18 July 2013

There's More To Being A Ninja Warrior Than Owning A Colored Mask And Eating Pizza

Recently, I received an email from a gym owner in which he threw a lot of credit at me for championing high-volume, ultra-heavy training in an America obsessed with 10 minute abs and using beginner lifting programs for years on end.  If, of course, took every ounce of credit for inventing the idea and proceeded to lay claim to the invention of the question mark, the concept of perpetual motion, and having resolved the unified field theory at a picnic when I was twelve.  If you hadn't caught on, that's hyperbole- I only laid claim to the question mark.  In any event, I came to find that my new best friend was in fact far more interesting than your average person, as he competes in strength sports and participates in my favorite spectator sport- Ninja Warrior.  As such, I decided to ask Chaos and Pain's answer to Michael Dudikoff a variety of questions about his training, as getting different perspectives is generally the best way to learn.  Our Michael Dudikoff's name is Nate Aye, and here is the interview:

First, give everyone a little a little background on yourself.  Summarize the book you've already written me, add in whatever you like, but perhaps refrain from repeating the House Of Leaves-style delivery you busted out initially.  There are many reasons I've never recommended a book by Mark Z. Danielewski on CnP, not the least of which is the fact that anyone who's been photographed wearing a fedora should be beheaded on national television.

I'm 28 years old, 5'9'' on a good day and hover around 170-175 lbs. I'll try to keep this narrative relatively short, and I'll elaborate where necessary if you want me to include something. So here it goes:

I graduated high school in 2002, where I was a 4 year varsity wrestler, state placer, and holder of multiple records which still stand to this day, including single season takedowns (238), most tech falls, fastest techfall (1:58) and a few others. I finished my HS career at 135 lbs, where I was a weight cutting jackass, dropping about 15 pounds a week subsisting on naught but skoal and little whatever food wouldn't put me over on the scale.

Just out of curiosity, what was your go-to takedown?  We had a kid on our team in high school who likely was similar to you- a takedown specialist.  He'd win all of his matches by tech fall after taking his opponents down and letting them up over and over.  He grew up playing judo, so his inside trip was pretty much unstoppable.  I, on the other hand, pretty much only used the Russian double.  I was not, however, a particularly good wrestler.  My goal was just to make it to whatever period would give me top and immediately go for the pin after hurting my opponent as much as possible.

Arm drags and duck unders were my bread and butter. But I also made it a point to put on a clinic every time I stepped onto the mat. My goal was not to hurt, but rather to humiliate.
I turned down multiple college offers and decided to join the Marine Corps.There are myriad reasons I joined the military, some personal, but mostly I wanted to test myself and experience the challenge.  I was still 17 years old when I left home and "celebrated" my 18th birthday in bootcamp. I became and 0311/Rifleman and learned how to kill motherfuckers. At this time the invasion in Iraq had not yet kicked off, but rumors were flying and we knew shit was about to go down.

Nate majored in ass-whupping canneries.

Though I have no idea what would possess you to skip scholarships for the Marines, continue with your life story- I appear to be the one turning this shit into House of Leaves this time around.

During my time in the service, I deployed to Iraq and various other parts of the world 3 times. During my 1st deployment, I volunteered for the Scout/Sniper indoc, managed to pass, and spent the next 2 1/2 years with the sniper section. I failed the first time I went to the school and never got a chance to go again, but I was an assistant team leader in my sniper team. Lost some good friends, and a lot of brain cells.

In 2006, on my last deployment to Anbar province, my vehicle was struck by an IED. Thankfully, we all walked away, but I lost consciousness and suffered a class 3 concussion. I believe that rates a purple heart, but my higher-ups were too lazy and I haven't bothered to try and get it corrected. It seems petty compared to the guys who got killed or fucked up.

The operation tempo was really high, and we were carrying loads in excess of 100 pounds in 120 degree heat. Needless to say I withered down to 145 pounds.

Apparently, being a Marine blows.

After I got out of the Marines, I stayed in Cali for a little while, messed around and basically spent the next 6 months doing nothing but training for MMA. A surfer dude I used to roll with introduced me to CrossFit and it was a good match.

To that point, I was doing basically bodypart splits and then a bunch of bodyweight in conjunction with a ton of BJJ and Boxing.

I took a brief hiatus from training in order to deploy to Baghdad as a protective security specialist with a small company. They were fucked up and the situation was incredibly dangerous, as this was at the height of sectarian violence in Baghdad and just before the troop surge. After a few short months, I got the hell out of there. That's a story best told over beers.

Anyway, mid 2007, wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life, started working as a vet tech, found out my wife was pregnant with our first son. I fought a few times in MMA, still doing CrossFit, then I got recalled back into the military. A Marine I served with was working with a more reputable company overseas and promptly got me job there. So I found myself back in Baghdad in 2008, just after my son was born.

I started training my friends and designing post-partum workouts for my wife, and found I had a knack for it.

In 09 I opened a CF affiliate. I had my last fight in fall of 09. My training was not where it should have been and I got another pretty good concussion. I had bed spins for 3 nights and had to sleep sitting up. Said fuck that, and decided I wanted to get bigger and stronger.

Did some competitive CrossFit and qualified for the regionals. I placed 17th out of 130+ competitors, but the vibe just wasn't for me. As Kenny Powers put it, I play real sports, I'm not trying to be the best at exercise. So I started doing less conditioning and more strength work and keeping bodyweight in the mix, and got better. In 2011 I did my first strongman comp and finished dead last. I did ok on some events, as I was able to use good o-lift techniq and I taught myself how to continental clean.

Last year, I dropped my affiliation with CrossFit, and rebranded my gym as "Golden Age Strength Club". Basically, I wanted to get back to my roots and my true passion for training, as MMA was out of the picture, and I wanted to pay homage to the greats of yesteryear.

Now, I compete a couple times a year in strongman, which now has a 175 lb. class and I've been on American Ninja Warrior the last 2 years.

As much as I'd love to hear about you shooting assholes in the Mideast with bullets dipped in pig fat, I suppose most everyone else cares about your lifting.  Thus, hit us with some of your best lifts, in the gym and in competition.

Gym Lifts
Squat- 395 X 3, 405 X 1
1-Arm Barbell Press- 135 X 1
Bench- 290 ( i don't do it often, shitty shoulder from wrestling)
Pullups- 39 from a dead hang on a fat bar.
Strict Press- 185 lb
Tire Flip- 1000 lb
Log Press- 250 lb log press
Axle Clean and Press- 255 lb

Competition Lifts
Circus Dumbbell Press- 130 lb
Push Press- 275 lb (state record)
Clean and Jerk- 275 lb (state record)
Deadlift- 500
Axle Deadlift- 500 X 6 (pick was just below knees)

Ah well, he's halfway to Klokov's weights.

Whew- 275 C&J is a state record?  I think we've just identified the reason why we haven't medaled much in olympic lifting in the last 60 years.  What's your training like?  I assume you're a high volume guy, but how do you break up your training for such disparate goals?

Good question, I follow a loose template and kind of modify it based on my schedule, how I'm feeling and what I want to do that day. But my basic breakdown is:

Monday- Squat and press, I usually go in weeks of 5s, 3s, 2s, and 1s. I aim for 3-5 sets sometimes more, sometimes less. Then I'll do some rows of some kind and lighter presses.

Tuesday and Thursday- Bodyweight, which I rotate between strength, volume, and skill or a blend of these. For example, on a volume day, I'll put a weight vest on and do push/pull, every grip variation you can imagine and do small sets, like 10-20 sets of 5-20 reps. On a strength day, I'll do heavier weighted stuff, and on skill day, I'll try to practice things like press into handstand, levers, and ring work. Sometimes I'll do combos and throw in odd lifts. Like yesterday, I did 1-arm deads and handstands.

Wed- I deadlift and bench or press. I try to get a good variety in pressing different implements and pulling different implements. Might be trap bar, deficits, sumo, farmers handles, whatever. Same with bench. I like more reps on bench and fewer on pulls. Then I'll shrug, row, do pullups and dips.

Friday- Squat with a specialty bar or onto a box and pressing with odd objects. More bodyweight, and arms.

Saturday- Either strongman or ninja warrior depending on the season.

Sidenotes- I like to do some plyos, and a lot of my extra work comes from just playing around climbing and just fucking about in the gym.

Kipping is occasionally acceptable, provided there are booty shorts involved.

Do you kip your pullups in training?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

No I don't kip (anymore). Here's the deal, kipping is an important skill. Especially if you are interested in Ninja Warrior, however, lets think about what a kip really is: it's what gymnasts do to GET ON THE APPARATUS and do REAL GYMNASTICS!!!!!! Show me one real gymnast who reps out kipping pullups. You can't. Why? Because it's fucking stupid, that's why. Most people lack the requisite strength in the shoulder girdle to make kipping safe and effective. If you can't heave your bulk over the bar with out flailing about like some kind of inner city krumper, you're asking for double SLAP tears. I've seen it happen, thankfully never to any of my clients, but due to my proximity to a major airport, I used to get a lot of visiting crossfitters, you get the idea.

I completely agree on the kipping pullups- they're an awesome way to tear a rotator cuff, and that's about it.  They would seem to be useful for Ninja Warrior, though, as a method for easily climbing obstacles.  Would you agree?

Allow me to elucidate. I don't think including kipping pullups is useful, namely because of the shoulder risks. However, when I train people to do things like salmon ladder or muscle ups, we learn the proper technique of kipping. Specifically, the kipping swing. As soon as someone is competent in the swing, then we start doing the real stuff, like clapping pullups, muscle ups, and salmon ladder. That's not to say that when I'm hitting high numbers of pullups, a little bit of kipping sneaks in there to hit a few more reps, that's not a big deal. Bottom line, get the strength first, because if the strength is there, your shoulders are protected.

Living proof that Jesus hates squatting.

Your squat number is the same as Rich Froning's I think, which is pretty much a disgrace, especially against your other numbers.  What the fuck is with Crossfit and back squatting?  It seems like Crossfit affiliation is tantamount to AIDS of the cancer for one's back squat.  Any idea why?  Do you just not train it that hard?

Ah, I knew that was coming. In my defense, that was the last time I legitimately "maxed" back in March I believe. Since then a couple weeks ago, I did 425X2 with a safety squat bar off a box....either way, I know my squat is nothing to thump my chest about...yet. There are a number of reasons, which will probably shed light on the situation. For myself personally, I've suffered numerous setbacks due to minor injuries. Nothing serious, but enough to pretty much derail me on basically a quarterly basis for the last 2 years. Rolled ankles, knee tweaks, hip stuff. So for a while I was making one step forward and 2 steps back. I started lifting young, but it was always and after thought. I played football for a few years in high school, but I fucking hated it. That, and I also wrestled year-round. I probably averaged around 120 matches per year in high school, and when I wasn't wrestling, I was working with my dad installing hardwood floors in order to pay for my wrestling, or screwing around. That being said, I originally started training with barbells for strength at the end of 2010 and was doing 3X5 linear progressions on and off.

To give a broader answer though, with CrossFit as a whole, if you look at "main page" programming, they are only doing 3-4 heavy lifting sessions per month. As a CrossFit affiliate owner, you have the freedom to design the program however you want to, most people just shit in their palm and smear it all over a whiteboard. Problem is, you get a lot of chicks as clients in a  CF gym, they avid heavy lifting like the plague, and if you make too many of your workouts heavy lifting, they leave in droves and you go broke....finally, I stopped giving a fuck and the ones who stuck with it got great results.

A couple of supporting albeit "random" thoughts:

-much of my physical activity over the last 15 years was endurance related. Especially in the military. If and when I did get to lift, it was mostly bodybuilding style shit workouts. I never, ever, trained legs. Why the fuck would I want to after putting in dozens of miles per week on mountainous terrain with 50-100 pounds on my back? Then we ran a lot and did calisthenics.

Your comments on the squat make sense, in a rather depressing romcom sort of way.  You're like the Jason Segel of the strength world. Hopefully, we can avoid any singing about how misunderstood Dracula is. Back before I realized how ridiculous running is, I aped Bruce Lee and ran daily.  As I would only run 3 miles at a dead sprint when I did run, however, I never really ran into much of a problem with squatting.  Squatting was a once a week thing I did because that's what you're supposed to do, I guess.  I honestly cannot recall a week in which I didn't squat, though, going back to high school.  Even when injured, I was still squatting in the smith machine, on the body master machine, or with a safety bar.  I'd imagine that would account for much of my ridiculous squat- consistency goes a long ways.

Given the state of your squat and your litany of excuses for it, haha, have you given any thought to competing in push pull meets? 

Sure, I love competing. I might not be setting any records any time soon, but I still consider myself "green" in terms of strength sports. I'm only 28 years old, I've only been legitimately lifting heavy for a couple of years. I'm just getting started.

I love that Kenny Powers quote.  Do you have any plans to compete in Crossfit in the future?  The trend seems to be headed in the direction of stronger athletes rather than better conditioned- Jason Khalipa springs to mind immediately.  It'd seem your strongman training would put you in better stead for the Games, at this point.

No, I don't have plans to compete in CrossFit. I have a lot of criticisms about it, but I try to not to  be douchey about it. However, I think I have a unique perspective having been a part of it for as long as I was. I consider myself a reformed Crossfitter. I am grateful for the experience, mainly because were it not for CrossFit, I never would have been exposed to powerlifting or strongman, I'd probably still be doing "Arnold's Arm Blaster" or some shit....

On the other hand, I really don't like the vibe from competitive CrossFit. I came from wrestling, where you beat the fuck out of people, then the military where you train to kill people, then MMA where again, you beat the fuck out of people. Competitive CrossFit is like the adult version of peewee sports where "everyone is a winner". I won't take anything away from the athleticism of games level competitors. Those guys/girls work there asses off. But if you look at it, even at the games level, it's amplified mediocrity. The strongest/best Crossfitters are basically an amalgamation of the shittiest athletes from a multitude of sports and skills.

While I think you are right, at the actual CrossFit games, there are much heavier events than typically seen in CrossFit programming, it's still a prolonged experience. Last year, it kicked off with a mini-tri, then the USMC O-course (but they didn't even do the rope climb. WTF?

Then they had some 205 power cleans, and a few other heavy relative to CrossFitters.

What's your diet like, and does it differ when you're training more for NW and less for strongman and powerlifting?

30 bananas a day bitch! 100% raw vegan.

Sike! I guess the best way to sum it up is paleo-ish, generally low carb, high fat, and a lot of protein. I guess you could say I throw in some intermittent fasting. Basically, I eat my face off on the weekend and have 1-2 absolutely epic cheats. On Mondays, I usually fast, mainly because it's my busiest day of the week and I just drink water and coffee so I can focus on work. A few days a week, I'll have a nice big breakfast, 4-5 eggs, bacon, and potatoes cooked in butter and bacon grease. Then it's mostly meat, veggies every couple of days, and some fruit here and there. I also do 1-2 shakes of 50g whey and water. If I'm feeling beat down, or I trained particularly hard, I'll go whey and whole milk. If I had to guess macros it would average between 150-250g pro, even on days I eat potatoes, I'm under 100g carbs, and then a shit ton of fat. I'll eat 1/4 cup of natural peanut butter and mix in a teaspoon or so of jelly and eat that for a snack as an example.

The only thing I really change is my intake of dairy products. When I'm doing the Ninja Warrior stuff, the elbows and biceps tendons take a beating, and keeping dairy out allows me to keep a little bit leaner and control inflammation a little more. Also, I'll carb-up a little bit more when I'm focussed more on lifting. By that I mean, I'll grab a sandwhich here and there, a bowl of oatmeal, or drink some watered down gatorade the night before I lift. Other than that, I basically just try to stick with real food, get 2-3 squares a day, and fill in the gaps with shakes and extra fat. Oh and I take fish oil.

Sais have been on every single Christmas list I have ever given anyone.

Gotcha.  Now, onto a topic that doesn't make people break into hives (both CrossFit and dieting seem to annoy the fuck out of people lately)- I've had a ton of people ask me why I've not done Ninja Warrior, as I love the shit out of it and my bodyweight strength is excellent.  What they fail to realize, however, is that you need to be flexible, and I'm of the opinion that only gymnasts can touch their toes.  Would you agree with that statement?

Not really. If you can sit in the 3rd world squat position and lengthen your stride both forward and laterally, you're good to go. Aside from something like the spider jump, which statistically speaking, is a non-issue as so few competitors ever even make it that far. If you can jump over a mud puddle, you're good to go.

Nate jumping a mud puddle.

I'd imagine if you cut off both of my legs and then severed them at the knees, then glued it all back together in the third world squat, I might be able to hold that position for 3 to five seconds.  I can jump a puddle, on a good day, without pulling anything.  Perhaps there is Ninja Warrior in my future.  Should I decide to go that route, how would you recommend I go about training for it?  Do lots of climbing?

Nah, you should probably just give up. You wouldn't make it past the quintuple steps...In all seriousness, I'm a geek for training and technique, I have a tendency for obsessing over certain things, and a subsequent knack for being able to observe and dissect and apply whatever it is to my own purposes. The first time I got on the show, I did no specific training for it, as I found out about the tryouts, put a submission video together, and drove to Dallas for last year's regional in the space of 2 weeks.

If you dig around, you'll notice that the courses follow a certain pattern. If you understand the pattern, you know that regardless of the obstacle there are only a few basic skills you need to get good at in order to be prepared for whatever is in front of you. It basically boils down to balance, jumping, hanging/climbing, and the mental game.

I still want to be a ninja when I grow up, however.

I wasn't actually being serious about Ninja Warrior- I pull a calf every time I sprint, and would probably tear a hamstring on the first obstacle.  Additionally, I don't give much of a shit about technique on anything- brute strength and a ridiculous hatred of losing is how I win shit.  I was actually attempting to get your opinion on how anyone would go about training for Ninja Warrior, if they were so inclined.  Were I to program for it, I'd likely limit heavy training to two days a week and focus the rest of the time on jumping and climbing- box jumps, long jumps, jumps to a hang, etc, then just throw my ass up a rock wall as many times as possible for a couple of hours.

Come on man! Here's my quick and dirty: I approach it similar to the way many strongman competitors do, where they focus on basics and usually do event training maybe once per week. I lift consistently 3 days, do just bodyweight and some plyos the other 2 and train on obstacles 1-2 times. During the "pre-season" if you will, I lift M,W,F, Bodyweight/plyo/recovery activities T/Th, and train obstacles Friday night and Saturday morning.

Realizing that most people don't have access to a training course, I would recommend hitting up open gyms at gymnastics facilities, "free-running", or at the very least, familiarizing yourself with either elementary gymnastics skills and/or some "primal movement" type shit, like Erwan Le Corre. I often incorporate gymnastics drills from my 5 year old son's gymnastics class, and you would be surprised at just how bad many people suck at moving. Simply put, be able to do anything on a playground a 7 year old can.

I have never in my life heard of "primal movements" or Erwan LeCorre.  Both sound suspiciously French and ridiculous-even-without-the-metrosexuality-drenched-in-mayonnaise on the other.  As I find the French and mayo equally disgusting, we shall just avoid that topic altogether and move on.  

It seems like grip strength is really the most important factor in Ninja Warrior, and would play a very large part in success in strongman.  Most of the contestants on the new season of American Ninja Warrior seem to be failing on the nunchuks, which is pure grip strength.  I would think rope pullups, rope climbing, and lots of pinch grip work, in addition to mountain climber pullups (finger tip pullups) would put you in prime position to kick ass in NW, and would also translate nicely to strongman.  Would you agree?  How big are your forearms, and how do you train them and grip?

I would generally agree with that. In regards to the nunchuks, I don't think grip strength is nearly as much of a factor as the coordination and body position when making the transition. As an aside, according to first hand accounts of people who were on the course that night, there is a lot of mist in the air at Venice, and moisture on the obstacles was a big problem.

To address the point, grip is important, but not the end-all. Again, if you look at it statistically, you have about a %0.0004 chance of making it to stage 3 where grip becomes really important. Rather than focussing on grip, the focus should be on being able to keep the arms bent when hanging on an obstacle. On any uppor body oriented obstacle, people fall for one of 2 reasons. Either a technical error/flub, or they were just too weak and their arms straighten out. Once the arms straighten out, you're done. By climbing, deadlifting, rowing, pulling, swinging, etc. Grip is a byproduct of being strong.

To summarize, you need to be able to climb and transition from a controlled kip into a swing or vice versa, and muscle up, while fatigued and under pressure.

I don't really do any grip specific training. I'm of the opinion that grip training is for people who are too fat and lazy to do anything else. I will however do pullups on a fat bar, and stuff like that, and I'll mess around from time to time. But I don't dedicate specific work to training grip.

I just measured my forearms: right 14 3/4" left 14 1/4 "

Meanwhile, at Diesel Crew's headquarters.

Someone over at Diesel Crew just went Scanners on the deal and had their head explode.   Luckily, it didn't get on any of their strongman trophies, as from what I hear they don't have any.  I enjoy needling those guys for no reason at all, as they appear to be a very, very touchy lot.  I would tend to agree with you- grip specialists seem to suck at everything else.  Grip afficianados tend to do remarkably well at sports in which they have no aptitude, however, just because they can hang on to shit most people couldn't.  For instance, I've seen wrestlers with decent athleticism and unreal grip strength ruin kids on the mat, without much skill in wrestling whatsoever.  Grip is an awesome add-on, then, but hardly a good primary focus.

Hahaha, that Diesel crew line had me rolling. As I alluded to previously, I think grip is a result of work rather than something you attain through specific practice. But hey, if you want to be the plate pinch or captain of crush world champion, go for it. I just dislike the message targeted to weak ass beginners that you need to do grip training to accomplish whatever.

I paid my way through wrestling by swinging a fucking hammer and shoveling shit. If you want the secret to a vice-like grip, get your ass in front of home depot at 4am and become a day laborer....

I know what you're talking about, the wrestlers who suck, but are just the meanest motherfuckers ever.

Parkour- you think it's cool until you remember that it's French and involves running.

While we're waiting for the first angry missive in the comments over my Diesel Crew jokes, I might as well ask a final Ninja Warrior question- I've noticed that the parkour guys kick ass on NW until they really need strength, and for whatever reason those motherfuckers seem to think strength training is the devil.  Any idea why?  One would think that they'd see the benefit strength has on competitions like the Ultimate Banzuke and NW due to the fact that 150 lb fishermen with 18" forearms tended to win NW all the time in the past.

Very astute observation. I honestly have no idea. There are a few guys who are starting to see the light, but from my experience, it's pretty much ignorance combined with the mentality of Traceurs (practitioners of Parkour) and freerunners. A lot of these guys are pretty spazzy ADD types who can't sit still for more than 5 seconds and feel the need to jump and climb on everything they can. Most don't train in gyms at all, save for the few dedicated Parkour facilities around the country. A lot of these guys think that there is no carryover and that they will be negatively impacted  by extra weight. It's the athletic male version of "I don't want to become too bulky".

I've met Makoto Nagano, and I'll tell you what, I've never seen a thicker set of lats on anyone before. His arms are huge too, and he smokes like a chimney. Dude is a beast.

And there you have it- a 500 lb back squat is unnecessary (but probably couldn't hurt) in CrossFit and Ninja Warrior, dudes who do Parkour are actually French feminist drag kings, Japanese fisherman are hard motherfuckers, and being a Marine gives you a cancer patient physique.  If you want to check out Nate's ANW submission video, which has a hodge-podge of training footage, here it is:

If you, like I, are curious about how awesome a gym with Ninja Warrior training apparatus would be, check it out here and his new site with training advice and question answering (without all of the mocking of an Ask the Asshole) is here.  Up next will be the newest installment of Chaos and Bang, with our new cohost Jay Nera, and then back to titties and scat porn and training.  In case you're jonesing for titties, here you are:


  1. What is fucking wrong with French jamie ?

    1. Clearly you've never owned a peugeot.

    2. Well, the French did come up with quite possibly the scariest mastiff out there (Dogue de Bordeaux). They still make the best wine to eat with steak (Bordeaux). About 900 years ago, they got a modest injection of Vikings into their population.

      Other than that, yeah, they suck (and I'm of French descent)!

      They suck so bad that even Gerard Depardieu doesn't want to be a French citizen anymore!

  2. Just so you know, last Wednesdays Super Human Radio show had an interview with the great Stuart McRobert. Jamie must have missed that one, else he'd have told you all.

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