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Want to Get Fit? Here's What Happened When I Tried Drag Racer Leah Pritchett's Workout Program

Want to Get Fit? Here's What Happened When I Tried Drag Racer Leah Pritchett's Workout Program

For a surprising number of successful people, health and fitness aren't just an outside interest; health and fitness play a major role in their success. While the physical benefits clearly matter, the mental benefits -- perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness -- are just as important.

This is the latest in my series where I follow an incredibly successful person's workout plan for one week. (Others include seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, and ex-Twitter CEO and Chorus founder Dick Costolo.)

This time it's the fitness regimen of Leah Pritchett, driver of the Mopar/Papa John's/Pennzoil/FireAde dragster. Leah is a six-time winner in the Top Fuel class, finished in the top five in 2017, and just two weeks ago won the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta. Since she regularly clocks runs in excess of 330 miles per hour, she's far and away the fastest person I've ever met.

For Leah, fitness directly correlates to performance, but not just in the car. "Race weekends often mean sixteen hour days," she says. "Running from event to event, meeting sponsors, packing parachutes, mixing fuel, doing media... race days are extremely high-paced and intense. I can't operate at that level if I don't condition for that level."

 

Inside the car, leg strength matters -- and reaction speed matters even more. "The number one premise behind my fitness and conditioning is reaction time," she says. "Your leg can't be shaking from holding the clutch in for a long time, you can't be tired, you can't be lethargic..." Peak physical and mental conditioning and hair-trigger reactions are everything in a sport where winners and losers are often only separated by hundredths of a second.

Maintaining a healthy diet also matters. By rule, together the car and driver must meet a minimum weight requirement -- but the less the driver weighs, the more mechanical weight can be transferred to the rear of the car in order to improve traction.

"In the off-season the team may spend weeks shaving 5 pounds off a particular spot on the car," Leah says. "But if I'm capable of shaving 5 pounds off of me (laughs) just through my time and my work ethic... why wouldn't I?"

 

She also intentionally keeps her food intake low during race weekends. "When I eat a normal meal, within 30 minutes I feel myself start to get lethargic. So I maintain a protein and leafy diet: For example, grilled chicken with as much hot sauce as I can to put some flavor in (laughs) and broccoli."

The result? Not just peak performance... but long-term, consistent, sustained performance.

(Isn't that what we're all looking for?)

To get a full breakdown of her regimen, Leah was kind enough to connect me with her trainer, Morris Virgil, the founder of VFitathlete, a multi-sport fitness coaching and performance training facility in Brownsburg, Indiana.

While no two weeks tend to be similar due to to her non-stop travel schedule, below is a typical week.

Monday: Arms & Abs

Warm up:  3 to 5 minutes

Part 1: Perform each exercise for 50 seconds, followed by 15 seconds rest.

  • Military press

  • Full bicep curl

  • Triceps push-ups

  • Front/lateral shoulder raises

  • Wide-grip bicep curls

  • Triceps extensions

Abs: 30 sec each, no rest between exercises.

  • V-ups

  • Flutter kicks

  • In and outs

Part 2: Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, rest 15.

  • Arnold press

  • Hammer curls

  • Triceps kickback

  • Bicycle shoulders

  • Congdon curls

  • Sphinx push-ups (or dumbbell chest press)

Abs: 30 sec each exercise, no rest between.

  • Left side plank crunch

  • Right side plank crunch

  • Russian twists

Part 3: Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, 10 second rest.

  • Dual goblet

  • Reciprocal goblet

  • Holds

  • Bicycle Upright

  • Plank walk-ups

Abs: 30 seconds each, no rest between, for 8 rounds. (Yay abs.)

  • Up and overs

  • Atomic sit-ups

  • Reach ups

Part 4: 20 seconds on, 10 second rest, cycle through twice.

  • Bottom curls

  • Top half curls

  • Holds

  • Full curls

Abs: 20 seconds each, no rest between, 8 rounds. (Double yay for abs.)

  • Bicycle

  • Reverse

  • Circle

  • Reverse

Part 5 (almost home!): 20 seconds each, 10 seconds rest, repeat once.

  • Diamond push-ups

  • Triceps kickbacks

  • Side push-ups, both sides

Abs: Plans for 1:30.

Sound like a lot? It is. But due to the very short rest breaks, the session moves along fairly quickly -- except for the seemingly endless rounds of abs. (I hate abs.)

The short rest breaks also presented a significant challenge. I tend to use relatively heavy (at least for me) weights, aiming for 6-10 reps per set, then rest for 45 seconds or so... which meant grinding out military presses for 50 seconds caused my shoulders to burn like a SOB. Plus, only resting for 15 seconds before moving on to biceps curls changed the cardio dynamic completely.

That's on purpose: Leah's goal is to build strength, stamina, and cardio conditioning, so her workouts are as close to a real-life scenario for race weekends as possible.

My goal was just to survive the session. Between the constant burn and the tiny rest periods... yeah. I walked out of the gym feeling sure I'd be incredibly sore the next day.

And I was.

Tuesday: Cardio

Warm Up

Morris's Dynamic Mobility warm-up doesn't just get your body loose and your blood flowing; it's also designed to improve overall flexibility and mobility. (Which means it's a mini-workout in itself.) Plenty of stretching, reaching, jumping, hopping...

I'm terrible about warming up; after a minute or two it seems like a waste of time. But I really like Morris's warm-up, partly because it will help me avoid injuries but also because even after just one week I already felt more flexible and had increased my range of motion, especially in my hips and lower body. So if you'd like a copy of his warm-up, email me and I'll send it to you.

Cardio

Perform Tabata style for 8 rounds of 30 seconds on, 10 seconds rest. (Tabata style is a popular form of HIIT (high intensity interval training.)

Part 1: Low box or no box.

  • Fast feet on box

  • Mountain climbers

  • High knee switches

  • Straddle jumps

  • Squat jacks/Squat jumps

  • Burpees

  • High knees

  • Plyo lunges

2 minute run, 20 seconds for each of the below:

  • Light jog

  • Intermediate run

  • Sprint

Part 2: Raise the box 1 step, repeat the above in a different order (for muscle confusion.) Then repeat the 2-minute run.

Part 3: Raise the box 1 more step, repeat the above in yet another different order (if only so you can do the burpees first and get them out of the  way.) Then repeat the 2-minute run.

Part 4: Abs (because, you know, why wouldn't you want to do more abs after yesterday?)

Tabata Abs (perform each for 20 seconds, then 10 seconds rest):

  • Low flutter

  • Up/over

  • Leg swings

  • 1 arm v-up

  • 1 arm v-up (other side)

  • Swimmers

  • Heel touches

  • Russian twists

  • Oblique v-ups

  • 20 sec oblique v-ups

Let's just get this out of the way. Cardio day sucks. I do a fair bit of cardio, but mostly on a bike -- so while my cardiovascular fitness is decent, it's also somewhat sport-specific. (Maybe it's just me, but if I've been cycling for a few months and then try to go for a long run at a reasonable pace, it's like I have hardly any cardio fitness at all.)

So I was gassed halfway through the first part of the workout... and still had two more rotations to go.

Yay me.

Wednesday: Legs

I was so not looking forward to this day.

  • Step-ups (each leg), 1 minute

  • Barbell squats, 1 minute

  • 15 jump squats

  • Dumbbell walking lunges (alternate each leg), 1 minute

  • 30 Bench hip thrusts

  • Wall sit, 1 minute

Rest 60 to 90 seconds. (I picked 90.)

Then 30 to 60 seconds of each of the following (I split the difference and went for 45 seconds):

  • Rotation lunge

  • Dumbbell goblet squat w/pulse

  • Dumbbell squat snatch

  • Low runners lunge

  • Front lunge to a side squat

  • Pulse lunge

  • Squatted in & outs

  • Lateral lunge

  • Single leg hip trust

  • Squat hold

  • Single leg calf raises

  • Skater lunge, bounding

  • Skater lunge, knee drive

Sound fun? It isn't (but in a very good way.) But wait -- there's more! After resting for a minute, you get to repeat the above 3 to 5 times.

I chose 4: Not the maximum, but also not the minimum.

Abs: (Because clearly there are evidently no abs rest days.)

  • Reach ups

  • Russian twists

  • V-ups

  • In and out knee kicks

  • Atomic sit-ups

  • V-ups or side oblique V-ups

I understand why Leah does so much core work. In the course of a run her body is subjected to an almost instant 4 Gs, ramping quickly up to 6 Gs... and then three seconds later shifting to negative 6 Gs as she decelerates. (I'm sure I would just pass out.) The physical strain is immense.

But that doesn't mean I enjoy all the ab work, even though I know it's good for me. (Isn't that always the way?)

Thursday: Circuit Challenge

Lower Body Strength Circuit

  1. 15 pistol squats on bench, left leg

  2. 15 pistol squats on bench, right leg

  3. 15 squat jumps

  4. 4. 12 kettlebell front squats

  5. 30 plank saws

Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat.

Upper body Strength Circuit

  1. 12 barbell push press

  2. 15 three-point dumbbell rows, left arm

  3. 15 three-point dumbbell rows, right arm

  4. 30 lateral bear crawl (15 each side)

  5. 15 shoulder squeezes

  6. 15 hanging knee tucks

Rest for 45 secs, then repeat.

Total Body Strength Circuit

  1. 15 barbell deadlifts (heavy weight)

  2. 12 dumbbell snatch, left arm

  3. 12 dumbbell snatch, right arm

  4. 15 medicine ball rotational slams

  5. 15 ab roll outs

Rest for 1 minute, repeat.

Metabolic Conditioning (Cardio)

30 seconds to 1 minute on, 15 seconds rest.

  • Box jumps

  • Down & back lateral shuffles

  • Medicine ball slams

  • High knees

  • Jump rope

  • Burpees

  • Sled push

  • Suicide sprints

Before you ask, I felt bad about not doing 5 circuits of legs on Wednesday, so I decided to do each of the above for 60 seconds. (Halfway through I regretted that decision, but I did stick it out to the end.)

And by this point of the week my muscles were so sore I woke up every time I shifted in the bed. Eek.

Friday: Fun Friday

That's how Morris describes Friday. "Fun" is not a letter starting with the letter "f" that I would use.

Fun Friday is a full-body workout. After warming up, do each exercise for 30 seconds, move directly to the next exercise... and keep going for four continuous minutes. That means you'll do every exercise in the set twice.

Set 1:

  • Squats

  • Arnold press

  • V-ups

  • Burpees

Set 2:

  • Push-ups

  • In & outs

  • Straddle box jumps

  • Alternating forward lunges

Set 3:

  • Russian twists

  • High knees

  • Alternating reverse lunges

  • Biceps curls

Set 4:

  • Mountain climbers (cross under)

  • Lateral bounds (skaters)

  • Triceps dips

  • Reverse crunches

Set 5:

  • Squat jumps

  • Front raises

  • Atomic sit-ups

  • Burpee kick throughs

Set 6:

  • Inchworm with push-up

  • Scissor kicks

  • Box jumps

  • Walking lunges

Set 7:

  • Reach-ups

  • Power jack

  • Plyo lunges

  • Lateral raises

Set 8:

  • Fast feet

  • Squat, pivot, lunge

  • Upright rows

  • Up & over kicks

Set 9:

  • Back pulls

  • Plank

  • Glute bridges

  • 3 lap run (inside gym)

Set 10:

  • Battle ropes

  • Reverse crunch

  • Pistol squat

  • Jump rope

Yep: 40 minutes of exercise, ten minutes of rest... and it may be best one-hour workout I've ever done. It's perfect for when you're short on time and still want to get in a high-volume, high intensity, full-body workout.

Go for a light jog afterwards to cool down, do some light stretching... perfect.

Hard, but perfect.

Saturday: Wipe Out

According to Morris, "Wipe Out is the hardest workout of the week, and is only for advanced fitness enthusiasts."

Yippee.

After warming up, do each of the following for 30 seconds to 1 minute with no rest in between exercises.

I decided I should HTFU and do each for 1 minute.

I quickly regretted that decision.

There are a ton of different movements involved, so Morris typically mixes up the order and the format to change things up from week to week.

(Note: If you try to do these by yourself and not in a class, do yourself a favor and enlist the help of another person to keep time, tell you what's next, etc. You'll soon be tired enough that the last thing you'll want to do is refer to a list. You'll just want to be told what to do.)

  • Jack squat

  • Squat jump

  • Split plyo jump

  • Step up fast feet

  • High knee runs

  • Butt kicks

  • Skater jumps

  • Power skips

Rest 1 minute

  • Super skater jumps w/ power skip

  • Sprinter step back lunge

  • Sprinter skips

  • Running reverse lunge

  • Long jump to backward hops

  • Shuffle in place

  • Fast carioca

  • In-out-squat

Rest 1 minute

  • Skier squat swings

  • Single leg swing

  • Woodchop slams

  • Rotational chop

  • Low rotational chop

  • Diagonal discus chop

  • Halo slam

Rest 1 minute

  • Mountain climber switch

  • Running mountain climber

  • Spider mountain climber

  • Side to side mountain climber

  • Diagonal mountain climber

  • Semicircle mountain climber

  • Push up in & out jumps

  • Low push up in & out jumps

Rest 1 minute

  • Blast off push up

  • Seal clap jumping jacks

  • Jumping jacks

  • Criss cross body jump jacks

  • Predator jacks

  • Plank jacks

  • Plyo push up jacks

  • Break dancers

Rest 1 minute

  • Donkey kicks

  • Cardio step low box runner

  • Cardio step lateral box runner

  • Burpees

  • High knee switches

  • Icky shuffle

  • Alternating fast feet on fire

  • Double fast feet on fire

Rest 1 minute

  • Pogo jumps

  • Single leg pogo jumps

  • Front to back hops

  • Side to side hop

  • Cardio step plank speed reach

  • Plank hand taps

  • Plank elbow taps

  • Plank shoulder taps

  • Plank hip taps

  • Plank knee taps

  • Plank toe taps

Rest 1 minute

  • Quad diamond push up

  • Face melter step on box

  • Punches

  • Lunge hold runners

  • Push up plyo jumps

  • Fast feet on hands

  • T-rotation

  • Pogo tuck jumps

Rest 1 minute

  • Speed walkouts

  • Plyo single-leg hip trust

  • Plyo alternating single-leg hip thrust

  • Rolling squat jump

Sunday: Wakesurfing

Sundays are often race days for Leah, so I used the day to try one of her favorite training activities: Wakesurfing. (If you aren't familiar, wakesurfing is where you trail a boat and use its wake to propel you forward. Think surfing a flowrider at an indoor water park, except behind a boat on a lake.)

"I started wakesurfing two years ago," Leah says. "Every time I'm on the board I'm pushing for my mind to understand what my feet are doing and to develop better foot control. When you're balancing on a board, balance is something you don't think about. You just do it. But to do tricks I literally have to 'tell' my feet try this, try this a little more...

"In the car when my mind says go my feet have to say go... and wakesurfing helps me build that connection between my brain and my feet. Of course I love the water, so there is that (laughs), but it's also an extremely challenging way to improve my reactions and reflexes -- and I'm getting in a little conditioning, too."

Sounds great, right? And it is, as long as you're a first-time who doesn't mind spending inordinate amounts of time waiting for the boat to come back around and tow you back into place just below the peak of the wake.

But it is also really, really fun. While I disagree with Leah's premise that you don't have to think about balancing -- I had to focus on just staying upright -- wakesurfing is a good core workout as well as a good foot workout. It's a little like paddleboarding in the ocean when it's choppy; I had to constantly use my heels and toes to control the board so I wouldn't fall off.

Even so, I didn't manage to do any tricks, although I did look pretty silly a few times when I lost my balance and tumbled into the water. So there is that.

If you ever get a chance, give wakesurfing a try. It's fun.

And humbling.

Both are good things.

What I Learned

From spring to fall, Leah goes wakesurfing as often as she can. I only went one time; if the week taught me nothing else, it was that I am not Leah Pritchett.

But I did learn a lot more than that.

Normally I lift for strength and ride a bike for cardio. But that approach means I do little to improve my mobility, flexibility, and balance. Plus, I rarely do other forms of cardio and those exercises use muscles -- and work your cardiovascular system -- in different ways.

So I've decided to do a "Fun Friday" at least once a week, especially when I travel. It's a relatively low impact, great cardio, total-body workout.

I'm also going to occasionally mix in lifting days with higher reps and lower weight. I only "enjoyed" the burn, and it also adds a cardio element to the workout.

Plus, the only way to improve is to force yourself to adapt to new stimuli; if your results have plateaued that usually means you need to shake up your workout.

From a mental point of view, my "Leah Pritchett week" confirmed yet again how rewarding it is to accomplish something you didn't know you could. (For example, when I first saw the Saturday workout I thought, "Ain't no way.") The confidence boost that comes from competing against yourself -- and winning -- naturally extends into other aspects of your life.

That's because most of our "limits" are arbitrary and self-imposed. When we think we're out of strength or energy... when we think we're out of brain power or willpower... we're not.

We just think we are.

That's something we should never forget, because the distance between any dream and the reality of the present presents a major barrier. Setting a huge goal is intended to be hugely motivating, but comparing your current state to your eventual goal turns out to be hugely de-motivating and demoralizing... and is usually the reason we quit.

But if you break any goal down into chunks, and create a routine to knock off those chunks, you can get there. Figure out a plan that works, keep your head down and stick to the plan, and one day you'll pick up your head and realize you have accomplished what once seemed impossible.

    Source: Inc. | Jeff Haden | May 25, 2018