“American Ninja Warrior” is more than just a hit television show. At TA Fitness in Weymouth, it’s proving to be the fitness trend the South Shore has been waiting for.Story and photos by Dan Mathers
Packed into a small corner of an industrial park building in Weymouth is a room filled with odd wooden structures with names like Devil’s Stairs, Cliffhanger and Warped Wall, which is a towering 14-foot monstrosity. This is TA Fitness, and it is a playground for ninjas.
Whether you are a fan of the television show or not, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of the phenomenon known as “American Ninja Warrior.” On NBC’s hit show, competitors balance, climb and jump their way through courses featuring insanely difficult obstacles for the chance to win $1 million.
Certified trainers Jen Lawler and Dave Cavanagh have each battled the “American Ninja Warrior” course the last two years. Cavanagh, a Hull firefighter, is one of the few people to complete the show’s qualifying course both years. Roughly a year ago, Lawler and Cavanagh opened TA Fitness in Weymouth. In half the gym, they set up an open space with fitness equipment like weights, kettlebells and medicine balls. They planned to train clients looking to lose weight and get fit. In the back half of the gym, they built obstacles – a thin strip of wood known as the Cliffhanger, where you hang and climb by just your fingertips; a Salmon Ladder, where you essentially do a flying pullup and move the bar up a notch each time; a curved but nearly vertical 14-foot-tall Warped Wall that you try to run up. That part of the gym was where Lawler and Cavanagh planned to train themselves for the show. They never expected waves of regular people to flock to their gym for the obstacles. But flock they have.
Despite the television show’s popularity, ninja gyms are still rare. TA Fitness is one of only a few ninja gyms in New England, and people come from all around to take on its obstacles. And they’re not all young, hyper-athletic, high-flying ninjas. Middle-aged guys, soccer moms and even kids as young as five come to test their ninja skills.
Like many fitness buffs a few years ago, Lawler and Cavanagh focused on lifting heavy and running. But after seeing “American Ninja Warrior” on TV, they changed their workouts completely, focusing on grip strength and endurance by hanging and climbing on anything they could find – including weight equipment and machines at the gyms where they worked out.
“We switched our workouts completely,” says Lawler. “Everyone at Planet Fitness would just stare at us like we were weirdos.”
At its core, “ninja training,” with its focus on climbing and bodyweight movement, is a more functional approach to strength and fitness, says Lawler. For example, you might be able to handle more than your body weight on a lat pulldown machine, but not be able to do a single pullup. A bodyweight exercise, such as a pullup, engages more muscles, like stabilizer muscles and your core.
“It is more real strength,” says Lawler. “There is a huge difference.”
But TA Fitness is more than just a “ninja” gym. They also have conventional classes, such as kickboxing, cardio classes and boot camps. Still, Lawler and Cavanagh try to incorporate some of that unconventional “ninja” approach into all of their classes to keep them fun and different. And, they say, that’s part of what makes it work.
“I think a lot of it works for people because it’s not going and doing the same thing week in and week out,” says Cavanagh. “I think it’s dynamic. It’s not your pick this up and put it down kind of gym.”
Beyond all the obstacles and the unconventional fitness approach, perhaps the best thing TA Fitness has going for it is its sense of community. Lawler says what she wanted most when she opened TA Fitness was a small gym that replicated the sense of supportive community she found when she began training with “ninjas.” She sees that when people at the gym clap and encourage others as they try running up the Warped Wall or climbing the Salmon Ladder for the first time.
“I wanted a community that was always supportive and there for each other,” says Lawler. “I just think that support in a small community gym is super important. And I think that’s probably what sets us apart.”
To learn more about TA Fitness, call 781-812-9232 or CLICK HERE