How Kacy Catanzaro Became an American Ninja Warrior

By now, there's probably no one with an Internet connection who hasn't been inspired by Kacy Catanzaro's amazing American Ninja Warrior performance. The 5-foot, 100-pound former gymnast wowed audiences everywhere by becoming the first woman to finish the challenging obstacle course, earning her a place in the American finals (filmed about three weeks ago in Las Vegas and airing later this Summer). You can count us among the throngs of newly minted Kacy fans, so we chatted with her about how she stays motivated, what she eats, and how she makes incredible physical feats look so effortless. Oh, and how she gets those abs. Get ready to be a Kacy fan yourself!

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POPSUGAR: How does it feel to be the first woman to finish the American Ninja Warrior course?

Kacy Catanzaro: It feels just so unreal. Ever since American Ninja Warrior has started, the two main things [are] that no American has ever finished the course but then also, no female has even ever finished the qualifying course! That always just kind of made me feel a little bummed out to be like, "Well, people think that women that go to try out aren't going to get very far because women never get far," is what people would say. So walking in, I was like, "I know I can get up there. I want to do it." I wanted to do it for myself to prove that I could do it, but also for other women showing them, "Hey, this isn't impossible. You can do it too." You have to believe in yourself.

PS: I think a lot of people responded to how cool and calm you were throughout the difficult course. Did you have a mantra or a running commentary while you were doing it?

KC: It's funny actually, [cohost] Jenn Brown mentioned, "So we all saw you talking to yourself from down here. What are you saying?" And I definitely know to do that. It's not like something specific. Obviously there's always the, "You can do this. You can do this." Whether it's just that over and over again. If I'm getting to a specific obstacle and there's something that I wanted to remember about that obstacle, I'll tell myself that too along with saying, "You can do it." Before the Warped Wall, I give myself a little technique and then I'll say, "Get to the top. You can do this." And I'll just repeat those little things in my head over and over again. But whatever the technique was, afterwards I'd always say, "You can do this. You can do this." I said it out loud too. That's why you can see my lips moving, that's what I'm saying to myself!

Instagram | kacycatanzaro

PS: So you had a technique for each obstacle predetermined in your mind?

KC: I mean definitely as predetermined as you can, until you get up there. Things are always different once you're there and once you're on it. But looking at the course, I'm a very visual person, so before I run the course and even the night before, I'm always visualizing how I want to get through the course and what I want my body to do. And then your body is more likely to do that. I definitely thought about it before I got to the obstacle and then told myself what I wanted to happen and believed it and made it happen!

PS: During the most challenging moments, what was motivating you to hold on and keep moving?

KC: Yeah there was definitely challenging obstacles. One time I think of in particular was on the ring toss, the big red rings right before the Warped Wall . . . I'm keeping my eye on the rings and on the pegs and I have my momentum going, but at one point the reach got a little long and I missed one of the rings so I kind of swung backwards. You can just hear the audience go, "Oh no!" If you look closely you can see I'm saying to myself, out loud, "I'm OK. I'm OK. I'm going to do it." It's definitely [important] to keep calm and really enjoy the moment instead of letting the nerves take away from your performance and your experience.

Instagram | kacycatanzaro

PS: How often do you work out when you're training?

KC: We [Kacy and boyfriend Brent Steffensen] work out a bunch. We do our strength training usually in the morning. Anywhere from four to six times a week; if we're in super training mode, definitely six times. If we just finished a competition and want to recover a little bit, more like four to have that time in between to let those muscles recover. [At] night we do our obstacles and rock climbing and other active things like that.

PS: Do you eat anything before your morning workout, or do you eat something after?

KC: We don't eat right before the workout, especially if it's in the morning. It is good to do a fasted workout sometimes. You definitely have to be careful. You need to have that blood sugar up and things like that, so make sure if you're starting to feel weak obviously take a break or take a bite of a banana or something like that. Usually we make sure we're superhydrated throughout the night so that when we wake up, we do that workout. And then definitely eat and recover right afterwards.

PS: What's your favorite breakfast or snack afterwards?

KC: Right now we're on an oatmeal and banana kick. It's superawesome. We mash up the banana on the bottom and put the hot oatmeal on top. Then you mix it up. We don't add any milk or sugar. We use the banana for the flavor. It is just supertasty!

PS: You have some crazy upper-body strength. What are your favorite arm or upper-body moves that you're always doing to make sure that you strengthen your upper body?

KC: Our workouts are all bodyweight workouts. We do lots of different kinds of pull-ups. Strict pull-ups, neutral pull-ups, wide-arm pull-ups, which really get your back. Different types of push-ups. We do a lot of handstand push-ups, which are really good for the upper body. Hanging rows where you're pulling your body up. Really any type of those we do in our workout to build it up.

PS: So you don't lift weights?

KC: No. We don't lift weights. We do just bodyweight circuit training. Every now and then I might do some squats with a little weight or things like that. But in our normal everyday workout, we just do the bodyweight circuit training, because for what our goal is (which is obstacle courses right now), you want to be as light and lean as possible and as strong as you can be. In order to do that, you definitely want to stay light and get as strong as you can for your weight. We do lots of bodyweight stuff.

PS: How are you training for the finals? Are you doing anything differently?

KC: I've already participated in Vegas [for the finals], we're just not allowed to talk about it; I just got back about three weeks ago from competing. When you get into that next zone [of competing in the finals], you think, "Ah I gotta push harder!" You were obviously already trying to be in your top shape, so just keep doing the same thing — don't go overboard or make your body freak out because you're pushing it too hard. A lot of people get injured before a big thing like that because they're trying to get bigger. I just usually keep doing the same thing; keep my body safe and as strong as I can.