Future Fit's Paul Swainson attempts Henry Cookey's master course, the toughest challenge at his Ninja Training Gym, HC:Fit, in Liverpool.
“No one managed to complete it yet” says Henry Cookey while I take a breather from yet another exhausting obstacle.
That explains why, instead of times next to the 4 people who’ve attempted it (Henry included), there was simply the name of the obstacle they reached before it got the better of them.
However, just 4 days after my visit, the ‘Last Man Standing’ in season 3 of Ninja Warrior UK last year, Jonny Urzuly, became the first person to conquer the course. I doubt many will join him, never mind beating his time.
I always said if I opened my own gym it would just be a big open space with no machines and just a few bits of equipment – free weights and a ‘functional’ kit like medicine balls and weighted bags.
But this is a much better idea.
At HC: Fit there’s all manner of what look like metal climbing frames spread out across the floor, attached to which are ropes, bars, planks of wood and rings in a variety of inventive ways (most thought of by Henry himself) whilst there’s a net hanging from another and wooden boxes, beams and ramps that turn into vertical walls to run up. If you’ve ever seen the Ninja Warrior UK show on TV you’ll recognize many of the obstacles.
So far you’d be forgiven for thinking that ninja training is super difficult and only for the uber-elite (Henry is a former Team GB Taekwondo fighter), but nothing could be further from the truth. I think this is the future of gyms, or rather ‘fitness and activity spaces’ as the word gym itself could pigeon-hole what Henry is doing here.
Along with concepts such as trampoline parks, this is about making physical activity appealing to everyone by changing the perception of what’s required to ‘get fit’. In fact it’s more about enjoying the process itself – focusing on the means rather than the end as our industry has traditionally done for so long.
Instead of going to a health and fitness center to work out in order to lose weight, get stronger, build muscle, etc, HC:Fit is about having a go and having fun – it’s literally a playground. When you think of kids swinging from monkey bars in the park, climbing trees and balancing on stepping stones, they’re not doing it for some ulterior motive – the goal is to do the activity itself and that’s exactly how I felt as I hopped, jumped, scrambled and swung around the various obstacles.
With ninja training there’s no need to worry about targeting your triceps, wondering how to work your biceps, or fitting in some core work at the end of a workout – this is about whole-body strength, endurance, balance, flexibility and coordination. After a session here there won’t be a single part of your body that hasn’t been challenged – and all in the way it was designed to, integrated with the rest.
Like any form of training you need to begin at a level appropriate to you and aim for steady progress, but you’ll very quickly see improvements in all aspects of fitness. The way you’ll see them is through your ability to do the obstacles – you’ll manage them faster, be able to take on harder versions, and do more of them together.
I’d been really looking forward to having a go at the obstacles but wasn’t sure what to expect having not done any specific training for them (there’s a limit to what you can do in traditional gyms – exactly the reason Henry decided to set up his own place when he couldn’t find anywhere to prepare for his second attempt at Ninja Warrior UK this year).
I was pleasantly surprised I could manage some I thought would be tough, but a few attempts at others revealed my upper body strength needs some work. My forearms were on fire trying to grip the various bars, ropes and pegs but it was easy to see how just trying each obstacle for a few minutes at a time on a regular basis would lead to quick progress.
There were regressions and easier courses to try as well, so no matter what level you’re at there’s somewhere to start.
In many ways, this is the indoor version of the growing Obstacle Course Racing trend, and despite there currently only being a handful of facilities in the UK you can have a go, it’s set to become bigger and more popular in its own right.
Indeed OCR competitors, climbers and other athletes are using ninja-style training to up their own game. Henry has plans to expand HC:Fit and I for one would love to see more opportunities for people of all ages to give it a go.
I need somewhere to practice for my attempt at the master course for a start…