Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

5 Weeks to Go: The Check-up

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

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!

The Road to American Ninja Warrior 7 – #VegasOrBust

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

VegasWhile for viewers the American Ninja Warrior 6 season only recently concluded with the airing of the final episodes in September, for me over a half year has past since my season ended in the water below the Ring Toss in the Dallas Finals.  In some ways the season was satisfying – I got selected to compete again for my fifth season, which is always an honor and thrill, and I advanced to the Dallas Finals having been just one of 21 competitors out of around 150 to complete the tough Dallas Qualifying course.  In other ways it was a disappointment, primarily because I failed to achieve a major goal I’ve had since I first dreamed of competing in Ninja Warrior, and that is to advance to the National Finals in Vegas and try my hand at the pimpin’ massive replica of the legendary 4-stage course of Sasuke in Japan.  Two of the last three seasons I’ve fallen just short of this goal by ending my run in the City/Regional Finals only a couple of obstacles before where I needed to get to in order to advance to the National Finals, and it hurts.  I’ve been marinating in that disappointment a lot the last few months and been thinking hard about what I have to do to make it to that next level.

With the American Ninja Warrior season about five months away scheduled to begin sometime in the spring, I thought I’d share with you how I’m preparing for the 2015 season, and what I’m doing to make my dream of earning my way into the National Finals in Vegas a reality.  Here are the five aspects of my training that are at the top of my list in order of focus:

CORE STRENGTH & FLEXIBILITY

One way to get better at anything is to seek the advice of somebody better than you.  Much better than you.  A few months back I had the chance at a training workshop to talk with Drew Drechsel, who is one of the top guys of our sport and a transcendent parkour and ninja athlete, and he shared with me his view that a powerful and flexible core is the most important attribute on the course.  He acknowledged that grip strength of course is incredibly important, but that core often gets overlooked, and is just as important if not more important in the earlier rounds before the latter stages in the National Finals that are grip-intensive.  Given this advice, and that a year ago I badly tore an abdominal muscle that had me on the shelf right up until American Ninja Warrior 6, my top area of focus for preparing for next season is to build a powerful, integrated core.  I’ve always considered myself to have a strong core, but have never really worked hard at it much, and am beginning to realize as I start training my core more frequently that I was deluding myself before.  I’ve asked those in the ninja community for their favorite core exercises and received some phenomenal suggestions, and while my goal is to not get too addicted to any particular core workout but to “mix it up” to train my core for different functional movements, there are a few staple exercises that I find myself using a lot these days:  plank variations, hollow body rockers, and hanging windshield wipers.  So a combination of preparing for American Ninja Warrior 7 and rehabbing from one of the worst injuries of my life has put core strength and flexibility at the top of my training focus this off-season.

GRIP STRENGTH

Anybody who has ever competed or even just watched much Ninja Warrior will say that having a kung fu iron grip is absolutely critical on the course.  And that’s because it’s true.  When I used to rock climb regularly my grip strength was pretty good, but my demanding schedule with work and family doesn’t allow me to go climbing often, and my grip has definitely deteriorated from its peak.  At the same time I see the insane grip workouts that many of my fellow ninjas are putting themselves through (looking at you Jamie Rahn), and I feel a grip strength gulf widening between me and the competitors that routinely achieve my goal of making the National Finals.  So the reality is clear to me that I need to more programmatically work on my grip strength.  I’m dealing with some bicep tendonitis that I need to rest to heal, so a number of training exercises (including climbing) that would be obvious choices for me to work on my grip strength are off the table, so I’ll have to focus on some other exercises that won’t tax my bicep.  For Christmas I’ll be asking for a climbing board so I can train at home in the evenings, and plan to work the various grip and hang exercises.  I’ll also do the Shaolin finger hand exercises in a bucket of rice that a lot of climbers do to rehab injuries and build balanced grip and tendon strength.  I did this last season when I was on the shelf with my ab injury, and it is a ferocious grip regimen that really helped me prepare for the competition when other grip exercises were totally unavailable to me due to my ab tear.

I also have some grip attachments (pipes and skinny ropes) that I can hook up to my kids’ playset in the backyard, and practice on those.  Skinny ropes in particular for me represent a real weakness, and I know I need to get MUCH better on rope and vertical grips in order to make the National Finals, so will be focusing on that in the next five months before competition.  I’ll start with extended hangs, then close transitions, and then leaping graps.  Kung fu iron grip here I come!

WEIGHT

Last season I competed at my lightest weight in my five American Ninja Warrior seasons when I got down to 208 lbs.  It was the lowest I’ve been in almost 10 years, and I felt good and light on my feet.  However, after the competition my weight pretty rapidly returned to its natural “homeostatis” weight of about 220.  I recently had pretty hard training sessions on actual obstacles during trips to Albuquerque and Los Angeles, and I felt very heavy at 220.  Even at 208, I’m one of the heavier competitors in the competition, and this is a big disadvantage for me.  Although I’m clearly delusional to some degree, as evidenced by my competing in American Ninja Warrior at age 43 in the first place, I’m fairly realistic about certain things too.  And one of those things is how much weight I could possibly lose for American Ninja Warrior 7, having relevant data points of how much weight I was able to lose in my sincere attempts to lighten up prior to past competitions.

At the beginning of November I stepped on the scale and weighed an even 220, and clocked in at 16% body fat.  I’m slightly ashamed by that second number, I know there are many ninjas out there who are going to say “Damn!  That’s a fat ninja right there!”  Pretty much every ninja I know would have single-digit numbers for their body fat.  These are some lean fine-tuned athletes.  So I acknowledge that I am not lean at 220 lb and 16%, but it gives me some motivation that (1) I’ve been able to compete pretty well even at this big fatty size, and (2) I have some non-productive weight to shed to get to a lighter weight while not sacrificing muscle.  With almost a half year from the beginning of November to the spring when competition most likely will happen, I feel pretty good about putting out a weight target of 205 lbs (meaning I’d lose 2.5 lbs a month from now until then) and get down to 11% body fat, which would mean 11 of the 15 pounds I’d drop would be pure fat.  If I can hit that goal, I’d feel that I’d done better for American Ninja Warrior 7 than I’d been able to do any other season in this dimension.

BALANCE

Balance is a skill that a lot of ninjas overlook, and they simply hope that they won’t get a brutal balance obstacle in the Qualifying course that begins the competition.  I think there are a large number of American Ninja Warrior competitors who have ridiculous balance from backgrounds in parkour and gymnastics, and while there aren’t very many true balance obstacles in the competition, usually each season a couple of the regions have a tough balance obstacle that reaches out and bites a number of accomplished competitors in the City Qualifying and Finals rounds.  This year that was the Slack Ladder in Venice Beach, which knocked off legendary parkour pro Jesse La Flair (among others), and the Dancing Stones in in Miami which slayed top guys like Idoko Abuh, William Brown, and Brett Sims.  Last year in Dallas our “balance obstacle” was the Tilting Table, which was quite easy, and I have a feeling that we’ll get a more challenging balance obstacle next season.  Balance is not a hard thing to randomly train, so I hop up on beams and rails and practice walking on them whenever I have the chance, and I also bought a kid & beginner friendly slack line that I practice on with my kids on the weekends.  Slack lines are pretty fun, and great balance practice!  My goal is to be ready and confident for whatever balance obstacle they throw my way in American Ninja Warrior 7.

OBSTACLE PRACTICE

While I don’t believe practicing all day long on actual obstacles guarantees success when you encounter them on the course, there is simply no substitute for getting practice on actual obstacles to practice technique and build the psychological confidence that you can surmount similar obstacles when it’s game day.  Sadly I don’t have many actual obstacles at my disposal to train on, and am at a disadvantage to the guys and gals who have obstacle course gyms at their disposal where they can get hundreds of reps of practice.  I’ve never really had ready access to the obstacles though, and have always found a way on my work travels to visit fellow ninjas at their gyms and get some training time and advice from them that I rely on when the competition rolls around.  I’ll continue this approach, and hope to get to places like Alpha Warrior in San Antonio and Iron Sports in Houston a few times before the competition to drill technique and build confidence.  In particular I’m really hoping to build skills in the peg board, which I have a strong feeling we might see in Dallas this year, and the Rolling Escargot which is death to big men and very technique-oriented.  I’m also really hoping to get more experience on some of the vertical grip and rope obstacles as I know I really need to build up my skills and confidence there too.

So for the record those are the five areas, in approximate order, for my preparation and training for American Ninja Warrior 7.  Hopefully I can stay injury-free (always a big ‘if’ for ninjas) and can break through in American Ninja Warrior 7 to realize my longtime dream of making the National Finals in Vegas to compete with the very best obstacle course runners on the toughest course in America.  Vegas or bust baby!

Readiness Grades Right Before ANW5

Monday, April 1st, 2013

A few months ago I did an honest and brutal assessment of my “readiness” for American Ninja Warrior 5 in the form of a blog entitled “Readiness Grades – 4 Months Til ANW5.” With American Ninja Warrior 5 just a couple of short weeks away, it felt like it was the right moment to upgrade this assessment as I stand in the chute to compete in my fourth American Ninja Warrior competition (provided I get an invite, of course!). It also feels like a productive use of the insane amount of energy I have waiting to hopefully get called next week to compete in Baltimore in 3 weeks…despite my Zen article “The Waiting Game for American Ninja Warrior 5“, I’m feeling pretty jacked up and anxious!

HEALTH: A- (up from B+)
As I stated in my earlier assessment, this Health rating I feel is the single most important grade. Having competed in the past with ninjuries ranging from nagging to fairly severe, including recovering from a partially torn Achilles heel last season, I feel blessed to be in good health right now. My plantar fasciitis, which plagued me the first half of the year after ANW4, has more or less gone away, and the primary goal of my training the next couple of weeks before the competition is to not injure myself! Being healthy and with the right mindset I believe are the two most important factors to success for me.

KUNG FU GRIP: B (up from B-)
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to go to the rock-climbing gym but maybe once a month, so my grip strength for this year’s competition is almost certainly less than it has been in previous competitions when I had been climbing twice a week. In the last few months though I’ve been forcing myself to do more grip-training stuff, mostly when I take the kids to the park and do maximum hangs on odd shaped bars around the playground 😉 Sounds silly, but has actually been pretty tough training, and I’m feeling fairly strong. No tendinitis anyway really helps this.

JUMPING: B (up for D)
I had given myself a horrible grade of D when I assessed myself four months ago, after having been sitting around trying to rehab my plantar fasciitis for months. Fortunately I’ve healed up the last couple of months, and have really been working on leg strength through box jumps, Bikram yoga, sprints, and other leg exercises. If you check out my submission video, you can see that I can dunk again, which isn’t bad for a 41 year old dad 😉 A long way from my days when I could 360 dunk, but my jumping power is better than at any time in the last couple of years. This was the area of my training that I felt like I most needed to improve from my self-assessment a few months back, and I’m feel relieved that I’ve been able to make strong progress in this area.

CARDIO / ENDURANCE: B- (up from D)
Inactivity due to plantar fasciitis had me at a D grade a few months back, but since returning to health I’ve really been focusing on this. Bikram yoga, sprints, tabatas, and some ferocious games of tag on the playground with my 7 year old and his friends have pushed my cardio back up to a respectable level where I feel pretty good entering the competition. Those little kids can run all day, I’ll tell ya!

AGILITY: C+ (up from C-)
The same story here, plantar fasciitis had me weak and lumbering a few months back, but health has allowed me to train and regain my agility. I’ll include Balance here as part of Agility, and I’ve been working on my balance in general on some rope pyramids at the playground and feel pretty good.

UPPER BODY STRENGTH: B (up from C+)
I’m not currently plagued by any shoulder or bicep tendinitis, and some bar training has me feeling pretty good. My explosiveness isn’t super, but I’m feeling fairly strong and pain-free. I’ve been using free weights to work shoulder and bicep strength in multi-joint moves to build up explosiveness and stamina.

WEIGHT: B (up from D)
For those of you who saw my runs in the Regionals and the Regional Finals, you know the commentators fixated on my weight of 220 lbs a bit, particularly Olympian Jonny Moseley. A few months back I was tipping the scales at 224. Today I weigh in at 214 and have dropped body fat as well. I wouldn’t call myself “lean” yet, but I’m pretty happy with losing 10 lbs in the last few months, and getting trimmer has me feeling relatively good about my weight.

OVERALL GRADE: B (up from a grade of C-)
Overall I’m fairly pleased with the progress I’ve made the last 3 to 4 months getting ready for American Ninja Warrior 5. My grade at C- from a few months ago was pretty poor, and had me concerned. I tried to be honest and a little brutal with myself as a way to motivate myself and to create a roadmap for improvement in the final stretch. Avoiding injury, staying healthy, improving my jumping power, and dropping some weight were my main goals, and I feel like I’ve achieved them. I could be stronger and faster I suppose, although I believe I’d always be inclined to think that, but overall I feel great and ready to give my best shot at the course in American Ninja Warrior 5, and fight my way to my goal of reaching the National Finals in Vegas in June. Hopefully they invite me and I get my shot!

Readiness Grades – 4 Months til ANW5

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

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.

HEALTH: B+
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 😉

JUMPING: D
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.

AGILITY: C-
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.

WEIGHT: D
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!

8 Foot Jumping Bar

Friday, July 13th, 2012

New trick…the 8 foot Jumping Bars! In the actual American Ninja Warrior competition the gap is only 6 feet, which is pretty easy once you’ve practiced it once or twice, but I’d previously never had a chance to try a longer distance and wanted to test myself. Who knows? They may widen the gap of the Jumping Bars in competition and knowing you can go farther than the standard 6 feet would really help with the confidence. So while at Chris Wilczewski’s gym The Warrior Lab in New Jersey I had the chance to try a Jumping Bar with an 8 feet gap, so I had to give it a shot. Fun!

No doubt my form can improve…a bigger swing and launch would mean I don’t have to be so stretched out for the catch, but I was pleased to get it all the same.