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Longmont business spotlight: Warrior Playground, where fun and fitness are extreme

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” the website states. Rather, “we grow old because we stop playing.”

Does the thought of exercising cause a knot to form in the pit of your stomach? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80%of Americans do not get enough daily exercise. 

The aversion to movement is understandable — especially during a pandemic. However, not moving enough can result in serious health risks, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to Hopkins Medicine. To change the status quo and help residents enjoy getting active, Sam Banola — longtime athlete and personal trainer — founded Warrior Playground in 2016. 

Warrior Playground, 33 S. Pratt Parkway, is a gym for ninja warrior training and obstacle course racing. Inspired by the "American Ninja Warrior" television series, the gym strives to offer fun and friendly exercise for kids of all ages — including adults.  “We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” the website states. Rather, “we grow old because we stop playing.”

Clients vary in age, as well as skill. Because of this, the type of training “ninjas” receive can vary.

“We have seen amazing results from the very basic skill development all the way to helping dozens of athletes qualify and many place in the top 10 in the country,” Banola said. Of course, the most important goal is to help families, he said. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Warrior Playground had to halt its family and kid classes. However, “some families still come during open gym,” Banola said. “One father and daughter work out together all of the time. They’ve been doing that for a long, long time.” 

In the video testimonial below, a boy named Ethan Cash displayed exceptional improvement after working with Banola at Warrior Playground. His parents explain, “Ethan has some delays in terms of his balance and coordination, so he’s always been interested in doing sports but we’ve never been able to find a good fit for him.” After attending a ninja warrior training camp, Ethan insisted his parents build a course in their backyard. A simpler solution was to enroll the aspiring athlete in training at Warrior Playground.

Banola spent an hour assessing Ethan’s needs, then shared a training plan with his parents.

“Sam has a great way of breaking down very simple tasks into step-by-step instructions, which Ethan needs,” said Shaun Cash, Ethan’s father. “He’s like a drill instructor but is also very patient.”

According to Ethan’s parents, improvement has been increasingly evident. At the last yearly checkup for Ethan, the doctor was reportedly “blown away” by his ability to stand on one foot, which he had never been able to do. “He asked what we were doing,” said Jess Cash, Ethan’s mom.

Ethan is one of many who has benefited from the innovative exercise offered at Warrior Playground. As Banola expressed via email, not all kids feel comfortable or confident participating in regular sports. Therefore, fun and challenging obstacle courses can be a game-changer when trying to ensure they get enough exercise.

An important lesson Banola instills in Warrior Playground participants is the lesson of failure. In the video below, a flop by one of his “best” ninjas is played on loop. “I want to teach the philosophy of failure, so kids aren’t afraid of failure,” Banola says in the video. “Athletics for myself shaped my entire life. I would not be where I am today without getting involved with the sports I did.”

“I want to provide an activity here for kids that are sometimes afraid of regular sports. When I got into sports, I built a lot of friendships, I built my self-confidence up, and for every milestone I hit, I ended up feeling more and more confident. I pretty much felt unstoppable at one point. So, if I can teach those kinds of lessons to the kids I work with, and teach them skills like balance, speed and strength (as well as sportsmanship) … then I really feel like I’m running a successful business because it is helping somebody else in a great way.”

Banola, who has been an athlete and personal trainer for more than 25 years, considers Warrior Playground to be an “ultimate dream.” 

“There are plenty of brilliant minds out there who have run amazing businesses. If you look at the underlying scene at most of them… for you to be truly successful, you have to be happy. And, I couldn’t be more happy doing this,” he said.

“You see smiles on people’s faces when they walk in the door every single day, nearly every single time. Beside the business aspect of it, I love doing this stuff myself. I’ve been in fitness a long time, weight training over 30 years and coaching people for over 25 years. I’ve been doing it for a while. Personal training is cool ... but ninja training, coaching people for Spartan races, building confidence in kids and adults, and helping them achieve goals is very rewarding.”