Kacy Catanzaro doesn’t need to jump through hoops in order to impress you. She just does that for fun.

The badass former gymnast was the very first woman to qualify for the finals of epic obstacle course series American Ninja Warrior. “Mighty Kacy” may be petite, but we’re pretty sure she could outlast most men in the gym.

Read on to hear how this New Jersey native does it and how to get fitter than ever in 2016. And check her out in Esquire’s Team Ninja Warrior, a new side-by-side version of the competition premiering at 8/7c tonight.

“It may not be easy dating a fit, competitive woman because she is different from what society may have put in your head about women. Don’t be threatened by her. Her strength and independence has nothing to do with you, so don’t make it about you.”

You were the first woman to conquer the Warped Wall. What does it take to be the best?
Being the first woman to conquer the Warped Wall, complete a qualifying course, and complete a city finals course was definitely a dream come true. Reaching those goals took a lot more than physical fitness. Don’t get me wrong, I trained my ass off, but it was a mental challenge as well. No woman had ever done these things, and people never failed to remind me of that fact. People also continually reminded me that I was “too small” to hang with the big guys. One of my biggest challenges was not listening to those people. I had to believe in myself and not let the doubt derail me. I knew that I was capable of completing the course, and I couldn’t wait to prove it. One of the hardest things about obstacles is that they are so touchy. One tiny mistake or lapse of focus and you are out, done, it’s over. Having that thought in the back of your mind creates a lot of pressure.

How do you deal with the competitive nature of the show?
I am a very competitive person. I don’t even like to lose a friendly game of Monopoly. I am very hard on myself when I don’t do as well as I know I could, but I use my failure to fuel the fire to come back stronger. I do still get butterflies when I step up on the starting block, but competing in gymnastics growing up really helped me learn to control them. I try to turn the nervous butterflies into excited butterflies and go after the challenge.

What kind of workouts are you doing now?
I mostly do functional bodyweight circuit training. It is beneficial to be light and lean for the American Ninja Warrior course. You don’t want to have to hold up any extra weight when you are crossing a ledge on your fingertips. My circuits involve high numbered bodyweight exercises in a row with as little rest as possible.

What fitness activity are you best at? What’s the most consecutive pull-ups or pushups you’ve done?
I had a lot of ankle injuries in gymnastics, so I was always stuck doing upper body workouts while I recovered. I feel really strong when I am doing upper body exercises, so I love doing them! I did 40 consecutive strict pull-ups in college and set the record for the weight room at Towson University.


What’s one underrated exercise everyone should incorporate into their fitness regimen?
The Superman! It targets your hamstrings, glutes and back muscles. This exercise may seem simple or easy, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Here’s how to do The Superman: Lie face down on the ground with your head in a neutral position. Put your arms straight out in front of you with the palms of your hands on the floor. Your legs should be straight and your feet should be together with your toes pointed under you. Once you are in this position, engage your shoulders, back and glutes to pull your arms and legs off the ground a few inches. Keep your arms and legs straight with your feet together. Hold the top static position for 15 seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down to the starting position. Repeat for 10 reps. Start off by doing 3 sets of 10. As you get stronger you can add reps and even tiny ankle weights if you want!

What overrated move could pretty much all of us do without?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I would say pretty much anything that is not a functional body movement. If it is just to look good, it is not as beneficial for your fitness.

Any tips for guys for dating a really fit and competitive woman?
I know you guys have your hands full! It may not be easy dating a fit, competitive woman because she is different from what society may have put in your head about women. Don’t be threatened by her. Her strength and independence has nothing to do with you, so don’t make it about you. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t manly enough. It just means that she can handle her own, which is a great thing! Support her. Be there for her. Don’t ever try to make her less awesome. And… love her.

What’s a good way to get back into shape?
Everyone has a different thought of what “in shape” means. I would say a simple way to start: Eat clean and exercise. Stay away from processed foods, sugar, gluten, and do not overeat! Exercise once a day, even if it is only for 15 or 20 minutes to start off. Get your body moving by walking, running, or doing some bodyweight exercises at home. Then you can slowly progress into longer, more intense workouts.

You blast through obstacles during the show. What’s your best advice for doing that in life?
I always compare obstacles on the show to obstacles in real life. On the course, things don’t always go as planned. If I am competing on an obstacle and my hand slips, I don’t just let go and drop. I fight, I reevaluate the situation and I come up with a new plan to get to the end. We have to do the same thing in life. Just because we run into an issue doesn’t mean we should just give up. We need to reevaluate, come up with a new plan and keep working toward our goals. This is easier said than done. It will take a lot of mental toughness. When things get hard you have to remember why you started. Things will not be easy, but the climb makes success that much sweeter.