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The Endorphin Catalyst? Ninja Nation’s Unique Approach to Family Fitness


A look at one of the many Ninja Nation obstacles children can enjoy.

To the untrained eye, the Ninja Nation gyms look like a wild collage of red and blue blocks that belong to an unassembled playground. But amid the complex designs are multi-faceted obstacles that are simple enough for children to use, but genius in the way they focus on training and developing strength in different parts of the body. But most importantly, it’s fun to watch.

Borrowing from the popular NBC event show, “American Ninja Warrior,” Ninja Nation has taken a unique approach to fitness by instituting obstacle courses and circuits that focus more on family fun than the standard pain and gain approach. The intoxicating atmosphere, along with the bright colors and the joyous sound of children laughing, create a lure strong enough to pull families away from TVs.

“What’s cool about our culture and our atmosphere,” said Wayne Cavanaugh, founder and CEO, “is that some of the kids who don’t feel like they fit into mainstream sports can find their place here.” Aside from that, the annual fee for a membership at Ninja Nation is $189, whereas the average cost for a student athlete to participate in multiple high school sports is $302.

Ninja Nation’s mission is to create a million heroes, and the candidates to don the capes are none other than their gym’s members who wish to find the better version of themselves through guidance of Ninja Nation’s trainers.

“We came up with the 'three Es' to go about pursuing our mission of creating a million heroes,” said Cavanaugh. “Those are engagement, encouragement, and energy. Those three simple sounding themes help attract the type of people they attract to our organization and the type of experience we provide to our participants.”

Cavanaugh, who started his career in investment banking and private equity, transitioned to fitness franchising by helping build some of the best performing health and wellness platforms in the world. Cavanaugh took that experience and decided to develop something he was passionate about. He wanted to incorporate his love for youth coaching and athletics into an idea he could build upon.

The first hire Cavanaugh made was Geoff Britten, one of only three people to achieve “Total Victory” and complete all four courses of the “American Ninja Warrior” show. With Britten’s, and their head of marketing Lucas Clarke’s, help, the birth of a ninja-oriented facility came about.

What began as an assortment of idea-riddled sticky notes littered over Cavanaugh’s kitchen table in 2017 turned into three Ninja Nation locations in late 2018. With lines over a quarter mile long on the day the first gym location opened, it’s safe to say Ninja Nation's was a warm reception.

“We were blown away by the amount of attendees we had attend our grand openings,” said Cavanaugh. “If you look at some of the photos taken on the days of our openings you can see that there isn’t a inch of the floor that isn’t packed with kids and adults waiting to jump in and join what we’re doing.”

Aside from the standard open gym membership, Ninja Nation also has classes that range from private lessons and birthday party circuits to a course titled “Mini Heroes,” tailormade for 3- to 5-year-olds.

“We really wanted to drive access so people of all ages can come in and check it out,” said Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh is excited about the potential that Ninja Nation has, and where it will go in the future.

“We’ve had about 250 applications for a Ninja Nation franchise just over the past two months" since launching the franchise initiative, he said.

While expansion deals are most certainly on the horizon, Cavanaugh wants to focus on making sure the first 10-to-15 locations are as successful as the first three that opened.

“We want to go slow to go fast,” said Cavanaugh as he talked about mapping out future possible locations.

Here’s a look at Ninja Nation's facilities and some of the core values the brand strives for.


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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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