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How NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson Stays Fit

Tips and tricks from one of the greatest drivers to ever make a left turn.

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With his record five straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, Jimmie Johnson is arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history (he even has his own Mario Kart–like video game, Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With an Engine). Guiding a monstrously powerful stock car through traffic at 180 miles per hour is an incredibly demanding physical task. It’s no surprise, then, that Johnson is no slouch in the gym.

Change Your Program Often

Johnson attributes his five titles, in part, to never being satisfied with how his workout is going. That same mindset can help you grow in the gym, too. “Every three or four months, I add new elements to my training,” he says. Most recently, he’s been doing more cycling to help him with his cardio. His advice: Switch up your program often to get the best results. Reorder your exercises or structure a different progression. If you’ve been lifting heavy for weeks, mix in a “light” day with high reps. If you’ve been doing all cardio, start lifting. Make sure you keep adjusting.

Keep Your Head in the Race

Look to whatever inspires you for motivation. For Johnson, it’s his ride. “You can’t hurt these cars,” he says. And that’s what keeps him going. He wants to always be fit enough that his car will wear out on him before he wears out on it. Do the same. “When you make a commitment to fitness, it’s a job,” he says.

Work Your Weak Points

Because NASCAR is a sport of left turns, Johnson taxes one side of
his upper body much more than the other. But he’s careful to train the opposite side to make up for possible deficiencies. “Any trainer will tell you, when you have a muscular imbalance, that’s when injury happens,” he says. Treating imbalances is also a good way to bust through perpetual plateaus. If you work out with a trainer, he can test you to spot potential problems. If you work out alone, try swapping to unilateral movements (single-arm or single-leg). They’re an ideal way to make sure each side gets the same attention.

Always Fit in Your Meals

Like most elite athletes, Johnson tries to eat every three to four hours. Since his job requires him to drive for long stretches, it can be hard to make his schedule work. But that doesn’t stop him: Johnson actually drinks protein shakes while he drives. “They’ll pass one to me at the pit stop,” he says. “Under caution, that’s mealtime for me.” If Johnson can get a meal while speeding around a track at 185 mph, you have no excuse not to make a tuna sandwich before work or grab a bag of turkey jerky and stash it in your desk to help your body stay fueled up for workouts.

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