Monday, January 25, 2010

Lessons from Ninja Warrior

Fact: Ninjas are cool.

I like the show Ninja Warrior (including the women's version). Not familiar with either? Here's a clip from each of the series. Each clip shows all the obstacles the contestants have to go through.

He's a fisherman.

Ignore the annoying
English announcer.

It doesn't look easy, but seems like plenty of fun. I'd prefer doing events like these for charity instead of those 5k walks/runs.

But, that's another topic altogether. If you checked out the clips, you can actually learn bit and pieces of what attributes are needed to succeed. Will they make you an instant


No, probably not, but they're definitely important aspects of physical strength and athleticism. With a little assistance from our good
ol' friend weight training, we're good to go.

Lists are easy on the eyes, so let's roll with that.
Grip strength reigns supreme:

- Stages had various forms of hardcore hand clinging. While it was more emphasized for the men than women, it's equally important to both sexes. If you can't hold on to it, forget trying anything else.

- If you're going heavy on overhand deadlifts & pulls, enough said. Other tricks of the trade are plate pinching, farmer's walks, and thick handles (done by wrapping a hand towel around a handle).

It's all relative pull-ups:

- There's a lot of hanging for the men. Pulls - horizontal & vertical - are great for the body, not to mention people don't do enough of them.

- A combination of pull/chin-ups, lat-pull downs, and/or rows are a simple start.


- Getting through 1 obstacle doesn't call for celebration. Going through a series of them is physically exhausting.

- Conditioning workouts are key here. A session can be anywhere from 4 to 20 minutes. If you're going for an hour, chances are the intensity isn't enough.

Need to know how to use the body:

- There's a lot of switching between unilateral & bilateral work, meaning the hands/legs are working independently & together at various points of time. An example of unilateral coordination is seen in the very first video's initial obstacle, side-to-side jumping, and bilateral in the second where the woman does the hop rocket (both legs working in conjunction to explode into the air).

- Bilaterals are typically done with any barbells, while unilateral can be done in a number of ways such as dumbbells, kettlebells, ropes, pistol squats, 1-handed push-ups, so and so forth.

- Compound lifts are an excellent way to use the body as one whole working system.

Power/rate of force development:

- It's how fast you generate strength in a given time. Faster you do it, the better and more strength you can bust out. It's most evident in the massive broad jumps and hops that are performed. No point in having strength if you can't be quick with it.

- Plyometrics, sprints, medicine ball slams/tosses/throws, & Olympic lifts all improve power/ROFD.

Working in more than 1 plane of motion:

- Contestants have to move their feet around more than just going forward. They go all over the place! This is also seen in sports such as football and tennis. The players are constantly changing directions.

- Variations of regular lifts like lateral lunges, lateral step-ups, rotational movements, side-to-side pull-ups, and as well as sport-specific drills are performed in different planes.

Balance, coordination, speed, & agility:

- As you can see, the contestants are not fumbling all over the course. Rather, they're moving along it with excellent precision and grace.

- Unilateral work again. Balance can also be improved by simply balancing on 1 hand or foot and going through motions with the other. An example such as a 1-handed push-up position while moving a light weight plate around on the floor.

- Speed goes back to power/ROFD.


- Just seeing how their ankles are positioned at certain instances shows they've got great mobility.

- This is too expansive to cover in this post, but use what's listed in the dynamic warm-up here as a basic starting guide. Youtube channels such as these - 1, 2, 3, 4 - also list more movements to use. Check them out.
There you have it.

Hopefully I covered everything and you can apply some of this information to your own training to help with progress.

Cause above all things, the take home point of this post was...

...ninjas are cool.

Except this one.


  1. Niel, you are awesome. I love watching this show too. =)

  2. I don't think more awesome than ninjas.

    When they run marathons, I sadly end up doing no work for the day.

    Thanks Kim!

  3. I love Ninja Warrior haha I havn't scene that on TV in a long time...I would have to train for at least a year or two before I got anywhere near one of those obstacle courses

  4. They look like hell, but man do I want to try it. There are try outs in California, but that's pretty far.

    The other closest thing I've heard in terms of obstacle courses around in the US is Men's Health Urbanathlon. It's not quite as crazy of a course, but it looks like fun.

    Thanks for stopping by Brendon.


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