Although we haven’t heard any official word yet, with the relatively strong ratings of American Ninja Warrior 4 this past summer most competitors expect ANW5 to air in the summer of 2013, meaning the competition itself will most likely occur in the spring of 2013 as it has the last couple of years. Thinking about this the other day made me realize we are only about 4 short months away from the American Ninja Warrior 5 competition, which created both excitement and a fair bit of trepidation in me. I decided to do a brutally honest assessment of my “state of readiness” to compete for the benefit of self-diagnosis and as a way to focus my energies over the next few months.
For me, this is the single most important grade, so is the shining light in an otherwise pretty poor report card of readiness. My readiness grades before ANW4 would have been pretty low, with the exception of health – I had various injuries the last half year before ANW4 that really limited my training (like a partially torn Achilles heel), but the clouds parted about a month before the competition and I was actually able to compete pain-free, which for me is more critical than being in tip-top shape. For ANW4 I wasn’t nearly as “in shape” as I had been for ANW3 and ANW2, but I had my best results yet making the Regional Finals and just narrowly missing the National Finals. Being healthy and with the right mindset I believe are the two most important factors to success for me.
In regards to my health readiness for American Ninja Warrior 5, unfortunately until about a month ago I was suffering from pretty bad plantar fasciitis in my left foot, which prohibited me from training on my feet at all. Thus all my other grades around cardio, jumping power, and agility massively suffered. But lots of stretching and massage of my foot have dramatically improved my plantar fasciitis in the last month, and I’m working to regain my leg strength and power, as well as my cardio. Other lifestyle changes, like starting a new job and moving to a new city that disrupted my long-held regular training structure (rock-climbing twice a week, parkour conditioning once a week), have had the benefit of letting nagging injuries like bad shoulder and bicep tendinitis heal. So while I’m bummed that I haven’t been training like I’ve wanted to in recent months, I’m psyched that I’m relatively healthy entering this final stretch to get ready and compete. The hidden benefit of not training much – stuff heals!
KUNG FU GRIP: B-
Since I haven’t been able to go to the rock-climbing gym much the last half year, where previously I went twice a week to boulder and train on other apparatus like ladders and ropes, my grip strength and endurance have definitely suffered. However, I have been pretty creative finding ways to train both whenever I go to the playground with my three boys, which is at least a couple of times a week. Lots of monkey bars and structures with beams of different widths that I can climb along and practice max holds. I think my Kung Fu Grip right now is more than enough for anything I’d encounter in the Regional round, and sufficient for anything in the Regional Final round up until the end of the course when they usually have some brutal combination like the Salmon Ladder and the Globe Grasp before the Cargo Net Climb. The requirements of the National Finals course is something else though, and if I hope to be able to do well there (if I can make it), my Kung Fu Grip has to return to an A rating. My plan is to try to get back to the rock-climbing gym once a week to supplement my creative playground training 😉
Plantar Fasciitis has robbed me of my jumping power. Fortunately this has gotten better in the last few weeks, so I’ve been training a bit for jumping power and endurance, and am probably where I was for American Ninja Warrior 4. Which is to say not terribly good (I was coming off a partially torn Achilles before ANW4). Jumping power is an underrated skill in American Ninja Warrior I believe. Think about it, even to get out of the opening round you have to demonstrate strong jumping power, starting off at the very first obstacle: the Quad Steps. Then you have to contend with other obstacles that require strong long strides, like the Bridge of Blades, and then mini-tramp entries into obstacles, of which there are many from the Jump Hang to the Jumping Bars. There are usually at least one, maybe two, obstacles that require you hit that mini-tramp hard, and jumping power is part of that equation. Then the Warped Wall, where explosive strides and a jump is required. More than any other area, I want to regain my bounce before American Ninja Warrior 5!
CARDIO / ENDURANCE: D
With plantar fasciitis and having to stay off my foot, my training for cardio and endurance has been minimal. Only occasionally going to Bikram Yoga, which does have a surprising cardio and endurance aspect to it, has been the lone exception. With the course requiring 1 to 2 minutes of max effort, you simply cannot get away with having bad cardio and stamina. This must be changed if I want to do well. My plan is for short max effort exercises as opposed to running miles or working the cardio machines. Now that my plantar fasciitis is better, I hope to do this. Nay, I NEED to do this.
Bad foot means no agility training. With my foot recently improving though my agility has been returning faster than other areas like cardio. Being fleet of foot and coordinated in multidisciplinary ways is key for American Ninja Warrior. That’s why so many parkour studs are awesome at ANW, and parkour is increasingly a required training for serious competitors.
UPPER BODY STRENGTH: C+
With my bicep and shoulder tendinitis much better due to inactivity, I’m actually feeling pretty good. Recently I’ve been training with weights and body-weight activities again, and feel pretty strong. My strength endurance isn’t great, but for short actions I’m where I need to be. My explosiveness isn’t super, but it’s pretty good relative to the state of other competitive attributes I need, and am fairly pain-free.
For those of you who saw my runs in the Regionals and the Regional Finals, you know the commentators fixated on my weight a bit, particularly Olympian Jonny Moseley. At 220 lbs, I’m definitely one of the heavier competitors to step on the course, and a good 60-70 pounds heavier than most of the best competitors (not saying I am one of the best, just comparing myself to this group). Being tall and with a bigger frame, I’m not going to drop to 160 lb, but carrying 220 lbs around on the course is a competitive disadvantage for jumping, climbing and swinging. Well, for pretty much every activity except maybe pounding that mini-tramp! Without much cardio, even with an improved diet my weight isn’t where I want it to be. My goal was to be about 205 lb (light heavyweight!) for ANW5, but I tipped the scales at 224 lb this morning. This is up from about 217 lb from a couple months ago, and I think the strength training without any cardio has added muscle mass that has made me heavier. Hopefully with my improved foot I can get back on the cardio push and drop to at least 210 lb for the competition. Otherwise I will have to endure the snide remarks of Jonny Moseley again!
OVERALL GRADE: C-
Not good, but not horribly bad given the realities of injuries and a difficult work/life situation that has played hell with any attempt to have a regular training rhythm. Although I know I have a lot of work to do to be in my best shape for ANW5, I’m primarily happy that my health is clearing up for this final push. I treat every year’s American Ninja Warrior competition as potentially my last – you never know if the season will renew or if you’ll get a chance to compete with the legions of young athletes that are drawn to this competition – so I really want to do my best for ANW5 and have no regrets regardless of the outcome. Time to ninja up and step on the accelerator for this final push until American Ninja Warrior 5!