The American Ninja Warrior’s Guide to Obstacle-Course Training

Stuntman Brent Steffensen tackles mud, sweat and fears

By Alex Lauer

The American Ninja Warrior’s Guide to Obstacle-Course Training
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12 February 2018

In 2017, we highlighted the seven best obstacle course races in the U.S.

How many did you run?

You don’t have to answer that.

But if you plan on completing an OCR this year, you do need this: an eight-step, full-body, mud-be-damned workout plan courtesy of American Ninja Warrior vet Brent Steffensen.

Steffensen has broken records on that show as well as the Japanese one that inspired it, and also worked as a stuntman in films like Maze Runner. In short, his tips will get you fit, svelte and fighting — even if you don’t plan on running hills and jumping walls this summer.

1. Toe to Bars
“Some people call them toe to bars or hanging V-ups. You can do the beginner progression where you’re doing tuck-ups, you’re tucking and touching your toes to the [pull-up] bar. Then as you strengthen that core more, you straighten your legs and eventually do straight-leg toe to bars. Those are crucial because any time you’re hanging on an obstacle and trying to generate a swing to get momentum, it all comes from your core, and the movement of this exercise replicates it and will make you a powerhouse on swings.”

2. Jumping Lunges
“People tend to neglect their lower body, because they think [that climbing walls and slick surfaces] is a grip game. But jumping lunges is one that will allow you to get explosive through your legs.”

3. Kipping Pull-Ups
“For strength purposes, I like a strict pull-up where you’re not throwing your lower body around. But the kipping pull-up, which is kind of like the CrossFit pull-up, where more than upper-body strength you’re generating a lot of momentum from that kipping motion to help lift you. That’s a beneficial style to train for the Salmon Ladder. If you can do an explosive kipping pull-up, and even do a little clap above the bar, that’s the exact motion you want for the Salmon Ladder but instead of clapping, you bring the bar up to the next rung.”

4. Parkour, Especially Tic Tacs
“It’s one of the most beneficial things you can do to get familiar with moving efficiently through different environments. There are a lot of parkour gyms around, but the good thing about parkour is you can go check out your city or neighborhood and find things to play on.

“Specifically, a drill people can do that’s a parkour technique is called Tic Tacs. Basically, you run toward a wall at an angle, and jump at the wall, plant one foot and drive the opposite foot away from the wall in the direction you want to be going. If you can do Tics Tacs comfortably, Quad Steps are going to be no problem. You see a lot of people kind of hugging them, but that’s not an efficient way to get through [that obstacle].”

5. Get Comfortable on Mini Trampolines
“Most people have access to a gymnastics gym, so I would highly suggest going to one and getting comfortable on a mini trampoline. You’re going to see mini tramps on almost every course, but not many people know how to hit it. People think they want to jump off of it, but you really want to stay tight and let the springs do all the work. One year [on American Ninja Warrior] in the finals on Stage One, where the mini tramp goes into the Spider Wall, I think it took out 50% of the people.”

6. Rock Climbing
“Grip has been one of the main things that takes me out every season. So this last year I told myself I’ve got to get back into rock climbing and stay consistent with it. I always tell people, the best thing you can do is show up in great shape with awesome grip strength and be able to adapt.”

7. Lache and Practice Swinging
“People will get caught up on an obstacle and they don’t know how to generate a swing, whether it’s a bar obstacle or a ring or a chain. So get out some bars and learn how to lache. Also, stand on a swing set and learn how to generate a swing motion from a pump. It’s funny, a lot of people, even the top ninjas, will get on a swing and get stuck.”

8. Jump Over Fences
“If you can jump a fence, there are a lot of movements in there that will apply to the course. If you can do that efficiently, you’re probably going to do OK.”

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