Angela Gargano: Real Life Ninjas and the Pull-up Revolution (Podcast)

Angela Gargano has a lengthy career in fitness, going from college gymnast to Miss Fitness USA and most recently a standout athlete on “American Ninja Warrior.” Angela joins us in the BarBend studio to talk about her approach to training explosiveness, overcoming injury on national TV, and why she’s on a quest to get everyone better at pull-ups.

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao talks to Angela Gargano about:

  • Being a muscular child through gymnastics — and dealing with bullies (1:50)
  • Angela’s athletic background (3:30)
  • What people don’t tell you about being an athlete in college (4:15)
  • The other side of “fitness” competition (5:05)
  • Winning Miss Fitness USA (8:30)
  • Getting cast on “American Ninja Warrior” (10:00)
  • Coming back from injury on live national television (12:45)
  • How Angela’s injury was incorporated into the American Ninja Warrior production (13:45)
  • What does “ninja” training look like? (16:20)
  • How can you train for surprise obstacles (18:00)
  • Training explosiveness (19:30)
  • Tips for people interested in trying “ninja” sport for the first time (20:49)
  • What base level of strength do you need to have before giving ninja a try? (21:48)’
  • People Angela admires in her sport (23:50)
  • Angela’s quest to get more people their first pull-ups (26:40)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

 

 …being on stage. I’m definitely not the strongest ninja for sure, but I’m good at being in front of the audience being on stage and being able to get myself mentally prepared for that. You have to be mentally ready to get through the courses.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today I’m talking to Angela Gargano, an athlete and fitness instructor based in New York City.

 

She’s the winner of 2016’s Miss Fitness America Contest and a three-time American Ninja Warrior contestant. If you’re unfamiliar with those, they are very different competitions across different sports.

 

Angela and I also talked today, about competing on national television, mastering bodyweight training, how American Ninja Warrior contestants actually train, and why she’s so passionate about getting people their first pull-ups.

 

Also, I want to take a second to say, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this show. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.

 

Angela Gargano, thanks so much for joining us today. I do have to thank you for wearing long sleeves. This is a recorded podcast on film. Whenever I sit next to you, I get really self-conscious. I need to wear tighter sleeves or wear something to cover-up. I do appreciate you not giving me that complex right now. It’s very thoughtful of you.

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

Got you

David TaoDavid Tao

I do have to ask, is that something you get a lot when you wear tank tops or short sleeves? Do people just randomly ask you that?

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

It’s so many people. I’ve literally had people come up and grab my arms…

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s a violation of personal…

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

…which is definitely, personal space issue.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah.

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

I’ve had people grab my arms. I’ve had people come up to me being, “Oh my God, I want your arms.” I’ve also had, when I was growing up, I got made fun of all the time for my arms. So, I used to hide them all the time actually.

David TaoDavid Tao

You have a background in gymnastics, have your arms always been so muscular?

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

Yeah. When I was younger, my arms developed pretty quickly for gymnastics. All the boys in school would be like, “She’s a man, she’s got man-arms.” I would just cry all the time. I’d be always wearing sweatshirts to cover them up. I know, crazy. My mom used to tell me like, “It’s a 100 degrees out. You need to take the sweatshirt off.”

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] You were worried about your health from heatstroke right now.

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

Yeah, and I was like, “I can’t take the sweatshirt off, they’re going to make fun of me.” I remember my teacher being, “When you get older, you’re going to realize how grateful you are to have arms like that.” I was like, “I don’t know about that.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

All those boys making fun of you are now signing up for your pull-up program, because they’re trying to build some pythons.

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

 

Oh, probably. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

It is always interesting because we actually met at a fitness industry dinner and you can normally identify people, like I’m always a little schlubby. I come from more of a weightlifting background, I don’t necessarily look a particular way.

 

It’s always interesting you can always spot the ex-gymnasts. You can always, because they have fantastic biceps. You can always spot the powerlifters, if their jeans are ripped, or their quads are busting out or something like that. It is always interesting, I try and bucket people. But for you, I didn’t know if it was CrossFitter, gymnast.

 

Do you actually have a lot? I’d love if you could tell our listeners a little bit about your athletic background, and some of the contexts that you’ve had competing across a lot of different sports now?

 

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

It’s crazy now, because when people are like, “Oh, what have you done?” I’m like, “I guess I’ve done a lot now.” That’s pretty crazy. I made a little bit of everything. I started off as a gymnast. I was a college gymnast, I did all four years. I did hurt myself in that time, so I had a year, was a little bit awkward, which is fine.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

But that’s what you were, that was your sport in college. That’s what you went to college to do.

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

It’s my sports, yeah. I went to college for gymnastics. Went to Rhode Island College to do Division III gymnastics. I like Division III because you get to start, you don’t have to wait, sit on the bench at all. It’s a really tight-knit community. It’s really nice.

 

I started with that and then I graduated college. What people don’t tell you, as an athlete in college is that, they don’t prepare you to not have a coach anymore, they don’t prepare you not to be in a team anymore. They just assume that you know how to work out, but we don’t know how to work out.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I didn’t even assume that. I assumed, I just didn’t know stuff. I can see, I can see that, yeah.

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

 

People are like. “Oh, you go to the gym all the time, you probably work out.” I’m like, “I’m actually get really bored in the gym.” I am bored and I don’t know what to do myself. I miss flipping, I miss my coaches’ yelling at me, what do I do?

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’m really good at following instructions in the gym, is what I’m good at.

Yeah, exactly. It was really an eye opener to me. I just tried to look for something else to fill that void, I didn’t have for me. I was searching around and I saw fitness competitions. What I saw was a fitness competition where I could still flip, so it wasn’t just like bodybuilding.

David TaoDavid Tao

 Let’s give people some context here. We say fitness competition and a listener of the BarBend Podcast may think, “Wait, functional fitness, like off-brand CrossFit.” But fitness competition, what you’re talking about, what we were seeing eight, nine years ago, when you said that, is something different. Give people a little context as to what that entails.

Yeah, so it’s a little bit different. Everyone also thinks that bodybuilding, and stuff like that, is just going up and posing and showing all your muscles, which, yeah, there is categories like that. You are kind of doing that.

 

This was a little bit different because you actually have a three-minute fitness routine that you have to do. It’s like a gymnastics routine except it’s a mix of acrobatics. It’s a mix of strength. It’s a mix of dancing. You’ve got a whole slew of stuff in there, which is crazy.

 

I was like, “This will be a great little challenge for me.” I’d also never tumbled or flipped on hardwood floor. It was always like a gymnastics floor, so I’m like, “All right.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Oh, those aren’t sprung floors on fitness competitions?

No, we’re on a concrete like…

David TaoDavid Tao

Oh, I just assumed they were like a gymnastics floor. Oh, wow.

No. I had to really learn how to take everything there and also learn how to be more of a performer because in gymnastics it is about the skills. This is a performance. You want to show all the stuff. You want to look to the judges, have this interaction on your face.

 

After that, you do your routine for three minutes, you hop off the stage, and then you throw a quick little bikini on obviously, after. Then you get on stage, and you have to do posing to show your muscles, be all tan and all that stuff.

David TaoDavid Tao

But you have a nice pump going on after the routine?

Yeah, totally.

David TaoDavid Tao

The posing’s always after the routine?

Yes, after the routine. You don’t do it back to back, so you have a little bit of lag time in between that. You have to go out, and they gave me a pair of stripper shoes, and they’re like, “You’re going to walk in these.” I was like, “I’ve never worn heels in my life. I’ve always been an athlete.”

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re like, “This is the opposite of what a gymnast does.”

Yeah, but I actually got pretty good at it because I just took it for what it was and had fun with it and laughed at it. You have to be a little more dramatic when you’re on stage. I started getting into those and I got really addicted to it.

 

It was really cool seeing the community there. It was international so I was able to meet people from Romania, from Finland. One of my best friends is now from New Zealand. It was very cool being able to do that.

 

I got really into it. I was like, “You know what? I want to get my pro card and I want to win the title, like the big title, Ms. Fitness America.”

David TaoDavid Tao

What is the big title? Ms. Fitness America?

Ms. Fitness America. That’s what I wanted to be. I’m like, “I want to do this.” I did for years and years and years. I was able to get my pro card. I was actually able to get my pro card in a couple other divisions as well.

 

Then I kept fighting for this title. It was cool because I was known for the person with really cool fitness routine concepts.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, I mean your gymnastics background.

Yeah, so I did Maleficent as my theme once. I did Mad Max, so I had a zombie on the stage and I fought them off. I started making it fun.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you have footage of these we can embed in the show notes?

I can definitely show you these, yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

OK, because that’s…

 

Pretty cool.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

My nerd alarm is ringing big time. That’s cool.

Super fun, yeah, so I did Maleficent, I did that one. My last one was Jungle Book, which is the one I won with which is a pretty fun one. I made a tree and put it on stage. It was just really funny. Yeah, you have to see this. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

So you’d go to the gym to prepare, practice your routine, work on your musculature, and then the other thing you have to do is build this tree from scratch.

 

Oh, literally. Literally, because the show was in Vegas. I couldn’t bring a tree so I literally went to Michael’s in Vegas and I built a tree, and I carried it in there. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Let it be known that there’s a lot more to athletes than you often see at first glance. I just want to say that, especially in fitness competition apparently.

 

 Totally. Yeah, so it’s really cool. Then you obviously have to tan yourself completely, but it was really great. I met so many amazing people and I was able to win that pro competition.

David TaoDavid Tao

So you were Ms. Fitness America?

Yeah, 2016 I finally got it. I was always like 3rd or 2nd or something would happen. One time I tumbled, I finished the routine, but I broke my foot. The other time, my costume malfunctioned and my pants fell down halfway so you literally saw…

David TaoDavid Tao

I just have that problem in normal life.

Yeah, just fell down. So on national TV, you just see my crack. I was like, “This is great.” I was always so close but I just wasn’t making it. It was really great that year to actually get that title. After I got the title I was like, “All right, I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

David TaoDavid Tao

There’s something about bodybuilding that they did right. Also CrossFit, because they have like world’s fittest X, Y, Z. It’s to make the title, the name of the competition, this title that you become. You become Ms. Fitness America. You become Mr. Olympia.

 

It’s not like, “Oh, I won this competition.” It’s, “I am this thing.” There’s this moniker that you get. It’s like, “If you want it, you have to come get it from me. You have to fight to beat me at it.”

It was so cool winning the title for the pros because that is the best of the best. You weren’t just winning a random title. I was with a pro, with the best people I wanted to beat. I didn’t want to just win with random people. I wanted to win with the best.

 

It was really cool to finally make it, to finally do that. Actually during this whole situation, my friend randomly was like, “I’m trying out for America Ninja Warrior.” I was really good at videography stuff, so I helped her, and had a videographer help her make her video for submission. As I’m doing that…

David TaoDavid Tao

This is in like 2016-ish?

Yeah, maybe ’16, maybe it was ’15. Actually it was in 2015. During fitness competition, I got in and so I was doing it at the same time at one point, which is crazy. My friend was like, “All right.” I don’t want to get in her way.

 

I helped her make the video and the videographer is like, “You should be signing up for this because you’re a bar specialist, and gymnastics. You could hang on, what are you doing?”

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re like, “Little old me? No.”

Yeah, I was like, “I don’t want to get in anyone’s way.”

David TaoDavid Tao

“I already had this thing.”

Yeah, whatever, so he made me a video. He made it really quickly that day and I got on, she didn’t.

David TaoDavid Tao

Was that awkward?

Yeah, it definitely was. It was awkward. I felt bad and I was expecting her to get on too actually. I was surprised that she didn’t. I literally had two weeks to figure out how to do ninja because I wasn’t training for it. I didn’t know what to do.

 

In Rhode Island, there’s this awesome little gym they had, in the back of somebody’s yard in the middle of the woods. I started going there and training outside.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 This is very rocky ask.

Oh, it’s crazy. I was literally outside, working on the salmon ladder. Actually the first day I started training, I broke my nose on the salmon ladder, but that’s a whole other story. I started training and then I went to Pittsburgh and I competed, and I just fell in love with it, the next sport.

 

It’s the community being on set, was really cool. I really loved being on camera, with all the lights and on the set and whatever. I do actually thrive like that.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Yeah?

I really thrive when I’m on a stage almost kind of thing.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 It seems all the sports you’ve done, there’s a lot of individualized attention. It’s your routine, or it’s your performance, or it’s all very routine-based. It’s you, for a set period of time, going as far as you can on a course, you’re doing a three-minute routine or something.

Exactly, so super cool. We competed. You compete overnight in Ninja, that’s actually changed a little bit now. I competed at 3:00 in the morning. Did pretty good on it and then I was like, “You know what? I really liked this sport, I really like these people, so I want to continue doing this.”

 

It was perfect transition because I’m over the fitness competition thing, I’ve done as much as I could. I’m ready to be an athlete and start climbing on things and hanging in whatever. Tried it out again, two more times, didn’t get on, actually.

 

Then, what I’m getting on finally on season 10. I was on season 7, and then season 10, I came on and I was ready. I was fit. I was ready, my mind was ready.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Your nose was healed up after that first salmon ladder attempt?

 

I saw the bump on it but yeah, it was healed up and I was ready to go. I get on set and I’m doing an amazing job. I would have been the top five woman or whatever. I was crazy. I was like, “Wow, I feel so strong and great here.” Then when I landed, I completely tore my ACL…

David TaoDavid Tao

Oh.

 [laughs] …off the wingnuts, and on live television in front of everybody. I’m just sitting there, holding my knee. I was shocked because that’s nothing you would ever expect to happen. You’re the strongest, you’ve ever been. You feel amazing, so this is crazy. I really didn’t know what to do at the time, so I was depressed, super-depressed, for at least two months.

 

I’m super strong to nothing. I actually owned a gym at that time also.

David TaoDavid Tao

Which is the most stressful thing in fitness.

Yeah, I’m owning a gym, trying to be this great leader for these people but I’m sitting here depressed. I can’t walk, I knew I had to get surgery again. I realized at that moment that you don’t really know how long you’re going to have your body, you don’t know how long you’re going to be able to do these things.

 

I could be a voice for those people who want to give up, so I decided to get my get my butt up, I’m going to do this. I actually came back 11 months later, competed again on the show and crushed it. You might see that if you watch American Ninja Warrior. You’ll see me on there, you’ll see me hurting myself, and you’ll see me coming back and making it to finals and thriving there.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Do they bake that into the production cycle, that comeback story, was that part of the narrative?

 

 Yeah, it was literally the commercial for it this year. It was me just falling and hurting myself…

 …like over and over again and I never seen it. I go on live and I’m looking at TV, my mom’s like, “Is that you?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s me.” She’s like, “I didn’t realize you hurt yourself like that.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It’s going to be terrible for your mom to watch her beloved daughter just hurt her knee.

Over and over again. It was cool once you saw the comeback because you saw this amazing comeback 11 months later, and just how I was so grateful to be up there. I walk up actually on Season 11. I have my brace on, I walk up and I rip the brace off, and then I run the course without the brace. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’ve had a, broken my nose and had a knee surgery after an athletic injury. 11 months seems like a pretty quick comeback from an ACL tear?

 

Yeah, it was too quick, but I was like, “I’m doing it.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

OK, too quick. Why was it too quick?

 

For a full ACL recovery, you need about a year to maybe a year and a half to be confident and really want to push yourself. Two years, you start to feel a lot more normal but I was determined. I’m like, “I’m coming back and I’m just going to do it.” It was definitely still stiff and still feeling a little clunky, but I did it anyway.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

How is it now?

 It’s good actually. I still have to go to physical therapy. I go once a week, no matter what. Just want to make sure you keep up with it no matter what, because what happens is, you start to feel complacent and pretty good and you stop doing all your exercises, and then all of a sudden you start feeling weird pains. It’s really important to keep up with it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Do you have any plans to compete again in the future?

Yeah, I applied this year. I have not gotten a call yet, I’m actually pretty surprised because I made it to the top five last year. With me and three girls made it the furthest. I was really surprised that I didn’t get a call yet, but I do believe everything happens for a reason.

 

I might be in a different region, possibly. It’s television, they may not like the story this year, who knows? You really don’t know.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You can’t take it too personally at certain point.

 

You can’t. It’s still television and what I want to show this year is that, I’m not going to just disappear from Ninja. You can still go test the course, you can keep yourself nice and strong. You shouldn’t be getting strong just for a TV show. You should be getting strong to get strong.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That might be the most meta advice, but also weirdly specific advice, “You shouldn’t get strong just for a TV show.”

 

Yeah. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Boys and girls, get strong for yourself. It’s like, “Oh, that was never my motivation, but I’m glad to know that.” What does training for Ninja competition look like? Take us through when you’re preparing for a competition. Take us through a week.

 

A week, OK. It gets pretty intense. You have to be a little bit careful with training like this because it’s a lot on your body. If you overdo it, you’re going get injured, something’s going to happen. I had to strategically set out my schedule. I want to make sure that I was going to be really fit.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Did you have a coach for this?

 

Yeah, I have a coach and his name’s Jordan Thurston. He’s absolutely amazing. He owns a Vitality Fitness, and he basically signed me up, randomly for Ninja competitions, which I love and like, ones that are already on the TV show. He’s like, “You’re going to do it.” I’m like, “OK.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Because you want that competition experience…

 

Exactly.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

…that all helps you maintain your poise and you’re experience.

 

I always was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m strong enough.” He’s like, “No, you’re strong enough.” He’s like, “I see that you’re strong enough for this.” Actually what’s fun and interesting is I’ll write out the plan and then he’ll tweak it. He’ll be like, “All right, you need to do this, you need a little bit more here.” It’s really great to have that eye on you.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You can’t be objective about yourself. You’re going into programming a lot of stuff you’re good at and that you enjoy.

 

Absolutely.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You are not going to work those weaknesses like you should be.

Totally. You definitely need somebody. I go to the Ninja gym twice a week. I’m in New York right now, so I have to drive to a Ninja gym that’s in New Jersey. There’s a bunch in New Jersey, there’s one in New York, just went to the other day. We’ll go twice a week, we’ll do a course runs, all sorts of ninja stuff obstacles.

 

A lot of times, we’ll try and map out what we think the obstacles might be for the TV show or whatever. You definitely need to work on agility, you need to work on the warped wall, you need to work on big [inaudible 17:43] , weird plan things.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Is that some guesswork because you don’t know exactly what’s going to be on the course?

 

 Exactly.

David TaoDavid Tao

When do you find out what the course looks like in the competition?

Technically, that day.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Oh, wow.

They don’t let you go on it. What used to happen is a lot of people spy on the course and see what they’re building. They would actually replicate what they were thinking, which is super cool. They, literally, build these things overnight.

 

We had this obstacle…what was it called? Like the cone one I did this year. Literally, somebody replicated it in two days. Insane. Built it out. Everything.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s no harder than building a tree in Las Vegas…

 

That’s true. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 …for a fitness competition.

 

That’s true. It was pretty cool. This year is different because it’s indoor, so you won’t really have that spying ability.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 It could be under lock and key.

 

Yeah, it’s going to be different. Unless the virus doesn’t do anything, but that’s a whole other story.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

For reference, we are recording this in mid-March 2020. It might not come out for a while, but in New York City, we’re in the middle of coronavirus.

There’s some stuff going on right now. You figure out what you think you want to work on. You need to work on agility, having a fast feet. You need to work on getting up to the wall, power in your legs. We work on those things, so you do those.

 

The other days, I do sprints, so two days of sprints. Then, I do a lot of strength and conditioning work to make sure you’re not going to injured. We’re doing a lot of hanging and pulling, so you got to do decent amount of pushing rehab on your arms. You got to do stuff on your legs, making sure you’re working your hamstrings.

 

It’s all mapped out strategically, but I only do two days of obstacles, because you want to make sure that you’re fit.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

How many training days do you have a week then?

I’m definitely training six days a week, at least. I definitely get one full day that I just chill though, I don’t do anything.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Are you doing any heavy barbell movements as part of this training?

 

 I do a decent amount of deadlifting, because the deadlifting is great for your hamstrings, especially with my knee. A lot of times what people do is they’re very quad dominant with a lot of this stuff. It’s really important that you are doing some hamstring work of some type.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Where else might you look for inspiration in training? What does an average strengthening workout look like? What moves are some of your go-tos?

 

Definitely the deadlift. I obviously love to do pull ups, but I try and do the pushing movements instead. Lots of push-ups. I will do chest presses and things like that — trying to think of what else. A lot of it is body weight movements, but we effort it from sticking to the barbell. Definitely, deadlifts, squats, Bulgarian lunges.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Everyone loves and hate those. They’re the best and worst thing at all.

 

We’ll do some cool ones where you work on explosive power with them. You’ll put your foot up and you’ll do a weight at first and explode up. You’ll get rid of the weights or jumping on a mats and step with one foot.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Are you doing a lot of plyometric movements in training?

 

Definitely, a lot of plyometric. You want to have power. We’re trying to be powerful. We’re trying to be fast. That’s why lifting heavy is good, obviously, but you can’t lift so heavy all the time otherwise you’re not going to be able to move.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You’re not trying to squat 700 pounds.

 

Exactly.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You’re trying to propel your body weight through space.

 

 It’s a nice balance, you should. It’s so important to do all those movements, but you have to have the right balance for it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Do you have any tips for anyone, who maybe has never tried Ninja competition before, but is interested in exploring that as a trading methodology, maybe something they might want to eventually compete in?

 I definitely think that if you’re looking to get into ninja, there’s a lot of old ninja gyms that are opening that people do not realize they’re around. I’m trying to help people, going around all the different ones and showing on my page. This is where you can go and things like that. I definitely think they should just get themselves into a ninja gym.

 

There’s a lot of adult classes, don’t be scared but the community is really cool. They’re really great people and they’re not going to look at you and be, “What do you mean, you’ve never done this before?” Like, “You don’t know what you’re doing?”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 “Weren’t you a ninja growing up? You were not on a ninja team in high school?”

 

Yeah. That’s what’s so amazing about the community, is literally when I train, I’m training with, 18 year olds. I’m training with some kids sometimes. I’m training with people who are, maybe, in their 40s, or 50s, or just started. It’s just cool because it’s such a mix. There’s never like just one type of age or anything, there’s a bunch of other people.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Do you recommend folks have a certain base level of strength or certain kind of movements they need to have pretty down pat before they start dedicated ninja training?

 

You can start with ninja training basically no matter what your level is. Essentially, you need pull ups, because you’re going to be…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

A lot of pulling, a lot of hanging.

 

 A lot of hanging. You got to be able to hang on something. You’ve got to be able to pull, it’s very important and you got to be able to have quick feet. If you can have those two things, you’re pretty solid.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What is the most under-appreciated aspect of ninja that you think people don’t necessarily get unless you’ve actually competed in the sport?

Angela GarganoAngela Gargano

 

 I think under-appreciated is that, people just assume, if they’re really strong, they’re going to be able to totally crush it and kill on the course. Totally not the case.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s what I was doing. I’m going to try for this. It’s going to be easy. I’m absolutely kidding, I think I could destroy it.

 

 It’s totally not the case actually. You’ll see people are really strong. You have to not only have the strength but you have to have also the endurance to get through it with climbing on so many different obstacles.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

On American Ninja Warrior for example, how long does it take to generally go through a course where people might not want to show?

It might take three or four minutes, but that’s a long three or four minutes.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s about the length of a fitness routine.

 

That’s about the length of a fitness routine, yeah. It worked out good for me. It definitely can be hard and I think that you need to make sure that you are training. You might be really good on the obstacles, but you need to train them, connecting them. If you’re not connecting them to do a whole course, it’s a completely different game.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s like going into CrossFit having done, maybe, a max thruster on its own, and back squats on their own, and pull-ups on their own, but when you’re asked to do them in the same workout in metcon, a different environment.

Completely. You have to make sure that you’re doing these things together. It’s same with Spartan races, you can be an amazing runner and get it off-scales. If you don’t put them together and test them out, you’re not going to be able to do it.

 

Also being on stage. I’m definitely not the strongest ninja, for sure but I’m really good at being in front of the audience, and being on stage, and being able to get myself mentally prepared for that. You have to be mentally ready to get through the courses.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Who do you most admire in the ninja community? It could be a coach, could be different competitor. You can’t say yourself.

No, I absolutely love Jessie Graff. I just love Jessie Graff because I love the way she trains. I also love the fact that when she didn’t do so well, she didn’t sit there and cry about it and be, “Well, whatever.” She said “All right now, what can I do next time to improve?” She also talked about the things that she did improve on because she had a lot of pressure on her.

 

She did an amazing job and then came back and had some random falls, that people would be like, “Oh, my God. What if she had falls?” and instead of feeling like crying about it, and being like, “Oh, I was just so horrible,” and just feel like giving up, she’s like, “No, what can I do to be better?” This is important for people to see that, you don’t always make it. What can you learn from this?

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Do you get recognized in ninja gyms? Do you walk into a new ninja gym and people are like, “That’s Angela!”

 

Yeah, this is really crazy because I actually just went to a ninja national competition and all the kids are also competing as well. I’d seen people take pictures of me and come up to me, and be like, “We watch you, we love you.” They’re tagging me in photos. I was shocked because you don’t really feel that way. I’m still just An, just an old person.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Well, it’s also like living in New York. Everyone minds their business. You sit across a celebrity on the subway, and just don’t acknowledge them. Everyone keeps their heads down. It doesn’t matter who you are, but you leave New York City and there’s not quite that veneer of, “I will keep to yourself.”

Oh, absolutely. A lot of people are noticing more, which is really cool. Also the fact that they are noticing me, I want to be representing something that really can help them. I feel like I have, not like a duty, but I kind of do now. I want to make sure that these people feel encouraged, and that they feel they can do things as well.

 

I came from literally nothing, I was never this strong. I had to go through so many obstacles with my injuries and stuff like that, showing them that they can do it, too.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Have you met anyone else who’s broken their nose on the salmon ladder, the first time they try it? I definitely would, I break a lot of stuff.

 

No, I haven’t. It’s so funny because this bump is always here now, it’s always a reminder. Oh, just dropped that on my face. I have a video of it, it’s actually funny.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

f it makes you feel any better, I broke my nose, it was at least three, it actually might have been four, now that I think about it. Three or four times in the same calendar year once.

 

Oh, my God.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Mine’s all sort of messed up and if you’re watching at home on video you can see my side profile, exactly, yeah, just…Have you seen a “Star is Born”?

 

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

With Lady Gaga and when she does that, runs her fingers over the nose thing?

 

[laughs] Oh wait, don’t touch your face.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Oh, God!

We’re not supposed to…Wow. We didn’t touch you, that’s one thing. When you came to the office, we didn’t fist bump, we didn’t high five, we didn’t hug, we didn’t even elbow-bump. We just maintained our distance. I’m going to sanitize right after this.

 

Yeah. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It still matters even when you’re recording a podcast.

On something completely different note, but a related note, because we were talking about pull-up. Something you’re really big into and something that you’re becoming much better known for, maybe even more so the Ninja Warrior is getting people pull-up proficiency. It’s becoming your thing which is really cool.

That’s actually how I was introduced to you. It’s like, “Oh, it’s Angela.”

 

Pull-ups.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

“She does pull-ups.”

What do you mean she does pull-ups? There’s more to her. Like, “No, she has a pull-up program, she teaches people pull-ups.” How did that originate? How has it evolved to become your thing?

Always my clients would come in to me from ninja and they’d be like, “Oh, I want to learn ninja.” First thing I said, if they get pull-ups, they would hang, so I started teaching them pull-ups. I started working in the city, I worked at this gym called Perform Myself.

 

I started training Liz Plosser, who’s the editor of “Women’s Health” and she said to me, “I want to get a pull-up.” I was like, “Let’s do it, let’s get you a pull-up.” She’s like, “Yeah, but I need to get it in two weeks.” I was like, “All right, cool.” I saw this is as a really cool, exciting challenge. I had her take a video of her.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

She’s not starting from nothing. I mean, she has a base level of strength here.

Base level of strength but when she is hanging on the bar, she could pull it all. I have a video of her, just flailing around, just could not figure it out, whatever. I’m like, “All right, this is really cool. I’m really excited for that.” When you get excited as a trainer, when you do something like this, they can tell, they can feed off that energy.

 

I’m like, “All right, what can we do?” I’m like, “All right, if you want to do this really in two weeks, you got to work out every day. You got to be working on this every day, something that’s going to really twitch.” She’s like, “All right, no problem.”

 

She did everything that I gave her for two weeks. We mapped it all out to make sure she got it, and she got it. That was just such an amazing feeling for me as a coach and then also to see her videos side by side. Obviously, transformation videos are great, but to see a pull-up transformation video…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

In two weeks.

 

Two weeks.In two weeks.

David TaoDavid Tao

In two weeks.

 

Two weeks. To see her go from literally flailing to pulling herself up, amazing.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Why two weeks?

 

This is the whole other thing. We had a Women’s Health. It’s a naked shoot. [laughs] I did a shoot for them. It was kind of like the ESPN body-image situation. She, as their Editor’s Letter for that issue, wanted to do a pull-up, not naked. I was the one who did the naked part. She did the Editor’s Letter.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’m going to be honest. When I started this line of questioning, I did not imagine it going down, specifically, this path.

 

 I did that. That’s where it went down. She wanted it for her Editor’s Letter and talked about the transformation of her body. She stopped focusing on what she looked like and started focusing on gaining pull-up strength and working on it until it’s done.

David TaoDavid Tao

Training for performance, not aesthetics

Then her body just transformed. It’s pretty cool to see that. Once I started seeing that and seeing how this confidence she got, often she had the pull-up, all the stuff like that, started looking around online and noticing that there was nobody who has a pull-up program. There’s literally nobody who does something like this.

 

I wanted to make a program where not only are they getting their pull-up, but they also feel that individual attention. They feel that love because just like nutrition, you can’t just give somebody a plan. Everyone is different, right? You’re going to need to adjust things and stuff like that.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

There are pull-up programs. It isn’t so much as there like squat programs. It’s like, “Follow this template.” It’s basically like a spreadsheet, right?

 

Exactly.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

There’s not necessarily a coach behind it. Something you download from a website. Honestly, we have some of those on BarBend. It’s like, “Here’s a recommended series of exercises, rep sets, and over the course of a few weeks, you’ll get toward a pull-up.” I’m not going to say it’s not effective, but what you do is you’re working with the people individually.

Yes. It’s an interactive pull-up program. We’re talking about that before. We have calls every single week. They’re on an app, so I actually will see the…I make them send me videos of their pull-ups all the time, so I’m watching videos all the time.

 

I only take 30 people at a time in the groups right now so that I can pay attention to them every single day, going there, go every single week, talk with them and adjust. I have done the same thing. I have a template, but I need to add something for their template or make sure that they’re getting…It’s definitely proven to work. It’s been cool to see people go from zero to five.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s like anything. Like, even if you are a nutritionist, they might start with a template. They adapt that based on your specific needs and things.

 

Exactly, so super important. That’s what I wanted to show. My vision for this program is I wanted to show how much I care about them as a trainer. Again, there’s so many of these templates which are fine, but this is a program where you come in and you’re going to get attention. You’re going to feel that connection with your coach. I’m with you the whole way.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

There’s that level of accountability to it. Someone’s watching. A spreadsheet doesn’t watch you. A spreadsheet doesn’t send you a message. You’re like, “Hey, did you do your exercises today?”

 

 Like, “Why didn’t you do this two days prior?” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Right. I’m sure we could use artificial intelligence. The spreadsheets get [inaudible 30:55] , and they take over. We have a Terminator situation there.

 

Exactly.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What other movements do you think in the fitness space deserve this kind of attention and might not be getting it?

 

Oh, that’s so interesting. I never thought of something like that. Next progression, obviously, would be a muscle-up or something. There’s definitely not enough of a breakdown to prep you, but get that. People get really, really stuck.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

The first time someone explained a strict bar muscle-up to me, by the way, they were just like, “OK, you do a pull-up.” I was like, “Yeah, cool. Got that,” and they’re like, “And then you just do this, and you go over the top.” I was like, “What?” It’s not how we’re supposed to do it.

Crazy. I also think that squatting would be great also because I know for me, when coming back from my knee…I had a big, hard time trying to figure out how to squat. Everyone’s stance is supposed to be different. It’s like, “Where do you put the bar on your back?”

 

A lot of the time this stuff isn’t explained, it’s just videos of people doing it, and it’s not broken down. If you can break it down into pieces, it’s really cool to see.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You could argue that anyone can benefit from individualized attention, right?

 

Totally.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

A powerlifting coach will help you figure out exactly where to put the bar, exactly how to stand, exactly what cadence to use. A weightlifting coach will break down your snatch and try to rebuild it although no one ever perfects the snatching.

 

Yes, I’m sorry. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s be honest. You don’t do weightlifting unless you want to be frustrated for your entire life, but that’s interesting. Has anyone approached you and been like, “Cool. I have a pull-up. I want to do the same thing for something else,” and you’re like, “I don’t have a program for that just yet.”

Yeah. A lot of people approached me trying to ask me for other stuff, too, but I’m like, “I just want to specialize in just my pull-ups because that’s where I feel very confident, and I can help break it down for you even more.”

 

People always come to me about, obviously, core exercises. This is a whole other thing. They’ll come to me about nutrition which I’m going to be working at something for nutrition, but it’s going to be a little bit different.

 

It’s not going to be a nutrition program. It’s going to be a guide to how to eat like an athlete because it’s important when you’re doing your pull-ups and when you do any workout. You need a proper nutrition, but let’s explain why. If you understand why, it’s a little bit easier to do it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Just like training for aesthetics and training for performance can feel very different, eating for aesthetics and eating for performance, very different. A lot of people might know one but not be super familiar with the other.

 

What’s interesting, if you just work on that strength and you are eating to fuel, you will look just as good as effect of competitions. I look back now, and I’m like, “Ah!” I’m depriving myself in a lot of things and more.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You’re like, “I made that a lot harder than it needed to be.”

 

It didn’t need to be that hard. It just didn’t need to be, yeah. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Angela, where’s the best place for people to follow along with what you’re doing?

Definitely, my Instagram. It’s angela_gargano. You can also go into my website whenever, www.angela-gargano.com. All my programs are on there. I’ve all the features, anything.

 

Feel free to reach out to me. That’s what this is all about for me. I’m not one of those…I hate saying the word influencers. When those influencers is not going to answer you back, I want to help and try and help you get to your goals.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s an open invitation to slide into the DMs as long as it’s about pull-ups.

 

You can slide into my DM. Yeah, pull-ups.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

An open invitation. Follow-up DMs are welcome.

 

Yeah. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Angela, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate your time.

 

[inaudible 33:58] , thanks for having me. This is great.

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