How to Win at American Ninja Warrior (from the Two Men Who Did)

Isaac Caldiero is the first Ninja Warrior to complete the course this year. Credit: David Becke / NBC

This year not one, but two American Ninja Warrior contestants completed a perfect season by finishing the final course — a grueling set of obstacles that had never been completed. But Geoff Britten made it through with the first ever successful run on U.S. soil, soon followed by Isaac Caldiero, who bested his time and took the million-dollar prize. "This course was dubbed as impossible, but I wanted to be the guy who does the impossible," Caldiero, a busboy by day, told Men’s Journal a day after the feat aired. So how did they do it? Countless hours of one-armed pull-ups and rope climbs and a lot of mindful breathing. For both men, "a long history of rock climbing helped," said Britten.

But there was a lot more to it than rock climbing and gym time to get to the finish. We talked to both Caldiero and Britten to  detail their routines to see how they cracked the code of the American Ninja Warrior.  

Focus on Your Breath
Exercise needs to start with your breathing. "If you can control your breathing, you can control your heartbeat and control fatigue," says Caldiero. When you are competing and you are exhausted you can't lose focus. But if you focus on your breath you will never lose it." Caldiero suggests taking time every day to meditate — to sit and just breath to tune your mind into your lungs.

 Make Training Time
"Going into this, maybe I wasn't as ready as I should have been," says Britten. "I'm a dad and I work 60-70 hours a week and I haven't trained my whole life for this, but I would prioritize workouts." Not getting your house cleaned, reading that book, or getting everything on the grocery list are the sacrifices that he says you have to make in order to fit in 2-3 hours a day for workouts, meditation, and training. Expect and be willing to give up downtime.

RELATED: Kacy Catanzaro's Ninja Warrior Workout

Hit the Climbing Gym
The sport that both Britten and Caldiero back for total-body fitness is rock climbing. "The first thing I would suggest for anyone wanting to get into ninja shape is to start climbing," says Caldiero. "Go outside and find a boulder or a wall or go to a gym if you aren't somewhere that has outdoor climbing." 

And Make Core Workouts the Priority
Core control is the most necessary skill for a ninja, says Britten. "I keep my core tight whenever I do anything. This makes everyday breathing and moving more difficult so you can become strong in movement. It trains your whole body all the time."

Never Skip a Warm Up
"It's so important to get your heart rate up before your workout," says Caldiero. "I always go for a trail to fine-tune your muscles and wake them up. It makes your workout much more effective to get straight into strength training while you are out of breath and your body is warm."

Try Something New in Your Workout
"When I had to do the Invisible Ladder I wasn't intimidated by the fact that I had to do one-armed pull-ups for thirty seconds because I knew I had trained doing one armed pull-ups," says Britten. Switching up normal exercises with small challenges is what makes the difference between fit and fittest. "It can be something as simple as doing your pullups on a door jam instead of the pull-up bar," suggests Caldiero.

 

The American Ninja Warrior Workout
This combines moves from both Britten and Caldiero's go-to routines. 

Warm Up: Run 15 minutes

  • 20 pull-ups
  • 20 pushups
  • 2-minute hang hold on pull-up bar
  • 5 –minute jump rope
  • 50 leg raises
  • 2-minute high knees
  • 1 rope climb
  • 5 x 20-second sprint, 10-second rest
  • Repeat


(Geoff Britten during the finals. Photograph by David Becker/NBC)


(Isaac Caldiero hangs on during the finals. Photograph by David Becker / NBC)