Jessie Graff kicks butts and takes names for a living. The 34-year-old stuntwoman, who has appeared in movies like Wonder Woman and The Dark Knight and was the first woman to ever complete Stage 1 of American Ninja Warrior, turned her background in martial arts (she’s a black belt in Taekwondo), pole vaulting, and gymnastics into a career she is deeply passionate about.
“It all started when I fell in love with the circus at 4 years old,” Graff tells SELF. “I decided I wanted to climb everything.” And that’s pretty much what she does now for a living. Graff’s days are filled with fight scene training, flipping, jumping, climbing, and falling. On top of her job as a stuntwoman, Graff still competes on American Ninja Warrior.
It’s no surprise that when Under Armour launched its latest campaign, Will Finds a Way, which is all about dedication and resilience and celebrating hard work, they chose Graff to be one of the faces of the campaign. Her job requires her to constantly tackle new challenges, so she has to be able to bounce back quickly when she doesn’t nail something the first time. When she’s faced with a particularly difficult stunt or obstacle, Graff reminds herself that working through it will make her stronger. “I try so hard to focus on the fact that those are the moments that make me better, where I grow the most, and I try to appreciate it when I’m there,” she says.
Graff is no stranger to hard work—in fact, she works pretty damn hard every day. We recently had a chance to chat with her about what her days actually look like, from how she trains to how she fuels for all that jumping, fighting, and falling. Here’s what we learned.
Her schedule can be really inconsistent, depending on what she is shooting, but she has to get at least eight hours of sleep every day.
“It’s hard with my chaotic work schedule. One day, I may start work at 4 A.M. or 5 A.M., and the next day, I’ll shoot all night, finishing at 8 A.M. or 9 A.M.,” she says. But no matter what time of day she ends up sleeping, she always tries to log a full eight hours. “Because of the stress I put on my body, I insist on getting eight hours of sleep,” she says.
Also, going to work tired isn’t just an inconvenience—it can be dangerous. “Lack of sleep can make us more sluggish. Being slower and weaker is a huge liability with my job,” Graff says. “That's why I'm so careful to set alarms for when I must go to bed.”
After she wakes up, she tucks into a balanced breakfast and spends some time foam rolling.
For every meal or snack, Graff aims to eat a healthy balance of protein and carbs, "and as many vegetables as I can enjoy," she says. “This makes [my meal] filling, fueling, and healthy.”
In the morning, she’ll have an almond milk latte and a breakfast sandwich or a wrap, filled with eggs and as many vegetables as possible—especially dark greens.
Then, she stretches and foam rolls before starting her day.
She spends the morning training and shooting various fight combinations until lunch.
The exact training she does all depends on what she’s working on at the time. When it comes to fighting, “Taekwondo and Kung Fu were sort of my foundation, but lately, I've been really into capoeira and Wushu,” Graff explains. She adds that she’s about to start working on boxing more, which she hasn’t done in a while. “I'm really excited about delving into that again!”
After a morning of work, she takes a break for lunch. “Lunch is almost always dark leafy greens, fish or chicken, beans, mixed veggies, and brown rice or sweet potato; plus a green tea or latte,” Graff says.
She eats frequently throughout the day.
“I need to keep my energy levels high, so I make sure I fuel frequently,” Graff says. She tries to eat a meal or snack every three to five hours.
After lunch, she gets back to work, jumping, falling, and flipping her way through the rest of the day.
“I feel pretty lucky to have a job that constantly pushes me to my limits in so many things I love—fighting, falling, flying, flipping, swinging, and jumping, and who knows what else!” says Graff. In between shots, she’ll snack on a protein bar “to maintain strength and energy to finish work strong and still work out after,” she says.
Graff describes the most fun stunt she has done: “Jumping off a 36-foot bridge onto a moving train below (for the movie Leverage),” she says. “They were able to slow the train down to 12 mph, and we (myself and a stuntman named Austin Priester) stood on the railing of the bridge, to drop sandbags for timing. On the second drop, we hit our targets, and got to do one more drop to make sure the timing was right. Then we jumped! It went perfectly, and we spent the rest of the day leaping from boxcar to boxcar!”
After a busy day of shooting, she heads to the gym to strength train.
Once she wraps for the day, Graff heads to the gym to do some strength training for an hour and a half. This is how she keeps her body strong and protects it from injury. “My muscles have to be strong enough to perform the skills I need for work, and to support my joints throughout the high-impact landings and direction changes,” she explains. “An injury puts me out of work, and prevents me from doing many of the things I love to do—so I make time for this every day.”
Then, she eats dinner, which consists of lots of protein and veggies.
Her basic framework: a heaping helping of protein, fresh dark greens, and cooked vegetables. Sometimes she’ll also have some fruit or additional carbs if she feels like she needs it. Currently, she says she’s really into spicy salmon and asparagus with a dark green salad and fruit with plain Greek yogurt.
Before going to bed, she focuses on recovery so that she’s ready to work hard again the next day.
Any time Graff has before bed is dedicated to recovery—typically an Epsom salt bath, foam rolling, and Graston scraping (a manual therapy physical therapists use to massage soft tissue). “The more you push the physical limits of your body, the more recovery you need,” Graff says.
“Learning to listen to what your body needs can be challenging, but with practice, it becomes very intuitive,” she adds. With a job as physically demanding as Graff’s, being a good listener is more important than ever.