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
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!