Grace and grit make a winning combination. Early this week, pixie person and former D-I collegiate gymnast Kacy Catanzaro proved it when she became the first woman to finish the obstacle course and qualify for the Vegas finals on NBC's hit show American Ninja Warrior.
She even made it look easy. If you haven't watched the clip yet, you must—there is a reason the hashtag #mightykacy was trending worldwide on Twitter after the show aired.
We wanted to know how she trains. And because her boyfriend-slash-coach-slash-trainer-slas
Oh, and it turns out reports of Catanzaro weighing 100 pounds are inaccurate—that's sopping wet, maybe. She says she's closer to 95.
Men's Health: I want your prediction on something. Do you think this is going to be akin to when Roger Bannister ran a sub-4-minute mile for the first time? Meaning, once people knew that it was possible, then all of a sudden other people could do it, too. Do you think that you've just opened the dam for more women to get through the American Ninja Warrior course?
Kacy Catanzaro: Oh, definitely. I think that the reason that a woman hasn't completed the course in the past six seasons isn't because there weren't talented-enough women competing. It's just because there was always that doubt in the back of their minds, that no girl's ever done it, or that some people might say no girl can do it, or girls aren't as fast, girls aren't as strong—all of these things that women are used to hearing.
There will always be people who say negative things, but instead of taking that and running with it, I hope that they can think of this moment and say, 'You know what? That isn't true. I know that I can do it, too. Doesn't matter if I'm a woman or if I'm short or tall or how much I weigh or what I do. I know that I can work hard and get there, too.'
Even during qualifiers, after I had completed the course, Michelle Warnky [the other woman who completed the first part of the course], sent me a text message and said 'Wow, now that you've done it, I know I can do it, and I'm really gonna push hard to meet you up there.'
And then she did. I think this really will open the floodgates.
Men's Health: Which was the most nerve-racking obstacle, and which was the most fun?
Kacy Catanzaro: The Ring Toss [a grueling row of pegs you have to traverse holding hoops] was a really tough one. American Ninja Warrior hasn't had that obstacle before, and none of us were prepared for it.
You had to skip a rung in order to get your next hand to follow you, so for me—I'm 5 feet tall—the reach was a little big. You can see I missed with the ring a couple of times, where I was like, 'Oh my gosh, just hold on for your life.' That was pretty nerve-racking.
The most exciting was the Warped Wall because before, when people would talk about women competing on ANW, they wouldn't say, 'No one has completed the course.' They would say, 'No one has made it up the Warped Wall.' So in my head, that was the biggest obstacle to overcome.
In one of the videos, after my hands touched the top of the wall and I'm muscling to get up there, you can see I'm already screaming. I knew that I was up there, and it was the icing on the cake.
Men's Health: How would you recommend training for American Ninja Warrior? And what does your training regimen look like?
Kacy Catanzaro: Brent and I do a lot of bodyweight circuit training. For obstacle racing, you wanna be as light, lean, and fast as possible. So, if I lift a lot of weights, I'm gonna be a little bit heavier, which will make it harder for me to hold myself up.
You definitely want to be as strong as you can while staying light and lean, so we do a lot of pullups and pushups, different kinds of squats and lunges, dips and a bunch of different jumping drills.
Circuits also help build our cardio up because we're doing each exercise so fast and intense, all in a row without stopping.
We spend a lot of time training on obstacles themselves, too, whether they're specific Ninja Warrior obstacles or whether we're at the playground on the monkey bars and rings.
Teaching your body to learn and adjust during challenges is really helpful.
Brent Steffensen: Strength training is by far one of the most important aspects of our training program. The term that I find best describes our workout regimen is "functional bodyweight circuit training."
Pushing your body to full exertion with each exercise and resting as little as possible between them mimics what you'll be doing on the course. You'll be using different parts of your body to the max on each obstacle, and you'll need to recover as quickly as possible between them.
We train year-round, but, about three months before ANW, we really start to increase the number of reps and cut down the amount of time between sets. We'll also step up the obstacle training at that time and start linking as many together as possible during training.
One very specific aspect of our training that we amp up in the lead-up to an event is our fingertip-strength training. That includes rock climbing and ledge traversing, among other things.
Men's Health: How long do your circuit workouts normally last, and how many times a week do you train?
Kacy Catanzaro: If you counted the time it took to stretch before and after, it would probably take an hour and a half total. But for the circuits themselves, we often do four mini-circuits, with each of them including three or four exercises. Each mini-circuit is about 12 or 13 minutes long, and we'll do about four rounds of each.
When you're pushing yourself, 12 minutes is a lot! And then you have your second, third and fourth circuits, all of which include different exercises.
The intensity is high, but you're not out there for three hours. It's an awesome way to work out.
We do this anywhere from four to six times a week. If it's right before a competition, and we're in go mode, it's definitely six days a week. If we've just finished a competition and we have some time, we let our bodies recover a little bit and train about four days, following a two-days-on, one-day-off schedule.
Men's Health: How does your training differ now than from your gymnastics days?
Kacy Catanzaro: It's nice how much carried over. In gymnastics we obviously did lots of bodyweight exercises, plus bar and ring work, so those things I was familiar with. But now, instead of going out on the balance beam, I run obstacles.
The only new things for me were learning the technique for specific obstacles, plus building my endurance up. Training on the obstacles, making little runs for myself, building that stamina, and taking the time on each obstacle to learn what technique works for me has really paid a big part in my success.
So much has to do with how you prepare your body for training by eating right and sleeping well, too.
Men's Health: Where do you two do your training?
Kacy Catanzaro: Brent and I work for a company called Alpha Warrior in San Antonio, Texas, and it's got a private gym. We have tons of obstacles in there, and we can go in and train whenever we want, which is a dream.
Men's Health: Brent, are you accepting other ninja coaching clients currently, online or otherwise, and if so, how can people apply?
Brent Steffensen: I'd love for anyone who wants to train with me to get ahold of me. They can send me a message at my website www.brentsteffensen.com.
Men's Health: There's something special about the kind of bond that forms when you live together, work together, compete together, isn't there? But it can also be challenging. What's tough about it and what's awesome about it?
Kacy Catanzaro: It takes a special type of relationship to wake up and work out together and then go to work together and then work out together again and then have your night together. It takes a special type of relationship to make that happen and be happy about it.
I think it's important to do things that you love to do on your own, too. For example, Brent does trampoline shows. So, a couple times a month, he goes away for a couple days and does these trampoline shows out of town, and then he comes back.
It gives us a chance to miss each other. He does his own thing, and I hang out with my girls here, and then I'm excited when he comes back.
That said, sharing so much with somebody is amazing. We might have a busy day, so in order to work out, we have to get up really early. And when the alarm goes off, instead of just turning it off and not thinking twice about it, there are two of us.
So if I wake up and I say, "I'm too tired," there's Brent saying, "Nope, we have to work out." Or if it's getting late and he's like, "Maybe we should skip it," then I'm like, "Nope, we need to work out." Always having that other person there to push you is really, really helpful.
Brent Steffensen: I think it's a huge plus for us to be able to train and compete together. It is nice to have your partner holding you to the workout when you don't quite feel like it. It's also awesome being able to be there to cheer on and support each other through the course.
Plus, we do what we do 'cause we have a blast doing it. Who better to share those amazing experiences with than each other?
Men's Health: Kacy, it has to be a little tricky that Brent didn't make it through qualifiers this year. Are there moments of wishing you were doing this together?
Kacy Catanzaro: Oh, yeah. I would say more so from me than from him, though—he is so levelheaded and mature.
He competed after me at qualifiers, and he didn't get to do his normal preparation because he was so excited for me, and everyone was pulling him in different directions for interviews about me. Then it was his turn, so he gave me another kiss and then ran back to compete.
He didn't really get to do his set-up or visualization, and I feel kind of responsible for that, and it makes me feel bad.
After he didn't make it, I told him I wasn't as happy for me anymore because I was so sad that he wasn't going to compete, and he snapped me out of it. He said, "Don't even do that. I could not be happier for you—nothing will take away from this."
If the roles were switched, you know, I might be like, "I'm bummed I'm not with you," you know? Not once has he ever said that. All he ever says is how happy he is for me.
Men's Health: How long until the finals air on NBC?
Kacy Catanzaro: I was told the first episode of the finals Vegas will air on August 18. I'm not sure yet if I'm gonna be on the first episode or if they will save me for the second one, which will be September 1.