Talking Health & Fitness with American Ninja Warrior Jessie Graffe

Today is the season finale NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” and having watched these incredible athletes all summer, I reached out to Jessie Graffe to ask her about her fitness routine. I wanted to share some of her thoughts on workouts, fitness and how keeping in both mental and physical shape can be incredibly inspiring.

What is your workout routine?

It feels like constant chaos, getting high-impact jobs at the last minute and always being ready to accept a sudden invitation to fast rope out of a helicopter or jump off buildings. However, I do have a baseline structure that I’m able to squeeze into my week, no matter what.

Push day, pull day, leg day, repeat. If work is an intense high-impact foot chase, and it’s leg day … perfect. I’ll substitute that for the stair workout and finish up with my stabilization/injury prevention stuff during down time, or when I get home from work. If it’s a light work day or I’m off work, I’ll do kicking, running, jumping, flipping and bouncing off walls first, and finish with lifting. Otherwise, I’ll do burnout plyos, including box jumps, single-leg box hops, hill sprints or stairs, and then lifting and pt.

For push days: I do boxing, push-ups, handstands, and db bench presses.

Pull day: If I’m not working, I’ll do trapeze or rock climbing first. Then, I do 9 sets of pull-ups (narrow, regular and wide) and go until failure, trying to beat my best every time. Then I do 4 variations of biceps curls, but every training day is different.

I enjoy the feeling of burning out to failure, rather than striving for a number then stopping. On my max pull-up sets, I never intentionally let go of the bar. I hang, shifting weight from one arm to the other, without dropping, in attempt to recover enough for one more pull-up. I continue doing that until my grip gives out and my hands peel off the bar.

What tips would you give to others about fitness?

Try not to focus on weight loss or cosmetic appearance as the goal. The closer you get to that type of goal, the less inspired you’ll be to continue working toward it. Performance or functional goals make you a stronger, more capable person, and once reached can always be improved. They keep the journey inspiring and continue to challenge you to be better. I believe they produce a much healthier mental state and, ultimately, much better physical results as well. When I focused on being as lean as possible, it was emotionally draining, difficult and unmaintainable. However, when I focused on more pull-ups, more difficult climbing routes, running faster, jumping higher… I had more fun, felt more fulfilled and got more lean than ever.

What motivates you?

Humans are capable of so much more than we think. I want to know how much, and I’m going to test all of my limits.

How many times per week do you work out?

Eleventy one. I have no idea. It depends if you count casual bike rides. Most days I have 2 actual workouts or one long one. I try to have 1 day/week that’s totally low impact and not maxing out on anything, but I’ll at least go for a light swim or play outside. 

Who is your favorite athlete?

Jackie Chan

Who inspires you?

All the kids and fans who tell me that I’m making a difference in their lives. It makes me want to work even harder to be a good example and show what’s humanly possible.

What music is on your workout playlist?

What is your most essential piece of fitness equipment?

Pull-up bar

What is your diet?

I don’t think people realize how much the phrasing you use to describe your diet can affect your ability to follow it.  ust phrasing it as “you’re restricted to these boring foods, and you’re not allowed to have these other things” puts me in an indignant state of defiance where I get preoccupied with the things I’m not allowed to have. My mind works best when I focus on the positive actions I need to take, rather than rules on what I’m not allowed to have. Thinking “how can I make myself better with this meal” inspires me to choose green leafy vegetables with bright colored side veggies, fish, lean proteins, healthy fats and nutrient dense whole grains. When I feel good about those choices and fill up on the nutritious stuff first, I’m less likely to crave dessert and I only have it when I really want it.

Here are some basic guidelines I try to live by:

— Eat a balanced meal or snack every 3-5 hours

— Aim for 1 serving of fruit/grain/carbs, 1-2 servings protein, tons of dark greens and as many vegetables as you want

— Avoid desserts, fried foods and refined sugars, unless you’re really craving them. Then pay close attention to how you feel afterward. If you have a sweet tooth like me, find healthier versions of your favorite sweets to keep around for treats. Here are some of my favorite substitutions:

— Candy bar: @yupbrands protein bar (nutritionally balanced snack almost tastes like candy)

— Cookie: Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookie

— Brownie: Lenny & Larry’s Muscle Brownie

— Ice cream: Arctic Zero (not as creamy, but all natural, and only 150 calories per pint)

— Fruity candy: dried fruit (still very high sugar, but accompanied by lots of nutrients)

— Mocha latte: regular coffee with chocolate protein shake substituted for creamer

What tips do you have about injury prevention?

— Learn to listen to your body. Understand the difference between good hurt and bad hurt.

— Don’t undereat or slack off on your sleeping. Air awareness and coordination decrease dramatically when you don’t get enough sleep.

— Don’t do high-impact workouts on tired muscles.

— If you work one muscle group to exhaustion, give it 2 full days to recover before you really challenge it again.

— Foam roll!

Do you typically work out before or after work?

Before, during, after … I have no pattern. If I’m working at 4 a.m. and it’s a low-intensity job, I’ll go straight to the gym right after work. Sometimes work is even more intense than my workouts, so I’ll drag myself home and take an ice bath to recover. During a long day at work, if I don’t have much to do I always have exercise bands and have an inconspicuous workout routine that I can do in my trailer, or in a corner, without bothering anyone.

Sometimes I get home at 10 or 11 p.m. and go for a run, or lift, or do pull-ups, or box … working out is one of my highest priorities. I find a way to fit it into my day wherever I can squeeze it in. I have to improvise a lot of workouts on set or in a trailer when I’m working long hours. That includes exercise bands, bodyweight exercises, climbing fake trees, squatting co-workers and challenging crew to balance on the ball of 1 foot for as long as we can.

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