Ahh, summer. A time when families come together to eat corn on the cob, play wiffleball, and watch American Ninja Warrior. The NBC show has been a hit since it debuted on the network in 2012, but it’s not just for couch potatoes anymore. Ninja Warrior mania has led to the creation of training gyms across the country—including three in our area that offer classes and programs for your little ninjas-in-training. So get off your couch and head to one of these awesome options. We promise it will make your family TV time all the sweeter.
What it’s like: This 10,000-square-foot gym, tucked into the family-friendly Bradley Place, has a tagline that says it all: “Overcome. Persevere. Achieve.” The focus is on having fun and working hard, which is communicated by the coaches, who give clear, specific (and patient!) instructions to the kiddos.
What to try: You’ll want to test out everything, but the standouts are the triple warped wall (8-, 10- and 14 1/2-feet, with a 12-foot cutout), devil steps and double salmon ladder. Kids love playing Team Ninja Warrior, where they can try multiple obstacles, relay-style, at special events.
What makes it awesome: This is truly an all-ages facility, offering a soft parkour-style play area for kids as young as 2. It even has a warped wall just for the littles, topping out at 6 1/2 feet. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a preschooler take on a warped wall.)
What it offers: WCN has classes for kids and adults, plus Friday Family Fun Nights where the whole crew is welcome to ninja out together. Check the website for day-off camps (full- and half-day options), open gym times and birthday party info.
Who you’ll know: Coach Zak Krisciunas competed on season 8 of American Ninja Warrior.
What it’s like: Imagine a traditional lifting gym, then add some ninja equipment, and you have the Chicago Ninja Academy. The 11,000-square-foot facility in a suburban industrial park used to be a Crossfit gym until ninja-mania hit in 2014.
What to try: The 14- and 18-foot Warped Walls are always a hit, but little legs really excel on smaller apparatus like the quintuple step and balance obstacles.
What makes it awesome: I was impressed by the emphasis on the “ninja code,” which is about teamwork, respect and encouragement. There aren’t quite as many obstacles here, but the coaches improvise with ninja-themed calisthenics and smaller equipment. And while classes are for ages 5 and up, there is a small play space for younger siblings to keep busy.
What it offers: Kids are divided into age groups for their classes, where they’ll get to try six to 10 obstacles. There are also kids’ camps and birthday parties, plus classes for ages 13 and up. And for serious ANW hopefuls, there’s personal training for kids and adults.
Who you’ll know: Owner and head coach Nate Aye competed on ANW three times, and several other athletes have also appeared on the show.
What it’s like: This airy, colorful space on the edge of Ravenswood Manor was the area’s first ninja warrior gym designed especially for kids. In 2017, JNW is expanding—keep an eye out for locations in Naperville and Libertyville.
What to try: JNW has a kids’ version of the salmon ladder, in addition to other obstacles, like Cliffhanger and Cannonball Alley, that build arm strength. And my 7-year-old nephew loved the Jumping Spider (and the 8-, 10-, 12- and 14-foot Warped Walls, obvs).
What makes it awesome: When kids need to get their energy out, there’s a large gym area for basketball, soccer, floor hockey—or just plain running. Moms and dads will appreciate the snack bar with “Ninja Fuel” where they can hang while the kiddos get their ninja on.
What it offers: Classes, camps, birthday parties and open gym for kids (6 and up), and even a Ninja Competition that’s just like the show. Adult classes are also available, in partnership with CrossTown Fitness.
Who you’ll know: Manager of Course Operations Ethan Swanson made it to Stage 2 of the Vegas finals on ANW.