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How do competitors advance on American Ninja Warrior?

Here’s a breakdown on the basic progression through the show.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 12 Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

UPDATE: This article has been amended to reflect the current format for American Ninja Warrior as we head into season 13.

Did you know there are people out there who don’t watch American Ninja Warrior religiously?!? Crazy, right? Every season, we get questions from folks who are just popping in for an episode or so and they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, or people who are totally hooked but are new to the sport and not sure how it works.

We’re putting together this American Ninja Warrior glossary to help explain some of the terms newbies might not understand.

But we often get questions about how the show works on a basic level. If you haven’t watched the season from the start, you might not understand how those Ninjas got to the Semifinals, or why only a select few are on Stage Three. So we’ve provided a breakdown of how competitors advance on American Ninja Warrior.

Additionally, we recommend that you review this article on the women’s leaderboard and rules, and this breakdown of the Power Tower and its prizes (as of season 13). Those are both referenced below and play into how Ninjas move through each season.


How they got there:

To get a shot at the Qualifying course, the competitors applied to be on the show and were selected by the producers. Veterans and rookie alike must go through this casting process.

How they move on:

The top 30-35 Ninjas move on to the Semifinals. To do that, they must either complete the course or make it far enough, fast enough to rank on the leaderboard. At least five women will advance to the Semifinals. If there are no women in the top 30, the top five women outside of that 30 will advance. If there are two women in the top 30, the next three top women will advance, for example. Therefore, the number of Semifinalists from an episode can vary between 30 and 35.

William Gray/NBC


How they got there:

Semifinalists are the top 30-35 Ninjas from each Qualifying round.

How they move on:

The top 15-17 Ninjas move on to the National Finals. A minimum of 15 will always advance in each region. A minimum of two women will advance to the National Finals.

The top 15 Ninjas who either complete the course or go the farthest with one of the fastest times, move on to the National Finals in Las Vegas. If there are no women in the top 15, the top two women will also advance. That’s how we could see a total of 17 Ninjas from one region moving on to the National Finals.

(Please note, a minimum of two women advanced as of season 12. We don’t know just yet if there will be any changes to that for season 13.)

Dennis Mong/NBC

National Finals

How they got there:

National Finalists are the top 15-17 Ninjas from each of that season’s Semifinals.

How they move on:

Once at the National Finals, Ninjas only advance through the four stages by fully completing each course. Ninjas can no longer advance through “farthest, fastest.” Buzzers only! Additionally, Stages One and Two have time limits in which the course needs to be completed.

We do need to mention that some National Finalists will possess a Safety Pass, earned on the Power Tower in the Semifinals. This allows them to run Stage One or Two again should they fall or time out.

How they win:

A Ninja is declared the winner or Grand Champion if they have completed all four stages of the National Finals. If more than one Ninja advances to Stage Four, which is the Final Climb, whoever completes the rope climb in a faster time is the “winner” and earns $1 million. If no one reaches Stage Four or completes the 75-foot rope climb in under 30 seconds, the season has no winner. (Don’t yell at us. We don’t make the rules!)

American Ninja Warrior - season 11 Photo by: David Becker/NBC