Creating an American Ninja Warrior Unit for PE

By Laura E. Bruno posted 10-17-2017 14:24


Creating an American Ninja Warrior Unit for PE

Before teaching at the university level, I was a health and physical education teacher for eight years. In my experience, in order for students to desire to be physically active outside of school, effective instruction in physical education and a good amount of creativity and innovation are needed!

In recent years, a string of shows that focus on health, fitness and dance provide a unique opportunity for promoting both the fun and fitness components of physical education. Shows like Dancing with the Stars, The Biggest Loser, and Celebrity Fit Club have inspired viewers and encouraged many to pursue healthier lifestyles.  NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, which debuted in 2009, continues to gain in popularity among people of all ages. It shines a positive light on physical activity, showcasing that being active is cool, daring and exciting!

The show inspired me to create my own obstacle-themed unit for PE students. I believe that exposing kids to units that are based on current trends is a sure way to get them engaged to move and ultimately work toward achieving SHAPE America’s National Standards & Grade Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education.

National Standard 3 is the foundation of my unit, as students tackle a series of obstacles to earn the title of “PE Ninja Warrior.” Standard 3 notes that the physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.

Six Steps to Create a PE Ninja Warrior Unit



  1. Complete an equipment and space analysis
    Begin in your equipment closet to see what can be used to create obstacles. Think outside the box, but above all, value safety. For example, Bosu balls can double as quintuple steps as seen above. If Bosu balls are not available, use triangle mats or poly spots. Try to visualize uses for varying size/weight balls, cones, rubber chickens, etc. Also look at the lay of the land. Try to visualize how and where you can include obstacles that will make the most sense for your space. 
  2.  Get Buy-in from Students
    You’ll want to build up the hype. Have conversations about the TV show. Discuss past competitors and obstacles, and identify how these obstacles tie into the objectives of the National Standards you’re aiming for students to achieve. Help students connect the dots between competitor successes and the health-related and skill-related components of fitness. 
  3. Chose Obstacles Wisely
    Select skills that will be incorporated in your obstacles, but focus on functional movements that will teach to Standard 3. Our goal is to encourage students to achieve a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness, so the skill/obstacle selection should emphasize this. Select obstacles that test agility, speed. Expose students to these skills early on and give them ample time to practice the skills and overcome the challenges they may come across.
  4. Focus on Inclusion, Not Exclusion 
    Identify how you will run the program. This can range from personal improvement or personal best, to a team competition. Decide if students will work together in a team and select one obstacle each, or if students will move through the course working to improve their personal time or reps for each challenge. However you run the unit, the focus should be on including all students, as opposed to eliminating a student if he or she struggles with an obstacle. 
  5. Recognize Students’ Efforts While Record Keeping
    Develop a safe and effective means of recording and logging times. Students will develop a sense of determination and competitiveness.  Identify a means of record keeping that will honor their efforts.  Determine if teams will keep track of their own times or if you will.  You’ll also want to create a document to record these times to show growth and improvement. 
  6. Have Fun
    This is probably the most important step. As you create your unit, keep fun as the cornerstone.  Your students will feed off your energy.  Bring all the bells and whistles and watch the excitement as they attempt to win the title of PE Ninja Warrior!

Remember, the goal of this unit is to improve the fitness levels of all students and to do so in a way that encourages them to set personal goals while having fun. And our job as physical educators is to promote physical activity by creating an environment where students find enjoyment while being physically active. The PE Ninja Warrior unit bridges this gap, bringing about a revived energy and excitement to fitness!

As my students participated in these challenges, the energy throughout the school became contagious.  Students challenged themselves, pushing their mental and physical limits. I witnessed students encourage one another and cheering each other on as they reached and surpassed their personal goals. As limits were pushed, students’ self-esteem grew. It was a beautiful thing to watch unfold!

You can read more about how to create this unit and find a sample program in SHAPE America’s November/December, 2017 Strategies issue. The article is called “PE Ninja Warrior: Designing an American Ninja Warrior Unit for Physical Education.” Now go and help students discover their inner warrior!

Photo caption: student using quintuple steps.




10-23-2017 16:35

I am currently a senior at West Chester University and I love this idea!!! I could see kids dying to participate in an activity that makes them feel like they are an America Ninja Warrior. I could be something that they stick with throughout their lifetime; it would give them a big goal to work towards. I would want to excite them by interviewing them like they were a participant on the show. You could do so many things with this because they could start out as an individual and then work towards working with team. Love this! Thank you for sharing.

10-23-2017 09:55

Can anyone comment or share innovative ways you include current trends in your PE classroom?