We recently collaborated with Island Ninja Grant Mccartney on an exclusive 4-week training program for obstacle course racers in collaboration with Titan Fitness, the official equipment provider of Spartan.
You may already be familiar with the natural-born obstacle specialist. Mccartney is a seven-time American Ninja Warrior, a German Ninja Warrior Grand Champion, a Spartan Games competitor, and he even holds a Guinness Book of World Records title for the most consecutive flying bar jumps (which is 15, by the way). He’s also completed a handful of Spartan races and consistently makes the obstacles look like a walk in the park. (You may also be familiar with his shenanigans at the CrossFit Games with The Buttery Bros.)
Here, we chat with Mccartney to learn more about how he discovered his love for fitness, the evolution of his performance meal plan, and how he takes care of his hard-working body. Plus, what to expect in his Spartan Island Ninja Training program.
Island Ninja Grant Mccartney's Approach to Fitness, Training, and Racing
SPARTAN: How did the Island Ninja get his start in fitness?
Grant Mccartney: I ran as a kid. I was never amazing, but I liked to do cross country. I liked waking up — even in college — on a random Saturday. Instead of partying all Friday night, I would go to bed early, because I'd have a 6:00 a.m. race — a 5K for cancer, or something. I was always running.
SPARTAN: What about competing in Ninja Warrior?
GM: As a kid, I watched this show in Japan on the G4 Network. I remember there was one year that they had the two Olympians, the Hamm brothers, doing it, and I thought, I’m going to do that one day.
And, actually, a lot of my family then passed away in a very short period of time. My mom, and then, like three months later, my grandmother. Then, my great-grandmother, my dad's mom, and my stepdad all passed within about a year. That kind of reality check of the fragility of life, made me say, "Okay, well, what are the things that I always say I'm going to do?" I had this list of stuff in the back of my head, so I created that list of things that I wanted to do, and I just started doing them.
SPARTAN: How did you get into Spartan and Spartan Games?
GM: I did American Ninja Warrior, then Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge, then German Ninja Warrior, and then went to Italy to do the Guinness Book of World Records flying bars. There’s a lot of crossover there with what I do with Spartan, so I’ve done races and the Spartan Games. And last year, I did a swim under ice in Alaska with Ten Thousand.
SPARTAN: How would you describe how you train?
GM: That depends on the time of year. When I'm doing Ninja Warrior and competing, that runs from December to June, and July is competition season. And when I'm in season, it's very obstacle-focused, and that's very different from the off season. In season, I get so tired of pulling and pulling and pulling. My shoulders are rotating forward and I'm overdeveloping and hurting things, so that’s why I go into more pushing and lifting in the off season.
I like CrossFit because I like being a bigger build, and my body likes that stuff. Depending on if I'm traveling three to four or five days a week, I'll hit CrossFit — warm-up, strength, and skill — and then after, I'll do specific accessory skill or strength work, like Olympic lifting.
Grant Mccartney's Nutritional Approach
SPARTAN: What does the Island Ninja's meal plan look like?
GM: It's definitely still a work in progress. I used to eat pretty poorly, but I’ve gotten away with eating a lot of sugar and candy my whole life because I had, and have, such a high output. I basically can eat a lot of things and my body will turn it into fuel at this point, and it's great. But my biggest learning is that not all fuel is the same quality.
So, having a Snickers bar will get me through a workout, but it doesn't get me through a workout in the same way that sweet potatoes would. And I'll feel the slow breakdown of a complex carb in a heavy, hard CrossFit workout, whereas I won't as much with something I had just to make it through that last tail end or right in the middle of it.
SPARTAN: You’ve been working with Wild Heath, the precision medicine company?
GM: Yeah, I'm on with Wild Health. We've gone through all of the blood work and all of the samples and other things. They’ve given me my first focus, and it was a lot on diet. Trifecta Nutrition has also started sending me meals, but we're going to work on doing a partnership next year. That’s going to make things way easier for me, too, because cooking is a tough one — I’m not a great cook. I usually just pick up something.
SPARTAN: What would you say you learned from the Wild Health process, in terms of nutrition?
GM: We’re definitely going to focus on cleaner snacks, like an RxBar instead of a candy bar. Some protein bars are almost candy bars anyway, but anything I can do to start to slide the scale more toward healthy is a win. I also learned that my body can genetically handle carbs well, so that’s great for how active I am. However, my body doesn’t do well on fat, so we’re going to look at that more closely.
The Island Ninja's Recovery Protocol
SPARTAN: For as physically active as you are, how do you make sure you’re recovering well?
GM: I'm heavy on hot and cold therapy. If I could have the perfect setup, I'd have an ice bath, like a PLUNGE, and I'm talking in the 40-degree range. I’d be in there for five minutes, and then in the heat for 15, and I do that for three rounds.
Stretching is also crucial, and I'm learning more and more about the importance of that. I know my bad areas — my hip flexors, my legs, and my butt — so when I come out of the cold, I'll slowly move, I'll get in the heat and stretch through the heat, and then I'll get back in the cold. And when my legs are really smoked, too, I have the Normatec boots as well. That’s my ideal recovery.
SPARTAN: Can you tell us a little about the training program we’re working on?
GM: When I was writing the programming, I had written it and unwritten it. I went running, and then I went, "Nope, that's not it." I wondered, Is this really going to help people? Is this going to make them better? So, I kept rewriting it until I felt good about it, and I even asked my friend and Skyline CrossFit coach Ryan Kucish to help, because he’s worked with a lot of other Spartans.
Where we landed is a program with a lot of obstacle skills stuff, running, carries (lots of carries), and some CrossFit-style training that will translate on the course. Titan Fitness, our equipment provider, outfitted an entirely new at-home gym for me with everything from dumbbells and kettlebells to heavy slam balls, a sled, a fan bike, and more — anything and everything that a Spartan needs to get obstacle course race-ready.