• Think You're TOO SHORT To Run An Obstacle Course Race? Guess Again.

Written By: Katie Purcell

It's fair to say that Australian native Kadeem Aarons is a pretty impressive athlete. Appearing on the inaugural season of Australian Ninja Warrior in 2017, Aarons was one of the first 50 to set foot on the course and made it into the semi-finals, ranking him as one of the top 90 ninjas in the country.

For those of you who are less familiar with the show, Australian Ninja Warrior gives competitors the chance to compete in a series of intense obstacles designed to test every muscle in the body, as well as overall body control. The grueling and high-intensity obstacle course includes obstacles with names such as "Broken Bridge," "Rumbling Dice," "Flying Squirrel to Cargo Net," and "I Beam Gap." Competing any of these obstacles would be an impressive feat for most of us, but Aarons got particular attention for his success on the show. Why, you might ask?

Well...did we mention he's only 5 feet, 2 inches tall??

It has been well-documented that one of the biggest barriers to registering for an obstacle course race isn't the price of the entry fee, or nerves about how to train, or what to wear on race day. The concern we have come across day in and day out is much more basic, and has been discussed in forums all over the internet. As it turns out, one of the most severe barriers to participation, is the height of the potential participant themselves! Many would-be first-timers take one look at the obstacles standard in many races including walls to scale (some as high as 8 feet) and monkey bars or other "hanging" obstacles requiring a large wingspan to traverse, and think NO WAY.  IF I CAN'T EVEN REACH THE FIRST HANDHOLD ON AN OBSTACLE, HOW COULD I EVER COMPLETE AN OBSTACLE COURSE RACE?

...This is where the 5'2 Ninja comes in. Fierce Gear OCR caught up with Kadeem and we got some great insight we think you'll dig! He shares with us the ups and downs (literally) of being an athlete of a shorter stature, why he has been able to never let it hold him back, and why he thinks being smaller can actually be a good thing in some ways. He even gives us some specific tips and tricks (and exercises) to help compensate for height on obstacles! So buckle up #FierceFam and take notes, because this is not an article you're going to want to skim!


Have you always been athletic/involved in sports? Which ones?

Yeah I’ve always been active, I played cricket and soccer in primary school and moved to more contact sports like rugby throughout my high school years. I started doing bodyweight training at around 13 years old as I was still quite small haha.

When did you get into Ninja Warrior? How did you hear about it/get involved?

I was introduced to the American version of the show in my late teens by my mum and stepdad. I wasn’t heavily into it then, but I enjoyed watching it. I saw an advertisement here in Australia for the inaugural season and applied that night haha. 

You coach people for Ninja Warrior and also obstacle course races. What do you feel are the differences between them? What makes each of them special in your mind?

    I definitely feel there is a difference...the obvious one being that us ninjas don't like water! But seriously, I think the type of obstacles is the main difference. Ninja-type obstacles are often a little more dynamic and sometimes require extra time (or very little time) to get through them. We also don't have to share the course while we are on it, which could present unique challenges to completing an obstacle if it is too crowded.

    I think Ninja Warrior is special to me because you have to do the obstacles, and get them right on your first try. There are no second chances: you either have the athleticism to complete them or you don't. I believe anyone can improve their ninja skills - you don’t have to be an Olympic or professional level athlete to get started - but you do need to do the work.

    One thing I think Spartan Race and other OCR events got right is the ability for both elite and recreational racers to do their thing. You all have great running endurance and it seems like the events can cater to so many people. I think that’s why as a sport, Spartan is becoming so popular.

    You published an article about the Top 5 Qualities for Ninja Warrior. How do you think these are similar or different for OCR?

      I think the main differences are what areas of the body the athletes have their strength and stamina in. Obstacle-wise in an OCR ninjas will probably have better grip/strength/efficiency through the individual obstacles involving upper body strength (e.,g., the Spartan multi-rig or the twister). For other obstacles like the atlas carry or Hercules hoist some ninjas might not perform as well as some of the elite Spartan athletes, as training for that type of obstacle isn't in our general training regime.



      Were you always shorter than average? (If so, when did you notice? Did you ever think it would be an issue, especially for sports?) 

      Yeah I’ve always been shorter than everybody else. I don’t remember if it worried me during high school as an athlete. I was working out years before my peers were so by the time we were 16/17, I was already quite strong for my age. I still played 1st grade rugby (the highest level in high school) on the wing (same position as American football's "wide receiver"). My height didn’t stop me scoring tries (same as a touch down) or tackling people so at the time I didn’t think too much of it.

      Were you ever teased about your height/did it affect you socially?

        I definitely got teased and still do today, but barely. I think there is a bias against shorter people, particularly shorter men, as biologically speaking a tall, powerful man subconsciously commands respect and is seen as more confident and attractive. I don’t have "small man syndrome" by the way haha...it’s just biology, and it makes sense.

        I never liked my height throughout high school or early adulthood, and I began to think maybe it would be a problem in the dating world too. I have learned to accept it, but it is only in the last few years that I have actually seen the positives.

        For example: If I wasn’t as short, I probably wouldn’t be as strong as I am. Which means if it wasn’t for my height, I wouldn’t have been on Ninja Warrior. I fit in every seat imaginable (except maybe a carseat for a baby...but if I try I’m sure I could haha). Showers are never a problem (meaning, the shower head is always high enough for me). And if I want, I can buy large kids clothes for half the price 😂😂.

        I called myself the 5.2 Ninja because, you guessed it, I’m 5’2” 😂. By making it my nickname and owning it, I take the power away from others and turn it into a positive! 

        Do you currently ever think about your height or worry it might be an issue, or is that something that you don’t even think of anymore?

          Being a ninja has taught me to accept my height, and find a way around it. Every time I stuff up an obstacle, generally speaking, height hasn’t been an issue. I think only recently have I truly believed how good I can be. I know now that all my height means is I'll have to jump a little further, swing a little bit more, and calculate distances better.




          What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages to a shorter stature in OCR? Are there any particular obstacles that might be easier or more challenging? For the obstacles that might be more challenging, what would you recommend as good exercises to work on that skill set/how to compensate?

            For me, my reach is a limiting factor. Despite my wingspan being 3 inches longer than my height, I still have to find another way to complete obstacles. My personal advantage over most ninjas is I’m stronger than most ninjas pound for pound. But that doesn’t mean my grip is stronger, so that’s something I really want to work on this year. My goal is to become strong enough to take on the final stage if I get back on Australian Ninja Warrior for Season 4, and potentially for Season 12 in America.

            I think in order to compensate, basic gymnastics and working on strength/power across your whole body is the only way: for example pull-ups, heavy squats, etc.  

            I’ll get more specific.

            Monkey Bars & Ring Swings

            One thing I’ve notice on Instagram is when Spartan athletes are on these obstacles, they tend to only use arms. If you’re taller or the bars/rings are within reach then you will reach them but if you can’t, this is what you do:

            When you have one hand on the bar/ring behind and in front of you, when you pull back, turn your body into the arm you’re pulling back and kick your legs up. This minor technique change will give you twice the power due to the increase elevation of your back swing. Hope that makes sense!

            Another move that is extremely valuable to be able to do is a laché. A laché is a Parkour/Ninja move which allows you to fly from one obstacle to another. 

            Here is a breakdown of a fixed laché (obstacle that doesn’t move):


            And Lachéing from moving obstacles: 

            As you can see, using your core and legs drives most of the power. This will be valuable if you’re stuck on something and you can’t get off it.



            Walls are always intimidating. I still hate the warped wall (more due to potential ankle injuries that are associated). So if you’re not aware, our Ninja warped wall is at a minimum 4.2m about (13.7 feet) and are now much bigger.

            The first thing about walls is commitment. You have to get over the mental barrier first. My question to you as a shorter individual who already faces everyday obstacles, are you going to let a silly wall beat you? I always say “F#@k you wall!” That’s the first thing and run hard at it.

            You need first get that mental edge so you don’t slow down approaching it. I guess with your wall, it’s straight up, so the next important thing is leg strength, particularly single leg strength.

            Here are some exercises I would start doing:

            1. Single Leg Squats: 3 x 6 reps, focusing on improving quality and depth instead of more reps

            If you are just starting out and can't get to 90 degrees yet, go as low to a box as you can control:


            If you can get to 90 degrees or lower, even better...just make sure you have control! 


            2. Double & Single Leg Calf Raises: 3 sets x 10 reps

            Start with mastering the double and gradually add weight (I prefer using a barbell):

            Once you can get to 10 reps with decent weight, remove the weight and do single leg. Then over time, add weight once you can balance properly.


            3. Weighted & Single Leg Step Ups: Aim for 3 sets x 6 reps (6 each leg) and work up to 10 over 3 weeks. When you increase weight, recycle back to 6 reps per leg. 

            Dumbbell Variation: 

            Barbell Variation: 

            You can also keep the weight the same and increase box height, which will allow the muscles to work through a greater range with the same weight, creating the overload response as well.



            When did you start your site 52.ninja.com.au? Is the training 100% online? 

              I started developing the website at the end of 2017 and went live in July 2018. Yes everything is online!

              How did you come up with the idea for the site? What had you been doing professionally before you launched? What made you decide to start a business for coaching?

                I found myself assisting my friends with prehab and assisting with managing minor injuries. I have a degree in Exercise Science and I’m an Australian certified strength coach.

                During my two seasons on Australian Ninja Warrior, I was working for a professional AFL (Aussie Rules Football) team working as strength coach/teacher in our education department and youth academy. I was also doing some assistant strength coaching at a semi-professional level with a rugby & netball team. Prior to that, I was working with high level junior AFL athletes for 2.5 years while earning my degree.

                So as you can see, all I did is coach! I realized that strength was a huge barrier to getting into Ninja so I started off by creating a bodyweight program for my friends, focused specifically on achieving your “1st Pull-Up” which is always the hardest to get. I decided to make it bigger by creating a website to house all my programs, and as a way of expressing my thoughts on how to improve performance in the wonderful sport that is OCR 😂. I decided to name the site after my nickname 5.2Ninja, because like with my own story I wanted to empower people and show them that height is not just "another obstacle." 

                What are your goals with the site?

                  My goal is empower people with the knowledge I’ve gained - and continue to gain - to help prevent injury. Physical therapy is expensive in Australia: it can cost anywhere from $80-$150 per session (and sessions are not always a full hour!), and most of our injuries are preventable. Ninja and OCR can be brutal sports and the full repercussions aren't yet understood as there has not been a lot of research into it. So I figured if I can give people the ability to take care of themselves and their bodies while pursuing these activities, I might be able to save them a ton of money (and pain)! 

                  Why do you want to help people prepare for OCR or Ninja competitions?

                    Because it’s what I do! I coach, I help people. What better way than to combine my passion for Ninja or OCR in general with my skill set?? If our joints and muscles are healthy, we get to do what we love for longer, and I want to help with that. It's as simple as that 😂.

                    Since launching the site all the members who subscribe to my programs have achieved goals they are excited about, like getting their first pull-up, building up single arm strength, and reducing shoulder pain/injuries. The clients I work with online for one-on-one coaching have also been making great progress, which makes me a very happy coach! 

                    There are a lot of people out there who are hesitant to sign up for an OCR because they think they are too short and won’t be able to complete some of the obstacles. What is your advice to them?

                    Look at it this way: when you’re shorter, you can’t cheat the movement. You can’t be lazy. It will force you to learn the best way to get through that obstacle. So you will become more efficient from a technical standpoint, whether you want to or not. Not to mention, it’s far more impressive when we smash obstacles!

                    You can’t sit there and feel sorry for yourself, because in the self-centered world we live in, no one cares. You’re short, get on with it!



                    So there you have it. Kadeem Aarons is the perfect example of the age-old saying, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight...it's the size of the fight in the dog," and we couldn't agree more. Kadeem doesn't allow his height to keep him from following his passion and he will be the first to tell you that while it might be an added "obstacle," it should never be a barrier to pursuing your dreams.


                    BONUS OFFER: Want to train with the 5.2 Ninja? Fierce Gear OCR subscribers who sign up for a year of the general membership to his program will also get access to weekly check-ins for one month free, valued at $197! Use code fierceocr at checkout. Click here to go to his site! 


                    Find the 5.2 Ninja on:

                    PS: Wanna see Kadeem's full run on Australian Ninja Warrior? Check it out! 



                    Additional Obstacle Tips For Shorter Athletes:

                    Completing Rings For Shorter Spartans (video)  Short Girl Problems (Article: posted by Lehigh Valley Spartans)
                    Best Grip For Bucket Carry (video) 8-Foot Wall Jump (video)


                    LIVE FIERCE.


                    **Shop Fierce Gear OCR**

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