Interviews

Strong Motor for Performance Excellence

Carl Edwards is one of NASCAR’s best drivers – and also one of its fittest. Coincidence? Not likely.

Strong Motor for Performance Excellence

Men’s Fitness magazine once called Carl Edwards the “Fittest Man in NASCAR,” and we have no objection to that title. Race car drivers of yesteryear – back when the sport’s chief sponsor was a tobacco company – weren’t exactly the picture of health, but times have changed. NASCAR drivers today are fit. Jimmie Johnson is an avid mountain biker. Danica Patrick does CrossFit and yoga. Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne runs marathons. In an exclusive interview with M&F, Edwards shared the state of his multi-faceted training regimen and how it will help him this fall in NASCAR’S 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs, which commence on Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 pm ET on NBCSN).

Yet NASCAR’s poster child for fitness remains Edwards. Since famously appearing shirtless on the cover of ESPN The Magazine in 2006 flashing a well-developed chest and a six-pack, he’s done nothing to relinquish his status. When we caught up with him earlier this year at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he looked as lean as ever and significantly more muscular than most of his rival drivers.

Not coincidentally, he’s driving well, too. The 36-year-old Edwards has two wins this season in the #19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, sitting in 4th place overall in the Sprint Cup Series standings. In an exclusive interview with M&F, Edwards shared the state of his multi-faceted training regimen and how it will help him this fall in NASCAR’S 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs.

M&F: So where does your training program stand right now?

Carl Edwards: I work with Dean Golich, a trainer for Carmichael Training Systems out in Colorado. We have a pretty good program – a lot of cardio, different types of weight training. I do some strength stuff, some power stuff, lately I’ve been doing a bunch of jump squats. I’ve got total chicken legs, so it’s hard for me. [laughs] And then I’ve also been working with the guys at Hulett House gym [a facility in his hometown of Columbia, Missouri]. I do an MMA workout with them that’s been really fun and something different for me. I feel like that’s helped me with a bunch of core strength and some endurance as well.

M&F: Is the MMA training circuit-style?

CE: It’s a bunch of different things. You go in on a given day and it could be anything. They come up with all of these different exercises – jumping push-ups, lots of bag work, a bunch of sparring and wrestling. And that’s been really great. In fact, we trained really hard a few years back and I entered a submission tournament, which was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. That was something really neat in the off-season that kept me going and got me in really good shape.

M&F: What other specific types of training do you do?

CE: It depends on the week. You know how it is – you get tired of cardio and you go lift three or four days a week. But one thing that’s been really important for me lately has been biking. The guys from SCOTT bicycles have given me a mountain bike and a road bike, and I take the road bike with me when I travel, and that’s really been fun. A bunch of the guys in the garage are into cycling; we’ve got some guys who are really good climbers, some really fast guys. For me, it’s been a journey with the fitness thing. I’ve been trying to stay in really good shape for the last 15 or 18 years. I get bored with something and I have to find something else. I like having options – the bike, the wrestling, the sparring, the lifting, the running. I try to mix it up.

M&F: You’ve got some muscle on you, though. Are you sneaking in some beach workouts, too, like some curls maybe?

CE: [laughs] Yeah. When I first started getting into working out, I would have back day, chest day, leg day, and that was it! I did that for a long time. I’ll never forget, it was my freshman year in college. I went to the gym and I couldn’t bench a 45 on each side [135 pounds]. I was really weak that way. So I worked my way up, and the max I ever got to was, like, 320. Through lifting weights for years, I gained about 20, 25 pounds. And I thought it was hard to gain, but I’ve never lost it. I didn’t expect that; I always thought if I quit lifting I’d lose a bunch of strength and muscle. But I haven’t lifted as much and I’ve gained strength. So now I’ve gone back to a little more lifting with the squats and things.

Photo Credits: NASCAR via Getty images

M&F: With the lifting, are you working with barbells a lot or more dumbbells and other equipment?

CE: My favorite workouts the last couple months have been my leg workouts. I’ve been doing jump squats. I just use 135 or 145 pounds, go as deep as I can, and explode off the ground. And then I’ll do jumping lunges with a 50- or 60-pound dumbbell in each hand, and then I’ll finish with box jumps. [See sidebar for more details on this workout.] I did that three or four days ago and my legs are dying right now. And then when I do my chest workout, it’s either TRX bands or I’ll just go straight to the bench and do incline, decline and flat-bench presses and dips. I try to stick to the basics. I’ve been working on my Olympic lifts, too. My clean and jerk is ugly, but that’s something fun I’ve been doing lately. If I don’t have a lot of time, I can do that with 125 pounds, three sets of 10, and feel like, man, that’s a damn workout. That helps my upper back, my lower back, a little bit of legs, and my shoulders.

M&F: Does the biking you’ve been doing lately have anything to do with the fact that your sport involves a seated position?

CE: No. The positioning in the car doesn’t matter. What happens in the car is, you’re just uncomfortable. It’s very hot, it’s very loud, you’re just stressed as hard as you can be, and you do that for three hours. It’s hard to explain. It’s just a different type of challenge. I think Jimmie Johnson said it best. He spends a lot of time on his bike. He says the suffering he does on that bike and when he’s running helps his mind to be prepared for the suffering in the car. When things aren’t going well and you’ve got to just ignore your discomfort – that’s kind of how I’ve always looked at it. I hate running, and I hate doing cardio. But to me, that’s the foundation that allows you to do every other thing that we do.

M&F: Does the discomfort occur in specific areas like the shoulders, hands, neck and other weird places?

CE: Yes, very weird. When the car is loose, you have to catch the car very quickly all the time or you’ll wreck. Your car starts to slide and you have to correct very fast, so I get this weird back cramp from being prepared to pull my shoulder down really hard. You do it for hours and you just can’t keep up. You have to relax at some point. Well, when you relax you get out of rhythm and you can’t be as quick. So we catch these micro-breaks. You come off the corner and you get about three or four seconds to relax while you’re going down the straight-away before you get to the next corner. You have to pace yourself and relax every opportunity you get.

M&F: So the context may be different in training, but it’s just a matter of making yourself uncomfortable to prepare yourself for the discomfort of a race. Is that how you think of it?

CE: Yeah, exactly. I was in Baltimore the other day. I woke up in the morning and I said, Okay, I’m going to go run for 30 minutes. And I’m a terrible runner. So I’m out there running in the middle of Baltimore as hard as I can go for 30 minutes. I didn’t like it and it was uncomfortable. But I forced myself through it, and I think mentally, it’s like Jimmie said, being able to stick with it even when it’s not going well. It’s the same thing with lifting. Some days you don’t feel like lifting, but you do it and get it done.

CARL EDWARDS’ GO-TO LEG WORKOUT

NASCAR’s unofficial fittest driver has been incorporating power training into his program lately. The below routine is one of his personal favorites on leg day. “You can get this workout done quick and really kill your legs,” says Edwards. “I always do the hardest exercise first. Box jumps are the easiest for me, but by the time I’m tired they’re really hard. Sometimes in between sets I’ll run over to the calf raise machine, but I’m often so tired that I can’t. This is a power day. Every rep I do is as hard as I can.”

Exercise: Sets/Reps

Barbell Jump Squat: 4-5/8

Jumping Lunge: 3-4/10

Box Jumps: 4/10

 

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