANYTHING at all is just the start you need for today. Take care of yourself and have fun with it!
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#flexfriday with me and my #girls Teaching my girls there is beauty in strength and they are capable of doing anything they put their minds to. #nolimits #girlpower #stronggirls #empoweredgirls #minime #ninjakids #pullups
At home workout with Sarah Schoback
“It is meant to be done throughout the day but can be done all at once. The numbers can be adjusted based on your abilities and what you feel comfortable with. Maybe start with lower numbers if just starting out or higher numbers if you feel you are ready.
I know parents are busy running here and there for their kids so I tell them to do what they can in smaller moments of time . I always advise parents to either get a small white board or a notebook to track throughout the day. They can also have their kids do the workouts with them as a fun way to help kids see the importance of staying healthy.
These are exercises that do not require you to purchase anything so anyone, anywhere can do them.”
(We’ve included some clips of Sarah working out at home below. They are not a reflection of how the exercises in this workout are performed.)
- 100 walking lunges
Place feet one stride length apart forward and back. Bend back knee towards the ground to 1” off the ground which will bend your forward knee as well. Bring your back knee back up putting both legs back in a straight position. Then stride back leg to now be one stride length in front of previous front leg like you walked one step and repeat the same motion.
- 75 squats
Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, hips stacked over knees, and knees over ankles. Roll the shoulders back and down away from the ears. Extend arms out straight so they are parallel with the ground, palms facing down. Unlock the hips slightly bringing them back. While the butt starts to stick out, make sure the chest and shoulders stay upright, and the back stays straight. Keep pushing hips backward as the knees begin to bend. Engage core with bodyweight in the heels, explode back up to standing, driving through heels.
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I want to teach my #girls about #fitness not to stay skinny or to look a certain way but to teach them to live a #healthy life. It’s not about how you look but how you feel! Be the example kids are always watching #stayfit #stayhealthy #familyfitness #lovemygirls #rolemodels #ninjamom
- 30 leg lifts
Lay flat on your back. Lift legs off the ground as high as you can go then lower your legs to 1” above the ground.
- 30 windshield wipers
Lay flat on your back. Lift legs off the ground and move them side to side.
- 50 sit ups
Lay flat on the ground and find something to brace your feet under. Bend your knees, cross your arms on your chest then sit up while keeping your feet braced, bringing elbows above your knees. Try to make sure you are engaging your core muscles rather than depending on your legs to lift you up.
(Here’s an example of Sarah tucking her feet under a chair, the way she recommends above.)
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How do you workout with your kids? #momlife doesn’t always leave room for the gym so bring the #gym home! Adeline is having a blast and I’m getting a good #workout in! #fitfamily #strongmom #ninjamom #homegym #balanceboard #lovemygirls #familyfitness
- 5 sets wide grip for two minutes each set
Find two wide, heavy books, weights, or anything heavy you can pinch between your thumb and the rest of your fingers. Place arms at your sides but not touching your body. Place book between thumb and rest of your fingers pinch as hard as you can for 2 minutes.
- 5 sets door frame or 2” by 4” hangs
Find a strong door frame that will support your weight. Place one hand on each side of the door frame, lift legs off the ground and hang as long as possible. Repeat.
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Getting some #pegboard work in and showing how moms make it happen! Best way for me to #workout at home is include my #girls in my workouts. #familyfitness #familyfun #fitmom #gripstrength
- 25 chair dips
Sit on the edge of a chair and grip the edge of the chair with your hands. Place your heels on the ground about 18” in front of the chair and hold yourself up using your triceps. Lower yourself until your elbows are bent between 45 and 90 degrees. Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears. Slowly push yourself back up to the start position and repeat.
- 20 wall hand stands
Stand against a wall then bend down till your hands reach the ground. Slowly walk feet up the wall while slowly moving hands closer to the wall. Go until you’re hands are about 6” from the wall. Hold for a few seconds then slowly walk your feet back down the wall while moving your hands forward. Repeat.
- 50 push ups
Set your hands at a distance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your feet either shoulder width apart or both together, which ever feels more comfortable for you. Your body should be in a straight line. Head should be looking slightly ahead of you, not straight down. Steadily lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle or smaller and then push back to initial position.
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My first attempt at #peg #pushups ♀️ Clearly I need practice, I really struggled to figure out how to hold them best! Give me advice, Though I may be helpless #ninjalife #strongwomen #ninjawarrior #obstacletraining #obstacles
What it takes to be a top competitor on ‘American Ninja Warrior’
- Natalie Duran is one of the top female competitors on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”
- Women have become very successful in the competition and many, many more are joining each year.
- She told INSIDER that in order to compete on such a high level in the competition, one must train year-round and in different disciplines, including balance, upper body, leaping, and latching onto things.
- As a rock climber, Duran told us she was more used to being like a monkey but now she must train like cheetah.
“American Ninja Warrior” keeps upping the ante with its courses and contestants. And that’s especially true for its female competitors. Viewers are also used to seeing female ninjas who are as tough as their male counterparts and this season continues that trend.
“There’s more and more women that apply every year, and also more and more women that do really well, and it’s been very cool, especially when Jessie Graff made it to stage two last year,” “American Ninja Warrior” co-host Kristine Leahy told INSIDER.
She continued, “It’s been cool to see the number of women come out, and just the success that they’ve had, and they see other women doing it and they feel like, ‘OK, I can complete that too, and compete on an equal course with the guys.’ That’s something really unique. Like, most sports, it’s men’s division and women’s division. In ‘Ninja Warrior,’ it’s all the same.”
INSIDER spoke with one of this season’s female ninjas, Natalie Duran, to get the scoop about what it’s like to compete in the grueling competition.
Diane Gordon: Do you think it’s harder for women to apply for “American Ninja Warrior”?
Natalie Duran: One hundred percent no. What’s interesting now is that the evolution of the show has changed drastically, even within the past like three years. What I’m really happy being now is a woman coming onto the show, getting more popular, seeing that it’s possible for us to not only compete as a woman, but be within the ranks of men and women, old, young, different races. So really the lines are blurred in the sense where there is no cap, there is no discrimination. I think we all have our specific specialties, like I’m a professional rock climber. There’s a lot of gymnasts, pole vaulters, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and that’s what makes the show exciting.
Natalie Duran says that one needs to practice balance, develop upper body strength, leaping, and latching onto things skills for “American Ninja Warrior.” Tyler Golden/NBC
Gordon: How do you prepare for this competition when the courses are always changing and evolving?
Duran: Before I became a ninja, I would scale mountains like Yosemite and everything like that, sometimes buildings when I’m bored. But now that ninja has been introduced in my life, I have to alter my workout with more lower body, and becoming more agile because I’m more used to being a monkey and not really like a cheetah, so it’s kind of like harnessing all the inner wild creatures within me. This is the thing with ninja warrior is they don’t tell us what’s going to happen today. That’s why throughout the whole year we have to train year round in different disciplines. Balance, upper body, just leaping, latching onto things. It’s kind of staying well rounded throughout the year, and anticipating the unanticipated.
Gordon: We know you’re from the Los Angeles area – have you trained at any of the Ninja training gyms?
Duran: We’re actually really excited that one of our ninja friends, Arnold Hernandez, he had one of the only ninja training facilities in his backyard, and we would always train there. In East L.A., it was very grungy, but it was our only place to train in these specific obstacles. And now he’s successful, the show’s gotten so big and the support of the community has gotten so big that he actually opened up a new branch called Movement Lab in San Dimas, so we all go there.
“American Ninja Warrior” returns Wednesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
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What It Takes To Become An American Ninja Warrior
As a kid, you probably imagined yourself as a deadly ninja assassin, silently lurking in the shadows, poised to leap upon an unsuspecting sibling. You’d deliver a secret death strike known only to the select few trained at a mysterious ninja dojo.
Well, modern-day ninjas have traded those head-to-toe black outfits for gym shorts and tank tops. Gone are the samurai swords and throwing stars, replaced by salmon ladders and warp walls.
In 2009 the G4 network began airing “American Ninja Warrior,” inspired by the Japanese show “Sasuke.” The show had a simple premise: make it across a series of athletically challenging obstacles without falling. Each week, viewers were mesmerized by athletes who managed to traverse seemingly impossible obstacles, and were amazed by the imaginative minds who created these structures on some maniacal ninja drawing board. In its third season it became so popular that NBC picked it up to air on primetime TV.
As it turns out, there’s an entire Ninja Warrior subculture. These followers are far from the typical TV show superfan couch potatoes. The show has had such an incredible impact on their lives that many have built their own ninja obstacles. Some ninjas are famous for replicating full-size ANW obstacles in their back yards.
“These followers are far from the typical TV show superfan couch potatoes.”
“I installed finger grips above a doorway in my living room,” admits Mike Ciardi. Mike, an electrician, is among the fast-growing audience that has caught Ninja Fever. He also started the Facebook group Boston Ninjas to meet up with similar-minded people. “Each time I walk through the door I do a few pull-ups,” he continues. “But that’s nothing compared to what some of my friends have built. We share ideas and we carpool to different venues for training and competitions.”
I found that all the ninjas share a common bond: They compete against one another, but there’s a prevailing team spirit that makes them one giant family!
BECOMING A NINJA
What is the path to becoming an American Ninja Warrior? Each year the show receives thousands of online applications. A hundred lucky hopefuls from each of the five U.S. regions get invitations to attempt the qualifying course. Those not given a coveted invite may choose to take their chances as a walk-on. The producers choose another 20 people from the walk-on line from each region. Hardcore competitors will wait in line for up to a week for a chance to attempt the course.
Tony Torres caught Ninja Fever in 2011, and he’s tackled the qualifying course four times now. “I was invited twice and I was a walk-on two other times,” he says. Tony’s first time on the course, he fell victim to every ninja’s worst nightmare. Tony laments, “I didn’t make it past the first obstacle.”
The show generally switches up the obstacles, but the first is always the “quads.” The quads is a series of boxes, mounted at a 45-degree angle. (The show added another box, so now this is known as the “quints.”) You must jump from one box to the next over a pool of water. Tony recalls his setback: “I was solid until I stepped on a wet spot on the third quad, and I went right in the drink.”
Tony developed such a passion for Ninja Warrior that in 2012 he opened Alternate Routes, a 5,000-square-foot training facility in White Marsh, Maryland, dedicated to ninja training and similar athletics. “At least 50 of my athletes will apply to the show each season,” says Tony. But ninjas don’t have to wait for the show to compete. Tony runs four of his own ninja warrior competitions each year, as do many other similar facilities around the country.
“The producers choose another 20 people from the walk-on line from each region. Hardcore competitors will wait in line for up to a week for a chance to attempt the course.”
ATTRIBUTES OF A NINJA
“We look for people with big personalities and lots of good energy,” explains Anthony Storm, an executive producer for ANW who also takes part in the casting process. “Of course we want people with the physical abilities to succeed on the obstacles, but we also want the audience to be drawn to the contestants.” Anthony asks Ninja hopefuls such questions as: “Why would the fans want to see you on the show? What inspired you to apply? Do you have an interesting life story?” The bottom line is that ANW is not just a sporting event—it’s a TV show designed to entertain an audience. So your physical ability may not be enough to get you on the air.
NINJA WARRIOR TRAINING
You won’t find many ninjas pumping heavy iron. They prefer bodyweight training and calisthenics. There’s one exercise in particular ninjas have in common with the average gym trainer: the pull-up. As one ninja put it, “If you can’t easily pull up your own body weight, you have no business on the course.”
Ninjas perform endless sets of every variety of pull-up including pronated (overhand), supinated (underhand), neutral (palms facing each other), and vertical grips from cylinders and ropes, as well as fingertip pull-ups from boards and rock wall climbing holds.
One thing you’ll never see is a ninja using his wrist straps to aid his grip. Their ability to grab and hold on to various shapes is essential, and diverse forms of bare-handed pull-ups will build that essential dexterity.
Ninjas also like other bodyweight moves like push-ups and dips to round out their upper-body strength. The courses also require ninjas to have plenty of quick leg power to propel them forward and upward. To build this type of explosive strength, most ninjas perform dynamic movements like sprints and squat jumps. Core strength and endurance are also necessary, so exercises like hanging leg raises and all forms of planks are part of a typical trainer’s routine. Finally, they need superior balance, so maneuvering across beams, vertical posts, and horizontal straps is a common element in their training.
“One thing you’ll never see is a ninja using his wrist straps to aid his grip. Their ability to grab and hold on to various shapes is essential, and diverse forms of bare-handed pull-ups will build that essential dexterity.”
SMALLER MAN’S COMPETITION
The average size of a successful ninja is about 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds—not large by any means—but there are exceptions. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Rob Moravsky was one of the largest to make it through the qualifying round.
Rob says his height was both a blessing and a curse. “I definitely had a reach advantage, but some of the obstacles hang pretty low, and I remember having to crunch up to keep from touching the water. Even if your shoelace breaks the surface you’re disqualified.”
Rob is a personal trainer who came from a basic bodybuilding background. He says ANW completely changed his training program. “Once I started focusing on ninja training, I put aside the heavy weights. I started doing tons of calisthenics and monkeying my way across the rafters in an old barn behind my property.”
ANW impacted more than just Rob’s training. “After my appearance on the show I started getting offers for modeling and movie roles, so I moved out to Cali and I’ll see where it takes me.” It certainly won’t hurt that his handle is Rob “The Adonis” Moravsky.
“Once I started focusing on ninja training, I put aside the heavy weights. I started doing tons of calisthenics and monkeying my way across the rafters in an old barn behind my property.”
What was the biggest thing to happen to ANW since the show began? A 5-foot-tall former collegiate gymnast named Kacy Catanzaro. In 2014, Kacy was the first female to make it through the qualifying course. The mainstream media replayed Kacy’s run for millions of people who’d never heard of ANW. “After Kacy completed the course, the memberships at Alternate Routes went through the roof, especially among women,” says Tony.
Why did it take five seasons for a female to make it through the course? I asked ninja Becca Tacy her opinion. “To the show’s credit, the course is the same for every competitor, regardless of age, size, or gender,” says Becca. “Women tend to be shorter than men, which means the space between each obstacle is that much farther away, not to mention reaching up to grab the top of the 14-foot warp wall.”
Becca is one of a trending group of women interested in ninja warrior training. “I was 38 before I started any kind of physical training.” Becca entered a couple of triathlons two years ago and did surprisingly well. “The family was watching ANW one night, when one of my sons said I should be on the show. My husband fired back with ‘Mom’s too short.'”
That’s all Becca needed to hear. The very next season, her application was accepted and the entire family went to St. Louis for the qualifiers. She recalled waiting for her turn at the course. “We were all standing around freezing. I was one of only a few women, and it was intimidating being surrounded by so many incredible athletes.” She didn’t make it through the course, but she did catch Ninja Fever. Today she’s hoping to be invited for another shot.
MY EXPERIENCES BECOMING A NINJA
I wanted to experience the obstacles for myself, so I drove down to TA Fitness in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The owners, David Cavanagh and Jenny Lawler, are hardcore ninjas, and they gave me a crash course on their obstacles.
I found that some of the obstacles present more of a psychological challenge than a physical one. Here are my experiences on some of the apparatus.
The Quad Steps
What surprised me most about this obstacle was how fast I lost forward momentum. With every step my speed dropped drastically. Each time I attempted to traverse the steps, I needed to concentrate on pushing off strongly to accelerate to the next step. At that point I realized why ninjas incorporate dynamic leg movements into their training.
The Quad Steps
The Salmon Ladder and Jumping Bars
I believe anyone with a decent ratio of strength to body weight could perform these moves. It’s a matter of realizing what you need to do in that split-second movement, but the real challenge is overcoming the fear and actually making the move. Once you get beyond the mental barrier, climbing a salmon ladder is no more physically demanding than a set of pull-ups.
The Salmon Ladder
The Warp Wall
There is definitely technique involved in this obstacle, but the first thing you need to do is believe that you can summit the mountain. I was instructed to sprint to the wall, and as I began to ascend, I should time my explosive vertical leap on my third step up the wall to virtually fly up to the ledge. Consider the effort involved in jumping up to grab a 10-foot basketball rim, and then imagine raising that rim another 4 feet. Looking up at that ledge—14 feet off the ground—and convincing yourself that you can jump up and grab it is half the battle. You need to fully commit and throw caution to the wind. There can be no overthinking or second-guessing yourself. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you need to “believe in yourself and reach for the sky.”
The Warp Wall
NINJA JIM TRIES OUT FOR THE SHOW
In 2013 I was fortunate enough to be invited to the qualifying course. The show was to shoot on April 19 in Baltimore. But just four days earlier, two bombs rocked the Boston Marathon, and my SWAT team was called in to assist with the unknown aftermath. We worked 12-hour shifts all week; it was the exact time I was due to be on the course in Baltimore. At that time, my SWAT team was surrounding a boat that sat in the back yard of a residential home in Watertown.
The following Ninja season, I was recovering from shoulder surgery after trying to convince myself I could still compete in the bench press.
My application is already in for the 2015 ANW season, and now I’m play the waiting game. In the meantime, I’ll just continue my silent low crawls behind the couch, followed by a sneak attack on my unsuspecting wife. It’s nothing she enjoys, but for me it never gets old.
Photos Courtesy of and Copyright ©2014 NBC Universal Media, LLC
If you’re looking to up your game at the gym, you can attend a new fitness class or hire a new trainer — but if you really want to challenge yourself, then ninja warrior training (NWT) is sure to deliver those next-level results.
“Ninja warrior training offers women an incredible workout that is both fun and effective, but that is not the real reason it has grown in popularity in recent years,” says Julie Lohre, IFBB fitness pro, a season six contestant on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior and a former Oxygen cover model.
“The real reason is that NWT taps into that badass superhero we all have living deep inside of us,” Lohre says. “It tests our strength, flexibility, endurance, balance and nerves. By comparison, it makes the usual three sets of eight reps look tedious and bland.”
Benefits of Ninja Warrior Training
Between the popularity of the show itself and the rise of obstacle-course races like Spartan Race and mud runs — which allow everyday Janes to test their skills — a whole new breed of female athletes are rising to the challenge.
“NWT is so effective because it incorporates multi-planar movements that build power, muscle and stability while burning body fat,” says Lohre, who is also a certified personal trainer and owner of FitBody.com. “The movements use your whole body, rather than single muscle groups, so the number of calories you burn during a session is significantly higher than with straight strength training or cardio. In fact, with a typical NWT workout, you can burn upward of 400-plus calories in 30 minutes.”
Just like with the high-intensity interval training exercises you’re probably already doing, the key to this type of workout is alternating exercises that build strength with ones that elevate your heart rate. Lohre says that when done correctly, NWT can help women get stronger, improve their balance and run faster.
“In short, the better you are on the obstacle course, the better you will be at life,” she says.
How to Get Started
While you might be on fire to get on the course, Lohre suggests keeping the following in mind:
1. Baby steps. Some of the movements are high-impact and you might need to tailor those if you have any physical limitations. Start small, working your way up beginning with the easiest obstacles first.
2. Learn by example. A good NWT class will include an instructor who demonstrates all the movements and coaches you through the use of apparatus — such as trampolines and salmon ladders (a pull-up-style ladder you ascend by moving its only rung upward).
3. Practice makes perfect. It is also important to note that the kind of strength and agility needed to complete some of the most challenging NWT obstacles takes years to develop. Break down complex movements as you get started.
4. Get equipped. Rips are par for the course. If you want to get serious about this kind of training without tearing up your hands, invest in a good set of grips. You’ll also want to buy lightweight gym shoes that have excellent grip and enough support for modest-height drops.
5. Keep moving. With NWT and obstacle courses, you are trying to beat the clock. Keep rest times to a minimum.
6. Focus on form. Don’t compromise form to make it over an obstacle. The surest way to get injured is to ignore good form and throw your body into a movement with bad body mechanics.
Try It Yourself
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If you don’t have an NWT class nearby, Lohre created the following workout, which can be completed in any gym or at the park. After completing a good warm-up and dynamic stretch, use a stopwatch to complete the following exercises at a brisk (but safe) pace for 30 seconds, then rest 30 seconds. The workout should take about 35 minutes to accomplish.
- Leaping Lateral Squat
- Bear Crawl
- Hanging Leg Lift or Knee Raise
- Alternating Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
- Wide-Grip Pull-Up
- Stability-Ball Curl-In
- Burpee Over Barbell
- Box or Ring Dip
- Elevated Push-Up
Rest for two full minutes before beginning the circuit again. Repeat the full circuit three times.