The Fit List

How to Crush American Ninja Warrior

7 hot tips from the show’s ultimate competitor, Kacy Catanzaro

How to Crush American Ninja Warrior

AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR -- "Dallas" -- Pictured: Kacy Catanzaro -- (Photo by: Peter Larsen/NBC) Photo: Peter Larsen/NBC

Kacy Catanzaro dominated American Ninja Warrior’s Dallas course to score a spot in the show’s final round. That’s a feat most men never accomplish, and no woman had ever done before, and it earned her a worldwide following overnight. Below, the 24-year old gymnast shares her expert advice with Erin Beresini on getting Ninja fit.

Focus on your forte, not things you can’t change. My height can be a disadvantage because where guys might have a bigger wingspan and can reach for something, I have to really jump for it. (She’s 5 feet tall.) But I’m light and lean—I’m only 100 pounds—so I’m as strong as I can be for my bodyweight. 

Up your strength-to-weight ratio. Doing bodyweight exercises, agility drills, and balance things, that’s how you’ll really be able to tell when you’re as strong as you can be for your bodyweight. Lifting weights and using gym equipment—you don’t really know how efficient that is for your body. Go out there and do things like obstacle courses that are challenging your body. Being able to do 10 reps of something in the gym is great if that’s your goal, but what can you accomplish now because of that? 

Our strength training is all bodyweight exercises—pull-ups, push-ups, squats—because you want to be as light and lean as possible while being strong. (Catanzaro trains with her boyfriend, American Ninja Warrior veteran Brent Steffensen.) You don’t want a whole lot of extra weight that you’re carrying around, even if it is muscle. You don’t want muscles to make you too heavy so you can’t hold yourself up long enough.

Do event-specific practice. (Catanzaro and Steffensen work for San Antonio-based Alpha Warrior, a company focused on building permanent Ninja-like obstacle gyms across the U.S.) 

When I first came to San Antonio, the facility was a test facility for building obstacles. There would be obstacles up every now and then to test, but we didn’t really have a gym full of obstacles to train on. We had rings, ropes, and things like that. But this year we had mock Ninja Warrior obstacles—we had a warped wall, the salmon ladder.

When you get (to the show), the materials aren’t the same, you don’t know exactly the sizes or dimensions. Also, there’s cameras, lights, people, it’s at night, and you’re tired. But it definitely helps mentally to say to yourself, "Okay, I’ve done a version of this obstacle before, so I know I can get through that."

Keep pre-race meals light… I don’t like to eat too much before competing. It might be five, six hours after I eat that I compete. So I have a salad with some protein in it. Later on, an hour or so before my run, I’ll take a bite of a nutrition bar for a little bit of that natural sugar, and a bit more energy to hold on to. 

...then cheat a little. After being so strict on your diet and your workouts, and you’ve accomplished something and put your whole self out there, we like to do a cheat night afterwards, whether it’s pizza or pasta or ice cream. It’s nice to kind of let yourself go and enjoy it sometimes too. 

Find your inspiration. Growing up in the gymnastics world, Nastia Liukin has always been one of my biggest heroes—she’s an amazing gymnast, an amazing person, and she’s done so many great things. She really inspires me, so before I ran the course I watched a couple of her montages on YouTube. The music really gets me pumped up, and watching her inspires me because she’s definitely a childhood hero of mine.

Earn it. One of the small little phrases that I like is: Earned, not given. It was the background on my phone for a while. It’s a nice little reminder that nothing should come easy. You put your work in, and you enjoy your journey. You go through whatever you have to go through to get to your goal, and it makes it that much more worth it than if somebody had just handed it to you.

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