How to Beat the UK Ninja Warrior Course

(Image credit: Unknown)

Just how hard is Ninja Warrior? Hard. Even harder than you’re thinking it is right now. Assuming that you’re the sort of gent who plays the odd game of five-a-side and can do a handful of pull-ups, you probably imagine yourself breezing across the Quintuple Steps and maybe only coming a cropper somewhere between the Log Grip and the Jump Hang. Possibly even making it through stage one! That’d show that guy at work who’s always posting shirtless selfies on Instagram. That’d show everybody.

Well, here’s the bad news: applications for season three close on 1st July, and it’s never been tougher. The event’s evolved from a watch-everyone-fall-in-the-water Schadenfreude-binge into a genuine test of athletic ability. Look at the American contestants and you’d assume that to have any chance of completing the course, a personal warehouse of custom-made kit is a prerequisite.

The good news? That's simply not the case. With a bit of ingenuity and a healthy disdain for other people's opinions of you, it’s entirely possible to get in total-victory shape in even the most ill-equipped gym. Here’s how to tackle the course’s toughest obstacles. Oh, and if you can’t make it to the real thing, sign up for the Urban Ninja course for instant Instagram bragging rights. Ganbarimasu!

The Quintuple Steps

Yes, they look simple enough, but just imagine going in the water on the first obstacle. Family in the crowd, work colleagues all watching at that Instagram guy’s house, maybe someone made T-shirts – and there you are, wet and repentant. You need to practise this one. “Mark out some spots on the floor and practise ‘tic-taccing’ between them,” says Ninja Warrior UK course tester Aslan Steel. “Alternatively, set up some plyometrics boxes at an angle to really get a feel for it.” Practise the full-speed bounce and the double-step slow-but-sure method – you never know how you’ll feel on the day.

The Cargo Net

Easy, you think, but getting this done fast might make the difference when it comes to a stage-two spot. You’ll need co-ordination and core tightness to get it done – build both with inverted rows. Set up a Smith machine bar, TRX or set of rings at roughly waist height, lie underneath them, then pull yourself up until you can touch your thumbs to your armpits. Three sets of ten is the prescription. If you can take a hand off one side at the top, all the better.

The Warped Wall

The one that looks like a skateboard quarter-pipe. It looks simple enough, but take it lightly and it’ll bring your run to an embarrassing halt. “Prep for it with wall runs,” says Steel. “Run at – and then up – a wall, trying to touch as high as possible on the wall with your hand. You can mark different heights with tape so that you have something to aim for and mark your progress.” If your gym isn’t a fan of this sort of thing, an outdoor wall and a bit of chalk will do the job.

The Rope Jungle

If you can’t even climb a rope, start with towel-grip pull-ups. Throw a towel over the bar, grip it on either side, and make sure you can do a minimum of five pull-ups before you progress. Next, since you’ll need to hold the rope with your arm flexed so you don’t fall off, practise isometric holds at each stage of the pull-up. Done that? The final part of the puzzle is moving between the ropes. “Drive your knee forward on the same side as the arm you’re reaching with to make the move easier,” says Dion Trigg, owner of the True Function Ninja Training facility (and pictured above). “Use your whole body to save your arm strength for the other obstacles.” That’s you told.

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The Salmon Ladder

The run-wrecker. The shoulder-blaster. The ruiner of dreams. Unquestionably the most brutal obstacle on the course, the Salmon Ladder requires explosive strength to do a leaping pull-up, along with the coordination needed to slot a metal pole between two supports – several times in a row. At a bare minimum, you’re going to need to be able to do a plyometric pull-up: with an overhand grip, yank yourself up as explosively as possible, let go of the bar, then catch it again before lowering yourself into the next rep. Feeling confident? Add a clap, but don’t get cocky. “The real skill is moving the bar with you,” says Trigg. But imagine the applause…

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Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.