One of the most iconic Ninja Warrior obstacles
The salmon ladder has been a staple in both American Ninja Warrior and Ninja Warrior since it's debut in Sasuke 19. At the time, only two athletes were able to reach it, and both fell almost instantaneously. Not only is the salmon ladder ingeniously creative, but it is equally as difficult. It has gone through several versions, from it's simple one sided ladder in Sasuke 19 - Sasuke 23, to the double salmon ladder in Sasuke 24 - Sasuke 27, to it's most recent version called the swap salmon ladder in both Sasuke Rising (28) and Sasuke 29. Now, almost every competitor trains on one, yet the salmon ladder never ceases to take down competitors by the dozen. In American Ninja Warrior 5, the most recent season, the salmon ladder took out more competitors than any other obstacle in the entire third stage by far.
Did you know: There is a new version of the salmon ladder in Sasuke 28-30 called the Swap Salmon Ladder. Competitors have to do a series of double salmon ladder like gaps (in a zigzag) from one side of the salmon ladder to the other, instead of going up one side and then the other.
How to do and train for the Salmon Ladder
When I talk to ninja warrior fans, I hear time and time again how the Salmon Ladder is so difficult. They are constantly amazed at those who are able to get past it far more than they are of those who get past an obstacle like the Utlimate Cliffhanger or Metal Spin. Yet in reality, the Salmon Ladder is not all that difficult.
The reason, that this obstacle is so overestimated is because of all the technique involved. Unlike an extremely challenging obstacle like the Ultimate Cliffhanger, the Metal Spin, or the Spinning Bridge which requires raw physical strength and focus, the Salmon Ladder involves a great deal of technique in addition to a good deal of upper body and plyometric strength signature to these other difficult obstacles. As a result, the level of unfamiliarity and fear factor is far greater than any other obstacle, even those that are physically more difficult. In other words, the salmon ladder is physically easier than other obstacles on Ninja Warrior, but surpasses others mentally and in technique.
To aid in your training for the salmon ladder, we have prepared guide to teach you the salmon ladder in just 4 steps.
To make the support beam, the best way would be to make a wooden ladder and either hang it horizontally from the ceiling or nail it horizontally between two trees. That way, you can place your globes on either side of the ladder like they are placed in the show (e.g. see image at the top of this page). If this method is too difficult for you, you could just hang all your globes in a row from one beam.
Before attempting the salmon ladder, you need to have sufficient upper body strength. This means that you should be able to do at least ten to fifteen pullups. You want to continuously build up your strength until you can do forty pullups. Once you reach forty pullups, you will have enough strength for any current ninja warrior obstacle.
To train at this stage, simply do a lot of pullups. Pullups are the best exercise because they put your biceps against your own body weight much like any ninja warrior obstacle. Putting your biceps against a third party object like weights is not as useful because the only obstacle which uses third party weights is the wall lift. Pullups will also typically strengthen you without building as much muscle mass which can contribute to additional weight.
At this point, you should be ready to begin attempting the salmon ladder. What this means is that you should either build your own (check out the video above to learn how to do so), or train on one at a gym. However, in addition to upper body strength, the salmon ladder requires a certain level of plyometric ability. Plyometric means the power and speed at which your muscle fibers twitch in order to build explosive power used in actions like jumping and clap pullups. The better leg plyometrics you have, the higher and farther you will be able to jump.
The best way to build your plyometric ability is to either train by trying to make one rung on the salmon ladder or even clap pullups. Eventually you will be able to make the salmon ladder gaps, even if you are not able to hold onto the bar.
By far, the biggest problem I have faced with the salmon ladder is the fear-factor. Commiting yourself to the jump and holding onto the bar requires complete faith in your own ability. What I have found to be the only way to get rid of this fear is to keep trying the salmon ladder until you finally manage to hold on. I have stood trying the salmon ladder for several hours at a time doing nothing but trying to make a gap, reseting, and trying again telling myself I can do it.
Fortunately, once you overcome this mental barrier, you should be able to successfully complete the salmon ladder.
As with any obstacle, getting the salmon ladder once is not nearly enough. Even after you have gotten the salmon ladder, you must continuously repeat the motion again and again and again and again and again until it becomes muscle memory, and then a hundred times more. I have found the mental barrier to come back as well. One day I can easily get the salmon ladder and the next day, I found myself afraid. It took me until I repeated the motion enough times that it stuck with me.
A guidline I like to use for the salmon ladder is what I call the base 10 method. Let's say you get one rung. You want to be able to get that rung ten times over perfectly before you can begin to move on. Once you do that, you repeat the same method for the rung above. After that, you repeat the method combining the first two rungs. Then you do it with the third, the second and third, the first, second, and third, the fourth, and so on.
Once you get that down, you can try going back down. The motion is similar involving an explosive kip except there is more impact and less kip required. I find it easier than going up.
If you start to have trouble with a particular rung, it may help to go up one rung and back down five times in a row without touching your feet down. That way, you can get the rung even when fatigued.
Build the Salmon Ladder
Specifications: Height - 12 feet (depends on how many rungs you want) | Rung Spacing - 1 foot | Space between two sides - 3.5 feet | Double salmon ladder gap - 4 feet | Angle of rungs - 35 degrees | Length of rungs 4 inches
What make the salmon ladder such an American Ninja Warrior classic is that it is so easy that practically everyone has one. For the two side (or four if you are building a double salmon ladder) you can either use a sturdy wooden beam and plant it in the ground perhaps with some cement, or just use small trees like I did. You want your two sides spaced around 3.5 feet apart so you don't bang into either side. The rungs themselves can be made out of anything from small pieces of wood nailed to the tree to probably the easiest item, a thick nail (typically found at Lowe's). You want your rungs to stick out at about a 35 degree angle and should stick out about 4 inches. If you are making a double salmon ladder, the gap should be 4 feet to match the one in American NInja Warrior.
As an added bonus, you can make a pulley system for catching the bar. The main danger of the salmon ladder is the bar slipping and hitting you on the head. The best way to avoid this is to nail a beam across the two sides of the salmon ladder at the highest point and hang two ropes from that beam. The ropes should go all the way down to the first rung of the salmon ladder where it should be tied to the bar. That way, when the bar is falling, it will be caught by the rope. You can even run the ropes through a pulley, and have some weights that equal the weight of the bar (or are a little more) on the other end. This way, as you travel up the salmon ladder the weight will take the slack out of the ropes, and the bar will not fall at all if you let go and/or miss a gap.
A Salmon Ladder tutorial found on my YouTube channel