Fitness Craze: The Quest to Become a Ninja Warrior


Millions tune in each week to watch American Ninja Warrior. Now in its ninth season, competitors take on incredible obstacles, hoping to ultimately take home one million dollars.

The show has sparked a new fitness craze across the country.

Rigorous Road

It's not your typical workout. From swinging on ropes and maneuvering through rings to supporting yourself with pegs and walking on soft balls, those training to become ninja warriors face a rigorous road.

"I think gyms like this, gyms like Iron Sports, training for American Ninja Warrior, are getting so popular because it's a different kind of training," Daniel Gil, an American Ninja Warrior competitor, told CBN News. 

"It involves a lot of calisthenics which is just body movement," he continued.

Gil is one of the students at Houston's American Ninja Warrior Iron Sports gym. He and the others tackle obstacle courses developed by gym owner Sam Sann.

Sann says the intense training works all muscle groups and also develops mental toughness. He also competes on American Ninja Warrior, so he knows what it takes.

"I, myself, and my staff actually take the time (to) build different obstacle(s) to actually give people a different type of training -- alternative training -- versus the weight room, stuff like that, so... I take pride in what we do here as far as in all the training and all the obstacles that we put," Sann said.

And he has the results to back that up. Sann says every year more than 20 people from his gym alone make it on the show.

That number includes former Olympic gymnast Jon Horton who took home a silver medal on the high bar.

'Houston Hotbed'

"I think Houston is probably a hotbed simply because we've got the best training facility in the country," Horton said. "Sam Sann has built just the perfect place to train with every obstacle that you can possibly imagine, and people have a passion for it around here."

Gyms like Iron Sports can be found across the country, and adults are not the only ones wanting to become ninjas. Kids are also getting involved through classes and demonstrations like one held at the Children's Museum of Houston.

Gil says it makes sense that younger generations want to be ninjas.

"And so it's really fun for both parents and kids alike, 'cause kids -- I mean for me I feel like I'm a kid at heart -- just we love to climb on things; we love the challenge of coming up against something that's maybe a little bit intimidating, or it's balance or it's upper body and learning how to conquer those obstacles," he said.

'Great Group'

James Wyatt, a trainer at Iron Sports and ninja competitor, says he and his wife were looking for something to do with their kids, and the gym was a good fit. He believes while the show has helped make these gyms popular, there's more to why people are drawn to them.

"I think they stick around mainly because of the community, right, people are looking for places to belong," he said. "They're looking for places to connect, and the Ninja community, the obstacle course community is a very -- it's a great group of people."

"They're very friendly; they're very helpful," he continued. "People want you to succeed, and it's not something you really find in culture, or in the world today."

"It's everybody helping each other verses 'in it to win it'... And I think that's why... I like to invite friends to this place because I just think it's the people -- the way everybody helps each other and really serves each other that way, encourages each other is what brings me back, what draws me here," GeAnna Manners, an American Ninja Warrior competitor, said.

For God's Glory

Manners says it also provides her the opportunity to be a witness for Jesus Christ.    
"I just love the fact that this is totally a podium for just being able to represent the Lord in a Christlike way and being able to draw people," she said.

Fellow competitor Grant Clinton agrees.

"Being a believer, that's what it's all about," he shared. "Really, it's not about me being up there and performing well. Of course, I'm a competitor, and I like to do well. I want to compete well. But, God's glory is first."

The training has provided Wyatt an avenue to share his Christian faith.

"It's given me an opportunity to start some Bible studies, to really kind of meet people and talk to people about Jesus that I probably would never meet," he explained. 

"And so I'm able to take my faith and take how I train people and teach people and kind of integrate the two," he continued.

"All these things that are fun and new and exciting are totally of this world and are fleeting, but if it has a purpose, and it has like a real foundation and a way to further the Kingdom, it's gonna succeed," Manners said. 

"God will make it succeed, and I feel like this culture, this... group of people that are just lovin' on each other, serving each other -- I feel like it's something that will really stick around for a really long time," she continued.

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