Rockford gym preps ‘ninja warriors’


The training space at RockFit Fitness Center for ‘American Ninja Warrior’ enthusiasts is based on authentic obstacles used on the popular television show. Courtesy RockFit Fitness Center

You no longer have to travel to Japan or Las Vegas to have a shot at becoming a “ninja warrior.” A visit to Rockford will do just fine.

Ever since “American Ninja Warrior,” a television series featuring a sports entertainment competition, first aired in 2009, America’s athletes have had a growing interest in being crowned a ninja warrior.

The show, which is a spin-off of the popular Japanese series “Sasuke,” has contestants complete a series of physically demanding obstacle courses. Whoever finishes in the fastest time wins fame and glory — and $1 million.

Now, a Rockford gym has designed its own ninja warrior course to help local athletes train to become a “RockFit Ninja.”

RockFit Fitness Center, 8830 Belding Road NE, recently transformed an approximately 900-square-foot section of its facility into a series of obstacles similar to what contestants on the show face, said Abby Petersen, gym manager and trainer.

There’s been demand for the obstacle training in the Rockford area ever since Rockford-based BridgeWay Community Church started sponsoring an event called Rockford Ninja Warrior every summer for the last three years, she said. The event is for adults, but also has a kids’ course. It has attracted American Ninja Warrior athletes from around the country who used RockFit Fitness for their preparation. 

“We (used to offer) a training course called ‘Perform X,’ and it was just a basic training course to get us ready for the Rockford Ninja Warrior, done every year through BridgeWay. They’ve done it for three years. … So we started doing just a course,” Petersen said.

In order to maintain authenticity when building its obstacle course, RockFit went so far as to use the original blueprints from the television show.

“We got the blueprints from the show. … It was like $40 to $50 — they weren’t very expensive,” Petersen said.

RockFit decided to dedicate a whole wing of the gym to “just the ninja stuff,” after Brian Pankatz, the man who oversees the Rockford Ninja Warrior event and whose son was involved in Perform X, approached RockFit staff about it.

RockFit put about $6,000 to $8,000 into creating the course, Petersen said, adding, “all the labor has been done through volunteers.”

The facility, which Petersen described as a 24-hour-access basic gym that has free-weights, machines and exercise classes, is the only gym in the area that offers this kind of course training, she said.

The course, which is open to both male and female athletes, features a quadruple step, a peg wall, monkey bars, a salmon ladder, a rock wall, and adult- and kid-sized warped walls to scale from the show. RockFit wasn’t able to build everything from the show, Petersen said, but it did take all the ideas and exercises behind the obstacles and try to incorporate something that fits into its space.

The real challenge for athletes is just making it through the course.

“I think it’s just trying to see if you can do it,” Petersen said. “You don’t think about the strength it takes to do all that stuff. It’s full body.”

Work on the RockFit Ninja course, as it’s referred to, began in fall 2015 and opened Jan. 19. The first two RockFit Ninja classes are for 5- to 8-year-olds, and 9- to 14-year-olds. The courses are $50 for a six-week course of 30-minute sessions once a week, Petersen said. Eventually, there will be adult classes, she said.

“There’s actually a pretty big demand for this in our area because we have that competition. When we put our first classes out, we maxed it out within a day. …  From there, we’re hoping to get to the point where we can do open gym hours, and people can come in and play on it — pay an open fee,” she said.

“Once it gets out there, people will come out of the woodwork. We’ve got people calling from Lansing. There’s nothing else like this around, as far we know.”

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