Functional Strength and American Ninja Warrior

A couple of weeks ago, I caught that show American Ninja Warrior....I typically don't watch shows like that, but since I was flipping through, I stayed on it to see just exactly what this show was about. And to my surprised, I sort of got hooked. In case you don't know, it's modeled after a Japanese TV show where competitors try to negotiate four obstacle courses using their athletic prowess and strength. It is billed as the world's hardest obstacle course. 

A Washington Post columnist and critic recently wrote an essay on the show and how he got hooked on it as well. He writes:

"One thing we don’t see enough of on TV is failure, which is curious, because failure seems to be all we talk about....So who would watch a television show where the winner could very well be . . .nobody?This fact alone may be my favorite thing about the gloriously fun and mentally absorbing “American Ninja Warrior,” the U.S. version of a Japanese obstacle-course competition."

And only three competitors--ever---since the show's inception, have completed the course, and they were all Japanese contestants. No American has ever finished the four stage obstacle course. And while the Post critic got hooked on the idea of so much failure, I sort of got into it because of the fitness level of the contestants. I noticed that the big muscled, massive guys, didn't necessarily fare any better than these leaner, rock climbing types. In fact, it seemed that the leaner types did much better. Interestingly enough, a lot of the contestants had background in parkour, or acrobatics, some had gymnastics or rock climbing backgrounds. And all of that is functional strength. I'm sure there are probably various definitions of just what functional strength is, but I take it to mean the application of the strength and power that you have. It's like what Bruce Lee had in mind; he didn't weight train just for the sake of getting massive or ripped. He lifted to improve his strength and power in the application of his martial arts. Or how former baseball player Brady Anderson did 200 pound squats on a stability ball. I even read that Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn does nearly the same amount of weight for squats on a stability ball. 

I previously posted about weight training and all, but I find it really kind of fascinating to see how other sports or recreational exercises can help you gain strength, and to a degree some size, without any weight lifting. Gymnastics comes to mind. How do all those male gymnasts get those huge deltoids, those lats, those forearms, those biceps, without it? Well, it turns out they do a lot of bodyweight exercises. The biceps are developed because of all the straight arm leverage work they do on the still rings, eg, the iron cross position on the rings, and moving the body without the benefit of bending the arms joints. 

Anyway, one of the contestants, was Derek Nakamoto, from Walnut, CA. This was his first attempt at the obstacle course and he posted the fastest time for stage one. Last night, being the number one ranked, he was only something like 3 out of some 25 contestants to make it past the middle of the course for stage two but unfortunately he didn't complete stage two and was eliminated. Only one contestant actually finished stage two. But big props to Derek for getting that far. 

It sounds like Derek embodies the Alpha Asian mindset. According to an article in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, he's a senior industrial engineering student at Cal Poly. In high school, he was on the wrestling, water polo, and swim teams. And later at Cal Poly, he got into parkour to expand his athletic skills. This won't be the end of Derek's attempt at the obstacle course known as Mt. Midoriyama. He says he intends to be back and competing in 2013. Here's a young Alpha Asian challenging himself and pushing himself to do new things. I wish him well and hope he gets into the national finals in 2013.

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