How to train for Ninja Warrior
Training for Ninja Warrior is incredibly rewarding. You develop balance, strength, flexibility and endurance. You constantly challenge yourself to overcome obstacles in your path. Moreso than most gym workouts, you develop a useful, functional fitness that you can use to help yourself or your loved ones out of a dangerous situation. It's fun, it's useful, and you might get on television!
When I first started training for Ninja Warrior, there was hardly anything online. Even now, after 14 years, the Google search "How to train for Ninja Warrior" provides either way too narrowly-scoped magazine articles or blueprints to build obstacles... but nothing on how to actually train. I've been lucky enough to visit 19 Ninja Warrior specialized gyms, and have made a lot of friends who are experienced and very generous with their knowledge.
This article is intended to share those learnings and give you a direction to tackle this super fun but audaciously challenging goal.
What is Ninja Warrior?
Ninja Warrior is a reality television show where competitors try to get through different stages of obstacle courses. It’s incredibly tough and incredibly fun to watch.
There are variations of the show in twenty two different countries (Source) with the original Japanese title Sasuke up to it's 36th season since 1997 (they film a season every 6 months, literally up in the mountains).
Some of these shows have prize money, some don’t. American Ninja Warrior gave away 1 million dollars when they finally had a competitor finish the course in it's 7th season. That year two competitors finished the entire course, but only the fastest competitor won the prize money.
Please note that while these television shows seem like a competition, they aren’t really. It’s not the strongest and best that compete, it’s the most intriguing, the most fun, the ordinary people and exception athletes that viewers want to support. Incredibly athletes are involved in the iterations of the show for sure, but it’s not like the Olympics or anything. That said, these shows make for incredible television. It’s truly a show that literally the entire family can enjoy. The background stories can be inspiring, uplifting and they’ve created a huge industry of ninja gyms and competitions. They’re huge, and you can get involved!
Given the massive success of the original Sasuke and American Ninja Warrior, there are a huge number of similar or spin-off television shows; Ninja vs Ninja, Spartan, Ultimate Beastmaster, Titan Games and many, many others (American Grit, Strong, etc etc).
The training techniques outlined in this article definitely carry across to these other reality television shows, but the focal point is definitely the Ninja Warrior franchise.
Common misconceptions about training for the show
Everyone always focuses on grip strength, because it’s the high, hanging obstacles that everyone remembers, and while grip strength is important, you’ve actually got to get through a few obstacles before you even get an opportunity to hang from anything.
Breaking it down into smaller skills
While all the Ninja Warrior television shows do not follow the same format, the majority have an easier course to start with… with the courses getting harder the further the competitor gets.
On most of the Ninja Warrior qualifying courses... 66% of the competitors never make it to the fourth obstacle… so if you start off by training for the first 3, you’ll be in the top 33% of the field.
First obstacle on Ninja Warrior
We can guesstimate that the first obstacle will be a steps variation, often the quadruple or quintuple steps.
The Quintuple steps are harder than they look.
Second obstacle on Ninja Warrior
The second obstacle is usually a jolting obstacle… something that threatens to rip you into the water with some force. You'll be going fast, you'll have to hold tight and then let go at the exact right time. This is super hard to train for… so, ah, just be strong.
|Log Grip||Bungee Cords||Sausage|
UFO to rope
Third obstacle on Ninja Warrior
The third obstacle is often a balance obstacle… and it’s often a balance that you have to take quickly. It can be possible to take them slowly, but it’s often way more dangerous and since you’re being timed, it’s not recommended.
Balance is probably the most understated skill-set required for Ninja Warrior, and therefore is the area that literally trips people up the most. I’ve done a number of competitions now, and every single time I went out early was due to a balance obstacle.
Balance is probably the easiest area to train as well… find some concrete curbing, a fence, some rocks… the outdoors has everything you need; whether you’re in the country, the city or the suburbs. Parks with children’s play equipment is amazing.
If you’d like something more official, then I’d suggest finding a Parkour class in your area… or if there are none available, maybe a gymnastics class.
You could also buy yourself a slackline, you can get them fairly cheap and then you just need two trees or sturdy poles.
Important areas to train overall
Once you feel confident you’d have a good run on the first 3 obstacles, then you can concentrate on training for the rest of the course.
If it’s possible, it’s worthwhile hitting a ninja gym, or an obstacle course, just to get an idea of how to move your body through. There’s often awkward movements, and if you’re sore the next day, those might be the muscles you might need to work on.
Rock climbing / Bouldering
So far, the most successful competitors on American Ninja Warrior and Australian Ninja Warrior were rock climbers. The arm strength, grip strength and body awareness gained from these two pastimes cannot be understated. The most important aspect is to learn to move your body while you’re hanging… please do try to work bouldering or indoor rock climbing into your weekly training, or at the very least, consider installing a hang board somewhere nearby.
Balance, speed, leaping, laches and aerial body control are all things you’d learn in a Parkour class that are super useful on the Ninja Warrior course. You might be the strongest person in the world who destroys every obstacle but if you’re too slow, you’ll be eliminated at some point.
Bodyweight exercises are excellent for this… pretty much fitness classes at your local gym, programs like Insanity and P90X3, yoga, pilates. You want to train yourself to be strong and to be flexible. There are a ton of obstacles where you rely so much more on your flexibility and core strength than you do your grip strength. You might have super strong hands, you can rip phonebooks and bend frying pans, but if you can move yourself around while you’re hanging then those iron hands aren’t much use to you.
Endurance is way more important than people realise. When you watch a local competition, the most common observation people make about their own run is that they ‘gassed out’ in the middle of an obstacle and had to drop. This usually means they are strong enough to complete that obstacle, but they were exhausted… and when you’re exhausted you can’t do anything.
Lots of people training for Ninja Warrior competitions focus so much on their grip strength and then run out of puff half way through the course. Doing a single obstacle is exhausting, stringing obstacles together is beyond hardcore, and doing an entire course can be the hardest thing ever.
You’ve got a lot to train, and a lot of strength to gain, but don’t forget your cardio.
The Warped Wall is often the sixth obstacle in the Ninja Warrior qualifying courses, and it honestly is harder than it looks. It's a scary obstacle, you feel like you might fall backwards, and so it's really worth finding (or building) a warped wall to practice try before you're in front of the cameras.
Helpful tips for training for Ninja Warrior
Try and film as much of your training as you can, you never know when you’ll do something amazing, and until you’re making your application video, you’ll never know what will be useful.
It is a reality TV show, so you really need to put some thought into what your story will be. What would be interesting for viewers? What has happened in your life that viewers will really root for you on the screen? These shows get a trillion Personal Trainers and Army dudes apply, but because it’s a television show and not a competition, they really want the Mum of 6 kids or the guy that had a bad accident.
Your training will be scattered over many disciplines … It's important to try and quantify/measure as much as possible so that months down the track you can see what’s working, what isn’t and what progress you're making. There is no right or wrong way to train for Ninja Warrior because you’ll never know what obstacles to expect.
Train your weaknesses as well as your strengths. So many amazing rock climbers go out on balance obstacles… which are often conveniently placed before the super tough hanging obstacle.
Competing on Ninja Warrior is an incredible goal and it really is incredible fun. Zipping over water with the crowd cheering for you was ridiculously exciting and I'm really excited to try out again. I've made lifelong friends out of the experience (truly) in Australia, America and Barbados (so far).
If the show is something you’d like to try to train for, please comment below so we can train together in spirit. Please use the tag #ninjawarrior on the Steem blockchain so we can all grow, share, test and support each other.
steemaroo divider and ninja upgoats drawn by the incredible @ryivhnn