Assassinate flab and find new friends at the Ninja Warrior Gym.

Ninjutsu U

Written by Nicole Tyau Category: Health & Fitness Issue: June 2016
Group Free


Adam Rayl stands at the ready in front of the warp wall, a sideways curved ramp that stretches over 15 feet high. With a few short bounds, he launches himself up, grabs onto the top, curls his body around into an upside-down T-shape and backflips off onto a cushioned landing pad.

Rayl is a ninja warrior, the fastest growing sport in the world, says Sylvia Pina Reichelt, owner of Scottsdale Parkour and Freerunning. Popularized by the NBC television show American Ninja Warrior, ninja warrior training has grown rapidly over the years and is now recognized worldwide. At a competition in April, Pina Reichelt says there were competitors and trainees from all over the globe at her gym, where Rayl trains.

Pina Reichelt says a benefit of ninja warrior training is that it engages people of all ages. “They can live their video games, not just control it,” she says. “They can become it and do their own thing.”

Ninja training involves athletes conquering different obstacle courses like the warp wall. Others include a “salmon ladder” that requires the warriors to propel themselves upward to move a bar into a higher notch and “spider-crawling” between two walls to reach the other side.

The athletes mainly train with their body weight, using parkour, freerunning, rock climbing, gymnastics conditioning and trail running to stay in shape. They typically train in the Ninja Warrior Gym, a recent addition to Pina Reichelt’s gym, two days each week.

Pina Reichelt says ninja training can start at just age 4 with the “Little Ninjas” program, and warriors work their way through the skill levels.  The most important thing, though, is training the kids to be safe. Parkour – a sport adapted from military obstacle course exercises – and ninja training have low incidences of injury compared to other youth sports. “It’s functional, fun fitness,” Rayl says. “I think this sport is good for anyone at any age. There’s no stress – just pure enjoyment.”

“You don’t dread coming to work out,” says Justin Hillsten, who started warrior training a year and a half ago at Rayl’s suggestion. “It’s like being a kid in a playground.”

Recently Rayl and Hillsten got to compete on the American Ninja Warrior show; though they can’t disclose what happened, they encourage everyone to tune in when the show airs in June. “For so many of us, it’s a dream,” Rayl says of the competition. “It’s like a brotherhood with people you’ve never met – an instant connection.”

For Hillsten, one of the most attractive aspects of the sport is its freedom; perfection isn’t expected like in gymnastics. It’s always just fun to go to the gym and work out with Rayl, his friend since grade school and on-air competitor.

To try ninja warrior training, head to Scottsdale Parkour and Freerunning for their classes at any level of experience.