Whether you’re a parent with active kids who need a challenge, a fitness enthusiast who loves watching “American Ninja Warrior,” or someone training for a career in the armed forces – building an epic obstacle course in your backyard is a great project that can take your workouts to an exciting new level and make your house the envy of the block.
Building a safe course takes lots of planning. You’ll need to think carefully about the types of obstacles you want to incorporate and draw your designs with measurements and layouts before you start. It takes time to build and customize each challenge, plus a fair amount of sweat and exertion. But if you’re determined, you can do it. There are even some kids designing and building their own courses. Let’s take a look at some tips and tricks to get you started.
Things to Consider During the Design Phase
While you’re designing your course, there are several things to take into consideration, including:
- Location. When deciding where to place your Ninja Warrior course, think about the slope of the land, drainage, shade, proximity to the house, visibility from the street, and other factors. Choose your spot carefully. You can rent compaction or landscaping equipment to move dirt, grade the land, and remove stumps if necessary.
- Zoning laws in your neighborhood. Find out if there are any restrictions on constructing the course from your local zoning authority or homeowners’ association. This can include noise, safety, and other considerations. It’s a good idea to make a few calls before you get started.
- Make sure that the entire course is on your property. If you aren’t positive about property lines, you may need to hire a surveyor to mark out the boundaries. Better safe than sorry, since you have to live with your neighbors for the foreseeable future.
- Talk to your neighbors. If your neighbors are friends and you want to keep it that way, at least let them know what’s in the works. Who knows, you may end up converting more Ninjas for the cause or at least get some help with construction.
- Size. Before deciding on what obstacles to incorporate, measure out the space available. Most backyard courses take up at least 8 x 10 x 12 feet, but you may have more or less space to work with.
Once you’ve considered all the factors above, if your epic obstacle course still seems feasible, it’s time to plot out your budget.
How Much Will It Cost?
A major consideration is how much you have to spend on your course. For the most basic materials and designs, building a ninja course starts at around $200. If you upgrade materials, frames and the complexity of the obstacles, your costs are likely to go up. For tall, multi-tier obstacles you might need to rent a boom lift or other equipment.
If you haven’t started designing your course yet, think about the purpose of the course. The skill and age of the users directly impact the difficulty of the obstacles and how much they cost to build. Once you finalize which obstacles you want to build, it’s easier to estimate the amount and type of materials you need. You can come back and tweak your budget at that point. After completing your designs for your American Ninja Warrior course, it is now time to start building the course itself.
Instructions for a Sample Obstacle
There are tons of online references for building ramps, jumps, climbing walls and other obstacles. A salmon ladder helps you build up your core and is one of the easier obstacles to design. Try out these instructions to make your own salmon ladder to develop rock-hard abs and pecks – and that’s just while you’re building it!
- Dig two holes for posts placed 3.5 feet apart and 2.5 feet deep. You can change the width of the Salmon Ladder if you want it to be larger or smaller. For authenticity, you can also duplicate the one on the show, which is 3.5 feet wide. A post hole digger is the quickest way to dig out and remove the dirt. With a little more effort, you can also substitute a small hand shovel. Make sure the posts are at least 48 meters long. Bury the posts at least 2.5 feet deep, and make the Salmon Ladder about 12 feet high, so you have plenty of room to climb.
- Anchor the posts securely into the ground. Pour cement around the base of each post. The cement needs time to dry before you take on the following steps, so refer to the instructions on the bag for how long that takes. If you can’t use cement, pack the dirt around the posts as tightly as possible and use short bits of wood to brace the posts on all sides. For best results, the wood braces should be two feet long and placed at a 45-degree angle against the post. During this process, make sure one end of the wood rests on the ground and nail the other end to the post.
- Nail rungs into the posts in 1-foot intervals. Angle the rungs 35 degrees from the posts and let them stick out four inches. This matches the regulation spacing on the American Ninja Warrior course. If you’d rather work your way up to that, space them a bit closer together. The first rung starts at four feet and can be made of wood blocks or long nails. Remember, the material has to be strong enough to hold your weight.
- Mount a long metal bar on the rungs to practice on your new Salmon Ladder. To test out your masterpiece, use your upper body strength to advance the metal bar up the post rung by rung. Hint: the move involves a series of pull-ups and jumps. If climbing the Salmon Ladder is too ambitious to start, then use it to practice pull-ups and work your way up to Ninja status.
Other Easy-to-construct Obstacles
Here are a few obstacles chosen for overall fitness benefits, availability of online instructions and ease of construction. If you have a favorite obstacle, make sure it will fit in the space you’ve allocated to your Ninja course and get creative. Remember to be safe and work with blueprints to ensure your safety as your build your workout stations.
- Rope Climb and Pole Grasper. This obstacle combines the pole grasp and rope climb challenges, both popular on the American Ninja Warrior competitions. This skill places extreme pressure on the upper body, resulting in a super-cut physique. Competitors first hold onto one pole above the ground and swing up to the next level. Then, they climb a rope to the top of a platform. This skill builds up the upper arms, forearms, shoulders, and grip strength.
- Quad Steps. Quad steps are one of the most fun obstacles that can easily be scaled to different ability levels. You bounce from one platform to another in a test of balance and coordination. The zigzag pattern can be a bit disorienting until you get used to it, so proceed with caution.
- Obstacle Racing Structure. This station is easiest to make using fittings and pipe. Wood is attached to the reinforced frame, creating platforms. Contestants run along the structure, typically placed between two vertical obstacles.
- Cargo Net Climb. Another obstacle that American Ninja Warrior uses to challenge contestant’s balance and coordination is the cargo net climb. The cargo net climb has contestants climbing up, over, and under a cargo without falling.
Have you seen the viral video of the 5-year-old Lylah MacCall powering through a course her Dad made while her stuffed animals look on? Even if you’re building the course for yourself, you might find when you’ve finished that your kids want in on the fitness bonanza. The next generation promises to be just as fitness conscious as you are, and there’s reason to believe that complete body fitness is just as beneficial to kids. Sit down for a family powwow and see if you can incorporate scaled down versions of the obstacles in your design.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Choose obstacles that let kids swing, jump, swing and climb easily from one station to the next.
- For older children, let them help plan and build the kid-friendly portion of your course.
- Fire up the cameras. With thousands of videos circulating about gung-ho little ninjas owning it on the obstacle course, your kids are going to want footage of their victories. (You can sneak in some bloopers when they aren’t looking.)
Proud parents have put videos online for constructing and using courses for kids. Research the following skills to help you narrow down the obstacles for your own customized obstacles course.
- Wooden quintuple steps
- Olympic rings
- Slackline tightrope walks
Now that you have an overview to inspire you, what will your course include? This is a great summer project to bring together the whole family and keep everyone fit.