I grew up with Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
Not literally. That would have been sweet, though.
But I did spend the formative years of my childhood wondering what it would be like to be part of the Ninja Turtle team: learning from Master Splinter (aka Mister Miyagi in Rat form), sneaking around, saving the world, and eating pizza ALL DAY. Wow, did they really nail the trifecta.
In fact, I think my entire existence is a combination of the following:
With Michael Bay taking a crack at rebooting this franchise (which I’m not sold on), I thought I should at least pay homage to the original Ninja Turtles who inspired me to run around my house in TMNT pajamas, swinging plastic swords and nunchucks made out of sticks, and fighting an imaginary Shredder to help save New York City.
To go along with our other nerdy workouts (Legend of Zelda, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars), today I’ve created a workout designed to turn you into a legitimate ninja. I can’t do much about turning your skin green though.
The Ninja Turtles Workout
If you’re going to BECOME a Ninja Turtle, we need to focus on a few key things:
Strength and size are important, but they mean nothing if they hinder movement. It’s tough to be a ninja turtle if your movements and attacks are slow (and thus easy to block or dodge), so strength and power must be accompanied by an equal amount of agility.
This means we’ll be working on our mobility too. Our limbs will be our weapons…until Splinter decides which weapons fit our fighting style.
Got it. We need mobility, balance, power, and strength.
Let’s look at how we’re going to earn each of those things:
- MOBILITY: We need to be able to move freely in every direction. Kicks behind us, punches above us, cartwheels and somersaults to dodge danger, and dance skills that impress even Vanilla Ice.
- BALANCE: If we’re going to be climbing on roofs and doing backflips through mobs of bad guys, we’ll need to make sure our balance is at ninja level.
- POWER: Our focus will be on explosive movements that recruit multiple muscles and have them working in unison to accomplish a single goal: maximum force.
- STRENGTH: If we are training for strength, we will keep the reps low and difficulty high, building tight, dense muscle. We’ll be doing exercises that don’t require a gym, as you never know where you’ll be training as a Ninja.
Without mobility, our power and speed are useless.
Without balance, our attacks will leave us open to counterattack.
Thus, each workout (and every morning when not training) should begin with mobility drills to keep us limber. This is doubly important if your non-ninja responsibilities include sitting at a desk all day.
COMPLETE THE FOLLOWING MOBILITY WARM UP BEFORE TRAINING:
- Neck rolls: 5 each direction.
- Shoulder shrugs: 5 each direction
- Arm circles: 10 each direction
- Wrist Circles: 10 each direction
- Bends at the waist and touching the ground: 10 reps
- Hip circles (like you are hula hooping): 10 each direction
- Forward leg swings: 10 each leg
- Side leg swings: 10 each leg
- Bodyweight Squats: 10 reps
- Cossack Squats: 10 reps to each side
Seems like a crazy warm-up right? Depending on your current level of fitness, THIS could feel like a complete workout! The important thing is to not fly through this warm up quickly, but rather to use each movement to stretch your muscles and joints out and get them prepared to actually begin training.
If you cannot complete all movements through full range of motion, that’s okay! DO THE BEST YOU CAN.
Once you complete your warm-up above, I want you to work on your WRIST mobility. Here’s a video from Anthony Mychal (AKA my “Splinter”) doing a complete wrist and finger warm-up (which is going to help us for the next activity). Notice the killer NF T-shirt.
I realize the above seems like a tremendous amount of warm up – however, if your goal is to become a fearsome fighting machine…or even if you just want to not have your hips and joints crack every time you do anything remotely physical, working on mobility is CRUCIAL.
This Ninja Warm Up is actually the exact routine I follow each morning and before every workout. 7 months straight of intense power lifting and gymnastic work and zero issues – because I’ve focused on my mobility.
Now that we’ve completed our Ninja Warm Up, it’s time to focus on our balance.
Specifically, I want you to learn and get really good at handstands.
We’ve already covered handstands in a previous post (including a great progression for those that can’t do handstands), so I won’t go too in depth today.
Handstands are a fantastic way to build strength and endurance, both mental and physical. If you’ve ever attempted to hold a freestanding handstand perfectly still for longer than half a second, your brain must be in line with every muscle in your body.
So, after you’ve completed your warm-up, including your wrists and fingers, spend five minutes working on your handstands.
Depending on your skill, that could mean:
- Wall planks
- Handstands against the wall
- Freestanding handstands
I don’t care where you start, I just want you to start. This is one of the most difficult moves to conquer, due to it requiring strong mental will, physical endurance, and muscular strength. So, before we move onto power and strength, we must first apply all efforts into building our balance.
Looking for more? After you have completed your five minutes of practice on handstands, do 10 cartwheels in each direction, using the following as a guide:
As with Ninja Mobility above, we can complete Ninja Balance every single day too, and it is strongly recommended.
Now that we’ve completed Ninja Mobility, and Ninja Balance, we can move onto the bread and butter of the routine:
Combine speed with strength and we have the most important attribute: Ninja POWER.
This is the reason why Bruce Lee, a relatively small dude could deliver such force with a one inch punch and six inch punch.
It was strength combined with speed – thus power.
We’re going to start with a superset (do one set of the first movement, then immediately do one set of the second movement. After rest, repeat that cycle two more times).
Pick the movement that provides you with the most challenge:
- If you are new to fitness, focus on simple vertical jumps. Jump as high as you can.
- If you are a bit more advanced, do hurdle jumps. You don’t have to jump over an actual hurdle – any object that is a challenging height will do.
- If you are a true ninja, work on box jumps. Pick a height that is challenging but achievable. When you land on the box, stand up straight and then step down (don’t jump down).
Jump as HIGH as you can, really focusing on explosive vertical movement.
- Wall Plyometric Push ups (Level One)
- Hands Elevated Plyometric Push Ups (Level Two)
- Plyometric Push Ups (Level Three)
In each of these movements your goal is to LAUNCH yourself off the wall/bench/floor with such velocity that your hands leave the surface.
Here is a plyometric push up for example (from our Nerd Fitness Academy):
If this is too challenging, you can do a similar movements by doing your push ups on the side of a bench, or even against a wall.
To recap, complete 3 circuits of Ninja Power:
- 10 Reps of Jumps
- 10 Reps of Plyometric Push-ups
- 10 Reps of Jumps
- 10 Reps of Plyometric Push-ups
- 10 Reps of Jumps
- 10 Reps of Plyometric Push-ups
Okay, so now we’re warmed up, we’ve improved our balance, we’ve dumped the lion’s share of our efforts into POWER, and now we can build another crucial component of being a Ninja Turtle: Strength.
Speed is key, but only when combined with strength does its impact become exponential.
We’re going to do three bodyweight movements that are 100% focused around building a strong, dense muscle. If you’re wondering how we’re going to do that without picking up any weights, take a look at any gymnast – that muscle is built using only bodyweight movements.
We’re going to think about this in three basic ways:
Complete 3 sets of ten reps of each exercise below, and then move onto the next movement. As SOON as you can complete 3 sets of 10 reps, increase the difficulty by ranking up! The goal is to consistently up the challenge – this is what builds tight, dense muscle.
LEGS (3 sets of 10 Reps)
- Bodyweight Squats (Level 1)
- Overhead Squats (Level 2)
- Assisted Pistol Squats (Level 3)
- Pistol Squats (Level 4)
PULL (3 sets of 10 reps)
- Bodyweight Rows (Level 1)
- Chin-ups (Level 2)
- Pull-ups, pulling chest to bar (Level 3)
- Ring Pull-ups (Level 4)
- Archer Pull-ups (Level 5)
PUSH (3 sets of 10 reps)
- Push-ups (Level 1)
- Side to side push ups (Level 2)
- Divebomber Push-ups (Level 3)
- Jackknife Push-ups (Level 4)
- Handstand Push-ups (Level 5)
So to recap:
- 3 sets of 10 reps of LEGS
- 3 sets of 10 reps of PULL
- 3 sets of 10 reps of PUSH
WHEW! By the time you’ve completed the STRENGTH Portion of the TMNT Workout, you should be pretty worn out, but hopefully happy that you’ve started walking down a path towards becoming a true Ninja (Turtle).
Finish up your workout with a solid cool down stretching routine and you’ll be ready to complete this workout again two days from now. Remember, give your muscles 48 hours to recover, especially if the workout is particularly taxing!
Go Ninja Go Ninja Go
Thus concludes your ninja training for today. Here is a recap:
MOBILITY AND BALANCE:
- 5-10 minutes of warm up, limbs and wrists
- 5 minutes of handstands, 10 cartwheels in each direction
- 3 circuits of jumps and plyometric push ups
- Pick the level that matches your ability
- 3 sets of 10 reps of powerful LEG exercises (working towards pistol squats)
- 3 sets of 10 reps of PULL movements (working towards archer pull ups)
- 3 sets of 10 reps of PUSH movements (working towards handstand push ups)
- Stretch after you’re done, spending 5-10 minutes stretching out your muscles.
Complete this workout every other day, combined with your martial art of choice, and you will level up your life in NO time (and make the Monk Guild in the Nerd Fitness Community proud!)
Are there any questions I can answer for you?
Do you plan on seeing the new movie on Friday? My expectations are so low I can step over them, but I’ll most likely see it. You know, market research.
Who is the best Ninja Turtle? [The answer is Raphael, duh]
PS: If you are looking for workouts like this, along with high def demonstrations of each exercise, check out our recently updated Nerd Fitness Academy, which now has the ability for you to actually level up and gain experience by completing quests!