Ginny MacColl never played a competitive sport until her 60s. From the third grade to her 30s, she was a trained dancer—eventually landing an understudy role on Broadway’s Pippin in the ‘70s.
Then, at age 63, she took up obstacle courses. “I was inspired by my daughter, Jessie Graff—who’s been on American Ninja Warrior for 10 seasons now,” MacColl says. “I saw how strong, healthy, and beautiful she looked—and I wanted to be strong, so that’s how this whole ninja thing started.”
At the behest of the American Ninja Warrior casting department, who had seen her in a segment working out alongside Graff, MacColl competed in her first Ninja obstacle course on the show six years ago.
Now 71, MacColl recently set a Guinness World Record as the world’s oldest competitive ninja athlete who is a woman.
As we chat about her accomplishments on a video call, MacColl shares a piece of wisdom she’s learned over her seven decades. “It’s never too late to start,” she tells Well+Good with a confident smile on her face. “There are people in their 80s and 90s that are finding great abilities in strength training just using resistance bands.”
“You have to believe in yourself and what you can do,” MacColl adds. “The mental component, I think, is one of the hardest things in all of this. But you want to find your passion, commit to it, and make it a habit.”
Ninja athlete Ginny MacColl, 71, shares her workout regimen
In her six years competing in the highly physical game show, MacColl has had to perfect a workout routine that helps support her goal of being strong and keeping movement in her life. “Moving parts don’t rust,” she says.
Needless to say, it takes a lot of time, effort, and discipline to be a ninja athlete. MacColl works out five to six days a week, then prioritizes rest on the days she isn’t in the gym or at an obstacle course. Here’s what her regimen looks like:
Let it be known that the oldest female ninja athlete in the world loves workouts that help improve her balance.
“Balance work is so hard and so important for our quality of life,” says MacColl. To that end, she’ll practice yoga a couple times a week to strengthen, stretch, and build her muscles. “I was becoming too tight and not as flexible as I used to be—which could be age, too,” she adds. Taking up a regular yoga practice has helped combat that.
MacColl breaks up her strength training between push workouts (i.e. movements that require you to push upward or outward) that target her chest, triceps, and shoulders, and pull days, which focus on her back and biceps—aka the pulling muscles. “I’ll do TRX training and a lot of work on my back because that’s what you need to do a good pull-up,” MacColl says.
And she’s careful not to neglect leg workouts. “I can’t say I like squats, but I do them,” she says, laughing. “I work on jumps and lunges for explosive power. I’ll also go up and down the stairs or hop on the elliptical,” she says. “I like to change it up.”
“I can’t say I like squats, but I do them.” —Ginny MacColl
MacColl does cardio workouts four times a week, typically by swimming. “I’ll swim with a club and a coach,” she says. (In fact, the morning of our interview, MacColl was at her swim club.) She also swims competitively at the National Senior Games.
Agility on the obstacle course
As a competitor on American Ninja Warrior, MacColl hits an outdoor obstacle course twice a week to keep those skills fine-tuned.
The exercise that MacColl swears by to keep her core strong
When I ask MacColl for one of her favorite workouts, she mentions a five-step core exercise—which she lights up talking about. This series, she says, has her “dying by the end of the workout.”
Here’s how she does it:
1. Do a hollow hold for 30 seconds. “Lying on your back, you pull in your ribs and abs while holding your arms and your legs up [at approximately 45 degrees],” says MacColl. (Note: You start by lying on your back, but when you raise your arms, your upper back and legs are off the floor.)
2. Do 10 V-Ups. Also called “jackknifes,” this move starts by lying on the floor with your arms extended overhead, then—using your core— you lift both legs and upper body off the ground. “You simultaneously reach your arms and your legs toward each other,” MacColl instructs.
3. Go right into a flutter kick for 30 seconds. (Read: Don’t lie down.) You perform this flutter kick by bringing your back and feet up about 45 degrees, then quickly kicking your feet up and down.
4. Do 10 knee-ups. Still with your back raised, bend your knees so that they form a 90-degree angle and face the ceiling. Then, bring your knees toward your forehead. (Almost like a crunch, but with your lower body crunching in while your upper body stays still.)
5. Do scissor kicks for 30 seconds. To do a scissor kick, bring your knees up and keep them slightly bent. Kick them up slower and higher than you did in the flutter kick.
Don’t stop her now
So what’s next for MacColl? Initially, she started her American Ninja Warrior career to be as strong as her daughter and have something that they could do together. Netting a Guinness World Record has only given her even more motivation to keep at it.
“I never knew that it could lead to being the oldest [woman to be a Ninja athlete],” MacColl says. “I’m going to have to keep going so I can make sure nobody else beats it.”
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