Did you know that we have a Ninja Warrior in the Swing Kingdom family? It’s true! This past year, Swing Kingdom formed a partnership with Josh March, obstacle course racing (OCR) athlete and American Ninja Warrior contestant. He’s been one of the inspirations behind our new Fitness Play Center and many other fitness play obstacle add-ons yet to come. Josh took the time to share the details of how he got started in OCR competitions, his Ninja Warrior experience, and why he thinks fitness play activities are great for all kids!
How did you get started with obstacle course races? What is involved in the training process?
My very first OCR was the Warrior Dash in the Pocono Mountains. Our gym took a large group of people on a bus and I immediately fell in love with the sport. I liked that there were so many unknowns and people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. I loved the camaraderie displayed by all the participants and, finally, the festival and party after! Everything about it spoke it to me. As someone who had been a part of many different sports teams but never really found my niche, I thought I may have found it here.
I was fit enough to keep up and felt my military background fed into the obstacle portion of the races. All I needed to work on was the running. The training process is actually pretty complex. I personally believe that OCR requires the most well-rounded athletes. You must be able to run – fast and long distances, flat and up mountains. You must be able to climb, swim, jump, crawl, carry, etc. So training requires all of these things. I strength train a couple of times a week, run at least three times per week (road, trails, track), I do HIIT, and I climb on everything I can at every opportunity!
Are there qualifications for these races?
This is the great thing about OCR… most of the races are designed to include everyone! In fact, in the last two years, both of my parents have joined me for their first OCR! All walks of people can run side by side. That being said, most major race series have competitive/pro/elite waves. Typically the first wave of the day includes those participants who are out to win the race and often a cash prize. But again, in most cases, anyone can enter these elite waves.
When you get to the highest levels of OCR competition there are strict qualifying criteria. For example, the OCR World Championships may require a top 10 finish overall or a top age group finish at a qualifying race event. These criteria can be found at www.ocrworldchampionships.com
What was your American Ninja Warrior experience like?
The ANW experience was unbelievable! It had a little bit of everything… the suspense of waiting for the call, absolute hysterical excitement once I got the call, then lots and lots of nervousness, and even more once I climbed the steps in Cleveland. But then there was also the awesome feeling of love. Everyone at the gym was pulling for me, many people in the community were supporting me, and, most importantly, my family and friends were by my side, cheering me on, and making me feel like I’d won it all before I ever even climbed onto that first step. I knew that no matter what happened that night it would be one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. And, it was one of those rare moments where you actually feel like you’ve reached others and made them proud to know you.
When I jogged up those steps and waited at the starting line I never expected to be as nervous and shaky as I was! I had presented to hundreds of people at national fitness conference, I starred in a home exercise DVD, I had competed in numerous OCR events, including the World Championships, but nothing prepared me for the lights, cameras, and all eyes on me! I did the only thing I knew to do; I looked upward and said a quick prayer. Then I talked to two close friends that had passed over the years (one very recently at the time), asking them to watch over me.
Then it was time to go! I was still like a deer in the headlights and my knees were shaking when I took on the floating steps. It wasn’t pretty but I just wanted to get past the first obstacle… and I did. Suddenly a calm came over me and the lights and cameras went away. I wish I could say that this lead to me crushing the rest of the course. Sadly, I cannot. I put up a good fight and truly believe I was capable of defeating every obstacle there that night, but it wasn’t meant to be. After the Rolling Log, I made one misstep on the Razor’s Edge (a new balance obstacle) and made a Superman leap to the platform. Unfortunately, my momentum carried right off the platform flipping down to the street below. Thankfully, I was unharmed but my night was over. I enjoyed the post-run interview and the fans cheering for me.
Most of all I was, and I am, thankful for the incredible experience! One that most people never get. I think that if I am invited back I stand a much better chance now that I know what to expect and have those first-time jitters out of the way. Regardless, if I get another call or not, this will go down as one of the coolest and most special experiences of my life.
How did you get involved with Swing Kingdom? We noticed the Fitness Play Center in your backyard!
I found out about Swing Kingdom through a friend (and mother of my godsons) who had recently installed one of their swing sets in her backyard. It included an 8-foot warped wall. Being an OCR athlete and having submitted to ANW, this immediately caught my eye and I had to know where they got it! I never saw anything like it and certainly never heard of a swing set/playground company making Ninja obstacles.
Once I found out who they were, where they were, and what they were about, I was really excited. Here was a great company focused on getting kids active through play, right in my own backyard! I had been searching for a sponsor and was looking for something different than the usual supplement company. I wanted something I could stand behind with no reservations and with full integrity. This was that opportunity.
I approached them, shared my vision, and heard theirs. Both sides knew it was a natural fit. We knew that together we could promote healthy lifestyles in kids through physical activity disguised as play. The rig in my backyard is something my dad and I built last year. It currently features over 10 different obstacles (from Salmon Ladder to Peg Board) in a modular design. I needed a place to train on obstacles that I couldn’t find anywhere else. So we made it ourselves. Now I have incredible obstacles manufactured by Swing Kingdom in my gym and I am working with them to design even more.
What’s your favorite part of being a dad and godparent?
I can’t name just one favorite part of being a dad and godparent. It is the most rewarding thing in the world! Before my daughter (EmmaJane), my wife (Erin) and I became the godparents of two amazing little boys who had just lost their father. Being able to step in and share a part of their lives changed my own life. It gave me a new sense of purpose and a greater understanding of love. Many people are godparents, but when those children lose a parent, you realize just what it means to be in that role as it takes on a deeper meaning. I believe this helped prepare me for fatherhood… as much as anything could anyhow!
Being a dad made me a different person. I no longer think about how things affect me, but now how it affects us and the example it sets for my daughter and godsons. My OCR career and Ninja Warrior appearance are not just cool experiences for them, but also examples of what can be done if you work hard, take chances, and refuse to give up. All three of these kids mean the world to me and help keep me going… especially when they are on the sideline or at the finish line.
What’s the best way to motivate kids and keep them active?
I don’t think there’s one best way for every kid, but from my experience, it seems like most kids like to have fun. That’s the goal of this kind of fitness – to get them active through fun and play. As adults, we tend to think of physical activity as exercising in a traditional gym with machines and weights, but it doesn’t have to be! Playing Ninja for an afternoon can do just as much, if not more.
Ever see the original Muscle Beach? It is rings, bars, ropes, etc. It wasn’t until Arnold and the like came along and convinced everyone to isolate muscles with machines that the new Muscle Beach and the big box gyms were born. And then we started sitting to work out. Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Get your kids outside running, jumping, climbing, and playing. This is some of the most functional exercises you will ever find (and is essentially the basis for OCR and ANW).
You’ve dealt with injuries in the past. How did it impact your training? How would you encourage others to overcome setbacks?
For me, this is one of the hardest things to deal with. Injuries always hurt physically, mentally, and emotionally. They never come at the right time. Sometimes they are smaller, like a pulled hamstring that kept me off the track for a couple of weeks last year. And sometimes they are much worse. In 2017, I had a season-ending injury. I tore my rotator cuff, my biceps tendon, injured the labrum in the shoulder, and did other residual damage that required several screws, a biological patch, months of physical therapy, and 9-12 months of recovery (which I am two months into as of this interview).
This was a potentially career-ending injury. But, when you face adversity, you have two choices. You give up or you dig deep and focus on the comeback. It is tough to take the time off but rest is what is needed and staying focused on the big picture is what is most important. Most athletes will get hurt at some point. The ones that are remembered are those that overcome adversity. For me, the kids keep me going. I need to show them that you can overcome even when it is tough. Stay focused, stay positive, stay faithful.
Can you tell us about your emPower Training Systems and the Sparta Exercise Program?
emPower is a personal training studio specializing in fat loss and body transformation. We believe in functional training that utilizes every muscle in the body and incorporates metabolic resistance training to burn fat, build lean muscle, and improve movement. Angela Myers (my co-owner) and I met six years ago when we were both frustrated with lack of such facilities in our area and set out to do it ourselves. Once we discovered that we were both seeking the same thing we joined forces to create what we have today.
The Sparta Exercise Program was initially created 10 years ago in an attempt to drive more men into group exercise. The program eliminated some of the things that kept men away from typical group exercise – choreography, softer music, pink dumbbells – and introduced a raw and gritty high-intensity program that pumped hard music and a delivered a class with an edge. The result? The most popular class the club had ever seen. I went on to record the Sparta Home Exercise DVD and to license the Sparta Group Exercise program to other clubs.
So what’s the secret?! It’s simple… muscle overload, movement in multiple planes, and multi-joint exercises. By using weights, objects, and your body to move through 3-dimensional space (rather than just up and down or side to side) you get a muscle building/fat burning routine like nothing you’ve ever experienced. You will spend less time than you would running on a treadmill or lifting traditional weights and get better results. Functional training promotes multi-planar movement and exercise in multiple planes requires more muscle activity, recruitment of assistance (secondary, smaller) muscles, improves balance, and promotes higher thermogenic effect and calorie burn. It also makes everyday tasks easier, improves quality of life, and, best of all, it is fun!
Your speak at schools and other events. How did you get involved with this and what are some things you mention in your talks?
I started my speaking career after the success of the Sparta Exercise Program. I was asked to present at national fitness conferences in Philadelphia and Chicago. I talked about the program, the benefits of functional training, how to modify and adapt exercises to all clients, and the future of exercise. This led to a speaking engagement at Carnegie Mellon University on the same topics. Following my OCR success and run on ANW, a local school and a local business reached out to have me speak to and inspire their students and employees. Any chance I get to pay it forward is something I can’t pass up! Speaking at the school to hundreds of elementary school kids excited to meet a real-life “Ninja” and hear what I had to say was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Here I talked about the importance of exercise and how to exercise through play. But also about proper nutrition, self-care, and, of course, education. I finished with a few minutes of highlights to show them how I “play” and what it can lead to!
What advice do you have for someone just starting out with obstacle course races?
First and foremost, HAVE FUN! This is the most important thing about OCR. It is fun! It is something not everyone does and it gives you a special sense of pride. Even if you move on to a competitive level, don’t forget to have fun. Secondly, start small. Run an open wave at a shorter and “easier” course. Once you do it, I promise, you won’t forget it. And chances are it won’t be your last!