How to Do Strength Training Better: Life-Hacking Special

A workout regimen designed for an insane TV obstacle course gives you exactly what you need: variety

Mar 15, 2016
Outside Magazine
How to Do Strength Training Better: Life-Hacking Special

Switching things up could make you more motivated to train.    Photo: Klaus Thymann

Life-Hacking Special

Find out how to eat, train, work, and sleep better in our all-encompassing life-hacking special.

Over the past couple of years, American Ninja Warrior has gone from a cable-TV cult favorite to a full-blown phenomenon. There are now more than 30 Ninja Warrior fitness centers in the U.S.—up from five in 2013—and many CrossFit and climbing gyms are adding Ninja Warrior–style obstacles. “This could quickly reach the level of CrossFit,” says Chris Wilczewski, a six-time competitor and the owner of Movement Lab, a Ninja Warrior gym in Haines-port, New Jersey. “People are realizing that it’s a really fun way to work out.” 

Indeed, the novel physical demands that have enabled climbers to excel on the Ninja Warrior course—last year, Isaac Caldiero of Boulder, Colorado, became the fastest person to complete all four stages—are central to its allure. But, says Wilczewski, “you can’t be good at just one thing. Climbers struggle with balance, CrossFitters with footwork, and parkour athletes with upper-body stuff.” 

Research has shown that varied routines motivate you to train more often, and a 2015 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that switching it up resulted in bigger gains than simply increasing the load in an existing workout.

As Wilczewski sees it, the effectiveness of Ninja Warrior training comes down to one fact: “You’re always trying something new.” 

Pro Tip: Chris Wilczewski’s Favorite Ninja Warrior Workout Moves

Towel Hangs

Why: Improves grip strength.
How: Swing a towel over a bar or beam and hang until failure. Do three or four times, resting as little as possible (no more than 30 seconds) between reps.

Bicycle Kicks

Why: Builds a rock-solid core. 
How: Lying on your back, with your head and legs off the ground and your hands near your head (but not behind your head or neck), touch one elbow to the opposite knee, then do the same thing on the other side. Repeat rapidly until failure. Rest for about a minute and repeat.


Why: Develops single-leg blast-off power.
How: Place your forefoot on a knee- or thigh-high box, keeping your other foot on the ground. Explode up off the box and then reverse the motion on landing, coming down first on your lead foot, then on the other foot. Do four sets of 25 reps per leg.

Kipping Pull-Ups

Why: Boosts dynamic upper-body strength.
How: Hang from a pull-up bar. Snap your hips forward and your head back to power up to the top of the bar, then return to a hanging position. Aim for three to four sets of five to ten reps.

You Can Hack It: Resources for Rapid Improvement

  • The Rich Roll Podcast: Roll, a two-time ultraman—essentially a double-Ironman-distance triathlon—and evangelist for vegan athletic performance, mines the deepest recesses of the wellness universe, returning with tactics for a better, healthier life. 
  • @drmjoyner: Mayo Clinic physiologist and performance expert Michael Joyner filters the never-ending river of research on sports science and posts the relevant, interesting, and valuable stuff on Twitter. 
  • The Tim Ferriss Show: The podcast of the life-hacking superhero, in which he gets all manner of A-listers, from elite athletes to investors to entertainers, to share their strategies for success.

My Way: Lululemon Athletica Director of Innovation, Research, and Development Tom Waller

“Our research shows that technical apparel, like compression tights, isn’t necessarily boosting your physical ability. But it provides sensory feedback that shifts what you believe to be possible. If you feel lighter, chances are you’ll run faster.”

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