5 Weeks to Go: The Check-up

In just 5 short weeks I’ll hopefully be in Houston competing in American Ninja Warrior 7 and striving once more for my dream of making the National Finals and getting to step on the hallowed course of Mt. Midoriyama.  I say “hopefully” because I haven’t received an official invite to the Houston round, nor has anybody else.  While my anxiety about getting invited has definitely increased this past week after they issued invites to the Venice region, and notably didn’t invite many veterans and stars from earlier seasons, I also try to stick to my mantra of “act as if” I’ve already been invited, and focus on the things within my control, specifically training hard in preparation for stepping on the course should the call come.

So with 5 weeks to go I thought it a good exercise to evaluate myself according to my preparation plan I laid out in my “The Road to American Ninja Warrior 7” blog post I wrote 3 months ago as a reality check.  In general, whether in American Ninja Warrior or in life, I like to set specific goals and plans for myself, and periodically check in against them to measure my progress.  It makes for a certain degree of accountability, and helps focus my attentions on the right activities to get to my desired destination.  For each of the 5 areas of focus I outlined, I’ll give myself a grade and a brief summary.

CORE STRENGTH & FLEXIBILITY:  B+

Recovering from one of my worst ninjuries yet, a torn abdominal muscle in the fall of 2013 which hindered my American Ninja Warrior 6 preparation, I was determined to build a stronger core than ever.  Then a random conversation with super-ninja Drew Drechsel about the importance of a strong dynamic core reinforced my desire to make this a major focus of my ANW7 preparation.  I’ve been following my plan and feel stronger than ever, and feel no residual pain from my ab tear.  For flexibility, I’ve been going to yoga about once a week for the last several months, and doing more stretching for my shoulders, forearms, and hands than ever before.

GRIP STRENGTH:  C-  (or N/A)

After getting an awesome grip board for my house for Christmas to train at home, I unfortunately sprained my thumb in ninja training pretty badly five weeks ago.  A bad ulnar collateral ligament strain, and a couple of small avulsion fractures, has prevented me from training the way I had envisioned.  But I have been grinding the rehab, and I should be ready to roll in five weeks.  Who knows?  Maybe the unconventional grip rehab I have been doing (and putting my “good hand” through as well for balance) might have me stronger than before since I’ve been maniacally focused on it in order to recover in time for the competition.  Side note:  rehab hurts.

WEIGHT:  C

Not doing awesome here.  This is a source of frustration.  I have been dieting hard earlier than ever before, but my weight has not been dropping like I expected.  I can tell that my body fat is quite a bit lower as I feel I am “competition lean” already (for me), but the absolute number of my weight has not dropped to where I want it to be.  Still hovering between 215 and 220, when I expected to already be at 210 by now.  Last year was my lightest ever for competition at about 210, and I thought I could get to “light heavyweight” at 205 this year.  I’m realizing that is not going to happen without something dire, but if I can get to a healthy 210 for this season I’ll be relatively happy.  Still, frustrated that I haven’t done better here because I’m been really watching what I eat and exercising regularly.  Side note:  dieting sucks.

BALANCE:  B

Balance is feeling pretty good, and getting a slack line at home and working on it regularly when I go to the playground with my three sons has yielded some nice progress.  Ironically, pushing the envelope on balance is what lead to my thumb injury!  I have a feeling that a tough balance obstacle is lining up for Houston, so want to be ready here.  I also definitely think my work on a strong dynamic core has helped my overall balance.  Still, I’m going to be working hard here in the next five weeks before the competition to be as ready as possible.

OBSTACLE PRACTICE:  C

My injured thumb the last five weeks has derailed my plan to get more practice on actual competition-grade obstacles at places like Alpha Warrior and Iron Sports in Houston.  My thumb is just not ready for tough obstacles right now, but should be in a few weeks.  However, I usually like to shut down my hard training in the last couple of weeks before the actual competition to avoid over-training and last minute injuries, so I might not get too much actual obstacle practice before the competition.  I did get some great practice in the fall while traveling a lot, hitting Alpha Warrior, the new Ninja Park in Albuquerque, and the 323 Training Ground in LA, so that averages me to a C grade here.

Overall I’d give myself a C+ or B- largely because of the recent thumb injury limiting me.  Other than that, I’d been feeling pretty strong and making good progress in the dimensions that I’ve focused on.  In the past, the seasons where I only recovered from an injury just in time to compete (ANW4 and ANW6) were my best seasons ironically, when I think I was just happy to be able to compete and had fun on the course.  Hopefully that will be the case again!  Regardless of the bumps in the road, the goal for American Ninja Warrior 7 is the same – #VegasOrBust!

  • James Cordova

    injury sucks man, some people go hardcore, but I don’t in some areas, in fear of injuries.. so I’m taking the long and slow athletic route so I can get the strength I need; but its always awesome seeing you out there getting better and progressing farther than before every time – james cordova

  • Vernon Whelchel

    Love these posts from you.

  • Matt Laessig

    Thanks James, I think you and I train the same way. My body can’t recover from going super-hard all the time on actual obstacles. I see how some of these younger ninjas train and I’m jealous! But right now I’m just trying to get stronger and more agile/balanced without risking additional injury. Appreciate the love James, and hope to see you out there!

  • Matt Laessig

    I appreciate that Vernon!