When my editor asked if I had anything on my wish list for an upcoming column, I knew exactly what was at the top: obstacle fitness. For the uninitiated, this is exactly what it sounds like: climbing things, jumping over things, crawling under things, carrying heavy things, all in the name of a good workout. It has been increasingly popular in recent years, driven by the pop culture phenomenon of American Ninja Warrior (this generation’s American Gladiators), the prevalence of obstacle runs like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, and YouTube videos of fearless teenagers doing handstands over the side of tall buildings.
I admit, I was not immune to the influence. I’ve watched many a ninja warrior attempt to traverse the Quad Steps or summit the Warped Wall and thought to myself, “Damn, that looks fun.” Even when they don’t make it, it still looks like a blast. I’ve also flirted with the idea of doing a Tough Mudder several times, without ever committing. Maybe an introductory lesson was just what I needed to convince me.
I also knew exactly where to go to indulge this fascination with obstacles: Laid-back Fitness. This Warwick fitness studio aims to be the “local authority in natural fitness and obstacle course racing” by 2020, and it seems like they’re well on their way. I had already experienced the “natural fitness” part in a previous column. Laid-back specializes in MovNat, a fitness regimen that emphasizes natural movement, i.e. running, jumping, crawling, climbing, lifting, etc. I did a personal training session with Laid-back founder Ryan McGowan in which he took me through the basics of MovNat. But I always wanted to come back and try putting it to work.
Laid-back has grown since I last visited. One half of the studio space had been more thoroughly built out into what they call “The Jungle,” an obstacle studio full of ropes, bars, platforms, mats, and everything else an aspiring ninja warrior could need. Outside the building, part of the parking lot had been annexed for even more obstacle-based fun. If the studio eventually grows to occupy the rest of the complex in which its located, McGowan would have facilities capable of training a small ninja army.
Speaking of small ninjas, I arrived just as one of the kids’ classes was finishing up. As you might imagine, any place where you’re encouraged to climb onto or jump off of most everything, and can do so safely, must be popular with children. Laid-back Fitness is no exception. A dozen or so young ninjas in training were in motion in just about every direction, all exhibitingthat kind of inherent childhood fearlessness. These kids were doing stuff adults train for months to do, and making it look easy.
After a brief warm-up that focused on – what else – natural movements to limber us up, the grown-up ninjas dove right into a circuit of obstacle training. We rotated between three stations: swinging from bars, jumping over a road block, and climbing a variety of ropes and walls. I quickly found that things weren’t quite so easy as the kids made them look – but they weren’t that hard either. Each obstacle presented its own type of challenge and its own level of difficulty, and often there was more than one level of difficulty possible on each one, but the fundamentals always remained simple: run from here to there, jump, grab onto that.
One of the things that keeps the class fun is that you’re never doing any one thing for very long. Not only does the fast pace keep things from getting boring, it also keeps participants of all fitness levels engaged with both the workout and each other. If you’re struggling with one thing, there’s no worry because you’ll be on to something else momentarily. And no one ever feels left behind. An older woman in the class struggled with jumping and hanging from a set bars, which I got the hang of (pardon the pun) quite easily. But soon we moved on to the climbing course, where she quickly shimmied across a rope while I got nowhere. We both had a blast.
It’s so much fun, you almost don’t notice you’re getting a pretty intense workout. All those things you did so easily as a kid – climbing trees, swinging across the monkey bars, jumping over fences – were working your muscle groups as well as any CrossFit class, and Laid-back Fitness will prove it to you. This was the only workout I’ve ever done that left the palms of my hands sore the next day.
I’m still not ready to commit to an obstacle race yet, but if and when I do, I know where I’ll train.
2800 Post Road, Warwick • 871-8436