Tim McGraw: Redefining Life on the Road

Credit: Ture Lillegraven

When I'm on tour, I work out with about 10 guys from my band, crew, and security. Or rather, I start the workouts with 10 guys. By the time I'm done, only three are still going. I got the athletic gene from my father [major league pitcher Tug McGraw], and I played every sport in high school and a lot in college— softball, basketball, flag football. But I never, you know, exercised. Lifting weights and training is a recent thing for me.

I started when I hit my early forties. It wasn't easy to look the way I wanted to look. Stuff didn't fit, and late-night beer sessions didn't help. I found myself trying to camouflage things, and every evening I'd try to find something I'd look halfway decent in onstage. I decided if I wanted to play music for a long time, and compete with the younger artists coming up, and be around for my grandkids, then I needed to take care of myself.

In 2008 I stopped drinking, and that turned everything in the right direction. But I had to replace it with something and get rid of all that time just sitting on the bus. Since I wasn't drinking, I started gathering the troops for a run. Eventually, we were doing 10-, 12-mile runs before shows. The guys took pride in the shape they were in. But after a while, the running beat us up. So we bought battle ropes and started doing short runs in between reps on the ropes. Eventually we had a gym built especially for touring that's basically a semitrailer with the sides cut out.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Redemption of Tim McGraw

The Bust-Ass Routine
A few years into it, I hired a trainer, Roger Yuan, who whipped me into cyborg shape.

I learned a lot from him: elements of CrossFit, martial arts, mountain climbing, how to maintain a diet. I watch what I eat four days a week, and eat what I want the other three. Usually I have Sundays off. I sleep late, my wife cooks me a big Southern meal, and I lie around watching football. But if I've got a movie, TV show, or music video coming up, I go to a strict lean-out: oatmeal in the morning, a protein shake after my workout, tuna and half an avocado for lunch, then another workout and a protein shake. In the evening, grilled chicken and some spinach and polenta. Maybe frozen yogurt with granola before bed.

On tour, I design the workouts; it's typically a full-body combo of strength, agility, and cardio. We have an hour of lifting in the morning, then lunch, rest, and about an hour and a half of CrossFit-style work in the afternoon. For that, I plan three rounds of four rope exercises and I put together five stations in between each round — prisoner squats, a 200–yard run, and something for the abs, chest, back. Then we'll end with a run or a sled pull. When we played Red Rocks, we took Bulgarian bags, which weigh about 37 pounds, put them on our shoulders, and ran 20 laps on the lawn. You have to do things with intent and purpose. It's like playing football. It's not enough to be in the right place at the right time. You have to tackle with intent and purpose. Or you get run over.

What Training Really Yields
Watching football, at halftime I hop up for push-ups or jumping jacks. If I have 20 minutes before lunch, I go for a jog. There are days I may not feel like training. Yesterday I did one round and felt out of breath, so I decided to stop. But then I realized the guys think of me as "the trainer." If I'm not out there, they aren't going to do this! So I made myself go back out.

I think that hard work shows up in our performances. We do two-hour shows every night that are rocking. And I know that if I put in a lot of work that day, my body is going to do what I need it to onstage. It's like my high school coach always preached: Practice has to be harder than the game. —As told to Burt Helm