I remember the first time I saw American Ninja Warrior on TV. I couldn't help thinking, “a climber would totally dominate on this show." Fast forward a couple seasons and we had Brian Arnold, a seasoned climber from Colorado (and FrictionLabs athlete), competing. A couple years after that, Brian joined other climbers from Colorado - Ian Dory, Meagan Martin, and Noah Kaufman - to form the Wolfpack.
In Season 7, Isaac Caldiero, another Colorado climber, won American Ninja Warrior. Climbers rejoiced, and it seemed as though people were finally starting to recognize how important climbing skills are to this competition. 2015 was also the year of the first spin-off show of ANW called Team Ninja Warrior, which was won by “Party Time," a team led by Brian Arnold.
We recently caught up with Brian to talk about why climbers are dominating this event and how important the mental game is for a competition like ANW.
Why do you think climbers tend to do so well on ANW?
The courses are pretty heavy on upper body endurance. It takes awhile to build that endurance, and the average person who is training isn’t getting that. It’s also important to have the adaptability that climbers have to adjust to the challenging obstacles.
What obstacle(s) do you find the most challenging on ANW?
The new obstacles because you don’t know what to expect. But the obstacles themselves aren’t that hard, it’s the show that’s mentally hard – it’s having to basically onsight all these obstacles in a row. For example, if you’re a V10 climber, you can easily climb a V6, but if you climb enough in a row, there’s a good chance you might fall.
The Wolfpack make the obstacles look really easy most of the time. What, if anything, really surprised you about the show?
The first time I was on, I knew I was going to win. I was standing around with the other guys who were just there to have fun thinking you guys have no idea what a climber can do. It looks so easy on TV. I was surprised when I realized the mental piece and how hard it can be to keep it together and perform when you need to. [Note: Brian didn’t win, but got farther than any other American had at that point.]
Now, we [the Wolfpack] over train for the obstacles and spend time training mentally too – visualizing, going through pre-run routines.
How is it different from a climbing comp?
At climbing comps, if you mess up, you can just sign up for another one the next weekend or whenever. For ANW, you train all year, and then you fall once and it’s over. It’s depressing.
How has training for ANW helped or hurt your climbing training?
In some ways it has helped, in some ways hurt. I’m not climbing as much – I don’t go on trips anymore, but part of the reason is that I’m a family man now and my family doesn’t climb. I do go to the gym 4x/week, though.
Ninja training has helped with certain weaknesses in climbing, and I do more cardio now. A while ago, I got on rope for the first time in awhile and after about a month, I was onsighting the hardest routes I’ve ever done. Cardio helps you learn how to regulate your breathing.
How much time do you spend training?
It’s a full-time job. It has to be if you want to compete with the elite ninjas. I work out twice a day, 6 days/week – climbing, cross training, parkour, lifting.
Do you think the success of climbers on ANW has led to more people climbing or just more climbers wanting to try ANW?
Both. People hadn’t seen the kind of strength you can get from climbing. There’s not a ninja out there that doesn’t climb now. But I’ve also met so many fans in the gym that started because of ANW.
What advice would you give to a climber who wants to try out for ANW?
It’s a TV show – they are looking for people who will make it entertaining, but you still have to be an athlete. Be someone you would want to see on TV, but be yourself. Whatever makes you unique, play it up and communicate that.
Since the last season of ANW, the Wolfpack Ninjas (Brian Arnold, Meagan Martin, Ian Dory, and Noah Kaufman) have been busy creating a new website and a podcast, with a mission to combat childhood obesity and diabetes. You can also find training tips, insider news, and inspirational quotes on Instagram @wolfpackninjawarrior.
And if you are in Colorado and want to try your skills at a ninja climbing comp, head over to Miramont North Climbing Gym at 1800 Heath Parkway in Fort Collins on May 14, 2016 from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.