American Ninja Warrior Training & Workout
Ninja Warrior Training as seen in Oxygen Magazine
If you’re looking to up your game at the gym, you can attend a new fitness class or search for a new HIIT workout — 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.”
“Ninja Warrior Training taps into that badass superhero we all have living deep inside of us! It tests our strength, flexibility, endurance, balance and nerves. By comparison, it makes the usual three sets of eight reps look tedious and bland.”Fitness Pro & American Ninja Warrior, Julie Lohre
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 an online 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 as an American Ninja Warrior
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 light weight 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.
Ninja Warrior Workout at Home
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 or Skater Exercise
- Bear Crawl Exercise
- Hanging Leg Raises or Hanging Knee Raises
- Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatch
- Wide Grip Pull Up
- Swiss Ball Pike Up
- Burpee Over Barbell or Lateral Barbell Burpee
- Decline Push Ups
Let’s break down each exercise…
How to do a Skater Exercise
The Ninja Warrior workout begins by spiking your heart rate and beginning to work on your lateral agility. There is no better way to do that than with a speed skater exercise, often called a leaping lateral squat. Primarily a leg movement that engages the quads and glutes, the skater exercise combines explosive power with grace and balance all of which are key to be a successful American Ninja Warrior. While your heart rate will be increased more by jumping during this movement, if you are a beginner, you can bring the skater to a lower impact exercise by eliminating the jump and instead stepping over to the side. So, how do you do a skater exercise?
- Begin the skater by standing on one foot. Hinging at the hips but maintaining a straight back and strong core, bend down to bring the opposite arm to touch the ground in front of your standing foot.
- With an explosive bound, jump off your standing foot and reach the other foot over the the side in a lateral movement.
- Land this skater plyometric with control on the opposite foot. Work to softly land on bending through your knee.
- Maintaining the weight in your outside foot, again bend forward at the hips and reach down to the ground toward your opposite foot. The skater exercise is meant to be done fast in a back and forth movement.
How to do a Bear Crawl
The Bear Crawl exercise is a great all around full body movement that helps to strengthen and stabilize almost every muscle group in the upper and lower body making it ideal for ninja warrior training. Continuing to keep your heart rate up, the bear crawl builds on what you did with the skater exercises before. Your heart rate will stay elevated and your metabolism burning. What I love most about the bear crawl is that it helps turn static flexibility into a more dynamic movement… this is critical when you are flying from obstacle to obstacle on the Ninja Warrior Course. What most people notice first about the bear crawl is that it taxes the muscles in their arms, shoulders, chest and back… really the whole upper body far more than expected.
- The bear crawl exercise is best done in an open space where you have at least 20 feet of floor space. Begin by folding forward at the waist and reaching your hands for the floor.
- Maintain a strong core by pulling the belly button in toward the spine and begin walking hand over hand down. Keep your neck in a neutral position.
- The bear crawl should be done quickly but in a controlled manner.
How to do Hanging Leg Raises or Hanging Knee Lifts
One of my all time favorite exercises is really a throw back to my days as a gymnast… the hanging leg raise. Some times called leg lifts or toes to bar, this exercise is a core strengthener which hits the entire abdominal region placing special emphasis on the lower abdominals and hip flexors. For those looking to serious build strength and become ninja warrior powerhouses, you will want to do the hanging leg raises with your legs totally straight the whole time as you contract your core abdominal muscles and use those abs to bring your feet overhead. If you are just getting started or find the hanging leg raises to be too difficult, modify them by bending your knees and instead preforming hanging knee raises. You still will be hitting your core but the movement should be a bit less taxing.
- For hanging leg raises you of course need a sturdy bar that is at least 6 inches taller than you are with your arms fully extended. Begin the movement by grasping the bar and hanging in a completely straight position.
- Using the core and maintaining straight legs with the knees together, draw the legs upward until the feet come close to touching the bar. This is also why the movement is sometimes referred to as ‘toes to bar’ in the Crossfit world.
- With control, bring the legs back down to the starting position. Be sure NOT to use momentum and limit any swinging
- Need an alternative to make this advanced ab exercise easier? Bend your knees as you lift your to tuck the knees into your abdomen.
How to do Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatch
The alternating dumbbell power snatch is a total body exercise that can be beneficial for increasing total body power, strength, and endurance. As a great way to build metabolic endurance the power snatch fits nicely with our ninja warrior workout plan!
- Begin standing with your feet hip width apart, squatting down with a single dumbbell on the floor in front of you. Position the dumbbell just inside of your feet and grip the center of the dumbbell as you begin your dumbbell power snatch.
- At the beginning of the movement, your shoulders should stay slightly in front of your knees while maintaining your lumber curve.
- As you begin to rise in the snatch movement, draw the weight upward, along the center of your body allowing your hips and shoulders to rise at the same rate. When you reach the top of the snatch movement, one arm with the weight in it should be extended fully over head with your body fully in a standing position.
- With control, bring the dumbbell back down in front of your body squatting down as you bring the weight back to the floor in front of you and switch hands to repeat on the other side.
How to do Wide Grip Pull Ups
Arguably one of the toughest moves on the planet, strict wide grip pull ups demand huge amounts of upper body, back and core strength. If you are facing down the warped wall at the end of most every American Ninja Warrior course, then having a strong wide grip pull up will help catapult you to victory!
Find this movement too hard for your ninja warrior training? No worries… you are not alone. Even the most advanced trainers find it helpful to do an assisted form of pull ups either by using bands to help decrease the pull of body weight or by using an assisted pull up machine at the gym. Whatever you do though, DO NOT swing or kip these pull ups like you might see advanced Crossfit athletes do! That can put your rotator cuff in a compromising position, especially if you are new to the movement, and it can place too much strain on your joints like the elbow.
- Using an over hand, pronate grip, begin by holding the pull bar so that your hands are just a bit wider than your shoulders. Allow your body to hang down from the pull up bar while maintaining a tight and engaged core. You want to maintain a hollow body position through out the wide grip pull up.
- To begin the movement, squeeze the shoulder blades together, engaging the lats and other back muscles as you bend the elbows and drive them toward the floor. Continue pulling until the chin is just above the bar for a full wide grip pull up.
- Slowly lower back down to the beginning position with control. Again, do not swing or kip this movement and keep your abs engaged the whole time!
How to do Abdominal Swiss Ball Pike Ups
Swiss Ball Pike Exercise gives you the balance you need to overcome even the most challenging obstacles!
Swiss Ball Pike Exercises take an incredible amount of control and both upper body and core strength that will serve you well in your ninja warrior training. However, if the swiss ball pike movement is too difficult, you can bend your knees instead which offers more control and less upper body strength while still giving you a good workout!
The Swiss ball pike builds strength and stability in the upper body and core with an emphasis on the shoulders. This exercise also improves balance and coordination. Start in pushup position with your hands about shoulder-width apart and your shins resting on a Swiss ball.
While the “pike” action at your hips works the abs through a wider range of motion than you’re probably used to, extending your body at the end of the movement hits even more muscle. Your chest and shoulders play a big part, too, balancing your upper body as you safely stretch the limits of your ab development.
- Begin in a pushup position, with the tops of your feet resting firmly on the top of a Swiss ball or Stability Ball.
- While maintaining a straight leg position, use the core and abs to draw your your hips upward as you hinge at the hips. This will bring your legs and feet toward your upper body as the ball rolls toward your hands forward.
- Briefly pause at the top with your hips squarely over your shoulders and use the upper body to maintain control.
- To return to the starting position, use the core to lower your hips back down, allowing the ball to roll away from your hands returning you to a full pushup position with your feet still on the swiss ball. Hold at the top for three to four seconds, then slowly roll back to the starting position.
How to do Burpee Over Barbell or Lateral Barbell Burpee
A true American Ninja Warrior will need some serious dexterity and to be able to move quickly on their feet. That is why I put the burpee over barbell or lateral barbell burpee exercise into this awesome ninja warrior training workout! Let’s break down this heart pounding move! The burpee over barbell of course will require some type of obstacle that you need to bound over. I like the use a barbell because it is just the right height and there is almost always one laying around my gym
- To begin your burpee over barbell, line up a barbell with a large plate on each end to make it approximately 6-8 inches off the ground.
- Stand so that the barbell is to one side of you. Squat down first, placing hands on the floor in front of you and jumping your feet back into a plank or push up position.
- With control, lower down so that your chest is resting briefly on the ground making sure to keep your elbows tucked in tightly to your chest.
- With a bounding movement, jump your feet back
How to do Decline Push Ups
Since upper body strength and core engagement are critical to be a successful American Ninja Warrior, including decline push ups as one of your ninja warrior training exercises is a good idea. For most of us, regular strict push ups are hard enough, but by placing your hands beneath your feet level the decline push up takes the difficulty to new heights. I like to do these off of an exercise or weight bench and you can individualize the intensity by adjusting the height if you need.
What I love most about the decline push up is how it really hits most all of the upper body muscles… from chest to delts from tricep and biceps to back. And since the decline push up requires a significant amount of balance and stability, you end up recruiting your entire body including your legs, glutes and core. If you are an advanced trainer, then the decline push up can be a great way to challenge yourself without needing extra equipment and weights.
- For the decline push up, you will need a weight bench, box or stability swiss ball to place your feet on. Hands should start on the ground, directly under your shoulders.
- While maintaining a tight plank position with a straight line from your head through your heels and a neutral neck, bend your arms and allow your upper body to come down toward the ground with control.
- Be sure to keep your elbows tucked in to your sides throughout the decline push up. Hold briefly at the bottom of the plank before pressing up through your chest and straightening your arms back into a full plank.