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|If anyone understands what Jimmie Johnson is going through with his rigorous workout regimen, it's fellow fitness freak Mark Martin, right.|
“Once Sitaras successfully balanced Johnson's strength, he created four specific workouts for Johnson weekly, each unique from the others. That continues today. Four days include weight training, and six are spent doing abdominal work. Sitaras also devises a run schedule that includes at least 20 total miles weekly, broken into several days. Some are 7- or 8-mile endurance runs, others all-out 2-mile sprints. Each week, the regimen gets more challenging. Sitaras recalibrates the plan with new variables to ensure Johnson's body doesn't adapt to the workout, thereby helping to ensure his progress doesn't peak. "Most days, hell is a pretty good description for what we're doing," Johnson said, laughing. Johnson's home is in Charlotte, N.C., and visits to Manhattan are sporadic, so one-on-one time with his trainer is rare. Typically, Johnson e-mails or faxes his training logs to Sitaras in New York, with detailed feedback on the ease or difficulty of each set, the number of repetitions completed and any observations as to his performance. Mark Martin, whose demanding fitness regimen has long been the Sprint Cup Series' standard, recently invited Johnson to his personal gym to work out. He agreed with Johnson's assessment of the program. "He is obscenely strong for his size," Martin said. "Second to none." Johnson's physical improvement has boosted him mentally, as well. That, he said, is the next tier of the program. There are several areas he soon will explore mentally and physically, such as fast-twitch muscle development, hand-eye coordination, physical strength and endurance, and better hydration and diet. "There's a whole circle there that I think is real important to have complete," Johnson said. When that circle comes full for Johnson, he feels "unstoppable" on race day. "At the end of a race, that's when you need to be your strongest," he said. "That's when they're going to pass out the check and the trophy." This is a new dynamic. Two years ago, he didn't feel indomitable on race-day morning. "Oh yeah, it's definitely different," Johnson said. "I've always had something that I've done fitness-wise, but nothing to this degree, nothing as focused and for a reason. What we do all week long is to break me down and then rebuild so that Sunday morning, I wake up with peak energy and I'm ready to do my job. That's certainly a big part of the confidence climbing in the race car. "Honestly, the best example for me to know that this has worked is how I feel Monday morning. Monday morning tells the story for me every time I wake up. I remember how I felt a few years ago on Mondays. I was worn out, dehydrated, done. I mean, Monday was on the couch." These days, Monday means a two-plus-hour workout. That intensity required a complete lifestyle change: more sleep and proper hydration. And biggest of all, diet -- burritos and beers aren't quite so prevalent anymore, replaced by time-release protein supplements and amino acids. "If he was drinking alcohol because he was at a celebration, I'm texting him, 'Just one drink; you can't do this because you're going to pay for it at your workout tomorrow,'" Sitaras said. Johnson added, "After a race, on Monday, I want to drink some beer and play some golf and have some fun with friends. I mean, that just whammies me for two or three days. It impacts sleep. I've definitely cut way back. "At this point, I really want to hang on to what I'm doing and the success I've had." That includes on-track performance. Johnson's eight-year run at the Cup level is among the most dominant first eight years for any driver in NASCAR history. But NASCAR's rules packages put its teams in a small ingenuity box, so gains over the competition are difficult to achieve. The gym, Johnson said, is one area in which he can beat the next guy. He is not alone. Most of the Sprint Cup elite are more focused on training. Several have hired personal trainers to work solely with them. "Just means I have to work harder," he said. "I need to do everything I can to stay on top. Our sport is extremely demanding if you think how long the season is with 38 races. The length of time in the car, the way that I can prolong my career and success is by doing everything I can. "And there's only a few areas I can work in. One of them is training. And it's always been important to me, but I've stepped it up to the next level and clearly I've had great results over the last two seasons doing it. And I just need to keep going with it."
It has made him a machine, so determined. I've never seen anyone so focused. I think he's missed like two workouts in the past year.” -- Chandra Johnson
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.