I can tell you the last two days I missed a workout: May 3, 1998, when I had a sinus infection, and July 4, 2009, after I ate some bad meat. I'm a psycho — I don't buy the idea of "rest" — but I'm a positive psycho. I believe you can always find time to do something. When you have a bad day, you can go slower. Once you get started, you'll feel so much better.
We have a lot of athletes on First Take; they see I'm in good shape, and they gain respect for me. I remember in my twenties, writing at the Dallas Morning News, a couple of Cowboys players invited me to play pickup basketball. We had knock-down-drag-out games, and the fact I could hang in really helped my relationships with those guys. Even today that's a big thing. If an athlete says, "You don't know, because you never played," I know in my heart none of them could outrun me, and I don't care who it is — Kobe, LeBron, any of the great quarterbacks. I may not be in the basketball shape that LeBron is in, but endurance running is just physics. He's 250. I'm 170. And I can hold eight miles at a seven-minute pace.
Finding the Right Routine
I do an hour of cardio every day without fail, and I lift on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. To make the cardio happen, I have to do it before work, even if we have an early start. We were recently in Los Angeles, taping the show early because of the time zone difference. So I worked out in the hotel gym at 2 am. People were coming home from partying, and I was in the elevator in my running stuff. They were like, "Skip, what are you doing?" After we tape, I lift my guts out. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I'm usually angry from the show, and lifting helps get my frustration out. I started in the '90s, with a friend of mine, Larry North, a fitness guru in Dallas. I learned so much from him, what works and what doesn't. Overhead press works for me, but incline press puts my rotator cuff in a bad spot, so I don't do that motion. To protect my shoulders, I put dumbbells on the floor and do push-ups from the handles. You mix and match until you find what your body will let you get away with. And you ice. Ice, to me, is a magical healer. At night, watching Ray Donovan, I'll put bags of ice on my shoulders, knees, and back. It's a miracle cure.
The Diet Revelation
I didn't always have things dialed in. In the '80s, I did two hours of cardio every day, split between running and the stationary bike. It was a trap — afterward I'd feel starving but also bulletproof, so I'd pig out. I slid into what I call exercise bulimia, when you're running more and more miles so you can eat worse and worse food. I loved Mexican food, banana splits, doughnuts; it was so unhealthy. I eat much more diligently, rationally now. It's chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs for protein; a little rice; and broccoli, which to me is nature's most perfect food. And one cheat day a week, when I eat pizza and Pinkberry. I'm happier with the way I look, I carry less body fat, and I'm healthier, which is the number one goal.
Muscle Strength = Mental Strength
If I stopped working out, I'd lose my physical and psychological edge. So I just do it — and I get sharper and steeled against the day. First Take is two hours, live and unscripted. My debate partner, Stephen A. Smith, has the greatest gift of gab I have ever encountered on television, and I have no idea where that gift is going to take him. It's high-energy, and it's draining. To get even five reps of something heavy makes me feel like I might be better on tomorrow's show. Sometimes on a break, Stephen will say, "Man, I'm worn out." That's because I'm a handful. I wouldn't want to debate me every day. He always jokes that I work too hard. When the show is over, my T-shirt, which I wear under my dress shirt, is soaking wet. I'm addicted to the rush of the finished workout. –As told to Burt Helm