Physically competitive television programs such as “American Ninja Warrior,” “TKO: Total Knock Out” and “Wipeout” have changed the face of exercise for many Americans. People are now constructing their own obstacle courses in their yards and garages, as well as visiting gyms where these types of obstacles have been built especially for this purpose. Southern Nevadans have gotten in on this trend, and Your Home wanted to share a few of their ideas.
Gregorio Serrata, who competed on season 8 of “American Ninja Warrior,” became active in this fitness movement by watching the popular television show with his wife.
“We were big fans of the show,” he says, “and one time she turned to me and said, ‘I bet you could do that.’ It seemed like a good challenge as I wasn’t very active at the time.”
Serrata began training and liked the results he saw but didn’t attempt actual obstacles until he was in better physical shape.
“I originally trained at Camp Rhino, which has the most comprehensive program of adult ninja warrior training. After I competed on the show two years ago, I decided to step up my game,” Serrata said. “I did my research online and learned how to build a rock wall. My imagination was my only limit.
“Like most obstacles in ninja warrior-style obstacle training, the wall doesn’t have a formal name. I just invented it. It’s a rock-climbing wall on the ceiling with a variety of holds screwed in. It’s part of my garage, which I call the Ninja Cave.”
Although Serrata enjoyed his time on the show, he does not plan to compete in the future. “I consider myself very lucky to have competed, and I finished one spot away from qualifying for the city finals.”
He notes that potential competitors have about a 1 percent chance to have their application accepted. “There are about 65,000 applicants, and only about 600 competitors get to take on the course. Now that the minimum age has been lowered, chances are even lower that someone will get chosen.”
While he plans to return to his old passion of training in Brazilian jiujitsu, Serrata said, “I’m going to convert my garage into more of a jungle gym for the kids instead of a grueling climbing gauntlet for me. At the time I was training, it was great to see my progress and the mental commitment to fly and grab and obstacle. The endless creativity on how to innovate obstacles was refreshing.”
For Ryan Cooper, a desire to live a more beneficial lifestyle spurred his involvement.
“In 2012, I made some major life changes that included going completely alcohol- and drug-free. I followed up that decision by choosing to live out a healthy, active lifestyle.”
Cooper’s new philosophy began after participating in a 5K race in downtown Las Vegas.
“I was hooked,” he said. “That year, I ran as many races as I could, including 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons and even triathlons.
“Fast forward about six months and many races later, I discovered the Tough Mudder series,” Cooper said. “I didn’t know what to expect by doing an event like this, but the thought of being submerged in ice water and electrocuted drew a new challenge that scared and excited me. After competing in it, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do more.”
Cooper says that in order to prepare for these extreme obstacle races, he trains on Southern Nevada running trails, with a goal of averaging 50 miles a week. He also constructed some obstacles at his house.
“I converted our two-car garage into a performance training studio, where I can train at my convenience. It’s equipped with a full ninja warrior rig for climbing, Olympic weights and endless pieces of functional fitness equipment.”
He goes on to explain that he installed a 60-foot slackline that can be used to work on balance as well as core training. (Slacklining refers to the act of walking or balancing along a suspended length of flat webbing that is tensioned between two anchors.) Additionally, Cooper practices throwing that “tricky Spartan spear” into a stack of hay bales in his yard.
“By installing all of these training elements at home, there is an open invitation for people to come over and train,” Cooper said. “Obstacle course racing (also known as OCR) is a sport that is of interest to all ages, and training can be more fun than work. Kids especially like it, because it’s like a big playground.”
These reasons are why this is one of his favorite styles of training. “It offers a lot of variety compared to a traditional exercise routine and requires a combination of cardiovascular, physical and mental strength.”
He still gets butterflies before every race and hopes that feeling of anticipation never disappears. “Obstacle course racing not only changes you physically but mentally. Personally, I know that, whatever life throws at me, I can handle because of the strength I have gained from all of my training and OCR experiences.”
For Camp Rhino Las Vegas founder and owner Julie Johnston, the drive to lose weight and a sense of depression spurred her to develop her own obstacle course in 2004.
“I had my own portable course built, which I took out to local parks,” said Johnston, who also had an obstacle course in her backyard. “For the longest time, I trained hard because I didn’t want to gain weight back. I trained on obstacles because I wanted to have fun while working out.”
For “American Ninja Warrior” super fan Bob Howell, a June 2017 visit to a filming at the show’s Las Vegas set jump-started his own training.
“By chance, I met Flip Rodriguez, one of the top competitors,” Howell said. “He challenged me to compete on the show, even though I was 64 years old at the time. His inspiration started me on the path of training for season 10 the following year.”
Howell had already built a salmon ladder and devil steps in his own backyard prior to meeting Rodriguez.
“I just wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “I had no intention, at the time, of actually competing. Once I met Flip, he told me about Camp Rhino, and I immediately joined, enrolling in boot camp classes five days per week. I quickly realized that I wanted very specific training, and in order to do that, I started building obstacles at the gym.”
Howell added, “I think most people are amazed and probably think I’m a little crazy for obstacle training at my age. Once the other ninjas realized that I could build obstacles, they quickly started asking me if I could build specific ones that fit their needs.”
To date, Howell has built about 15 obstacles, including wingnuts, rolling lots, bar hops, twisting bars, salmon ladders and floating steps.
“I love the variety of training,” he said. “It’s like being a kid playing on the monkey bars. What makes it different is that the show is constantly coming up with new obstacles to test the competitors’ abilities.
“One has to constantly adapt to remain competitive. This is what makes it so important to build obstacles … so we can adapt.”