A few hours before she got ready for the CMT Music Awards this month, country music star Carrie Underwood hopped on the Periscope live video app for a quick Q&A with her fans. One question submitted from a viewer caught her eye: “Are you pedaling?”
Underwood, who was visibly moving around in her seat on her tour bus, laughed. “Yes, I am. I’ve got a little desk cycle,” she said, pointing the camera down to show her sneakers strapped into the machine. “I’m really multitasking, trying to get a little workout in.”
Stars — they really are just like us. Underwood was facing an all-too-familiar exercise conundrum: You know you need to work out, but who has time? It gets worse in the summer, when you go on vacation and leave behind a normal routine.
But Underwood and the rest of the Nashville lineup have a particularly intense problem this time of year. In country music, one of the most common ways for rising stars to solidify their status (and earn money) is to land a slot on a big, corporate-sponsored annual summer arena tour. If you’re the first opener for Keith Urban one summer, if you prove yourself, maybe you can be the second opener for Brad Paisley the next year, performing a little later, a little longer and for more fans. When you work your way up to headliner, that’s when the cash really rolls in.
So staying in the best shape of your life becomes even more critical while you’re on the road. Not only are you physically running around massive stages, but you also want to be at your high-energy best during the show. However, there are logistical challenges: Days are packed with sound check, interviews, meet-and-greets and, hey, you may want to get some songwriting in. Not to mention that you’re routinely trapped on a bus or plane for many hours a day. What do you do?
You get creative.
As Underwood’s Periscoping while pedaling shows, there are all kinds of ways to squeeze in exercise. Dierks Bentley lifts weights backstage. Tim McGraw jogs a 5K around the concert venue. Luke Bryan hits up a local gym. Kip Moore fits in a run after sound check and before a radio interview. Dustin Lynch rolls out workout equipment in a mall parking lot. Kelsea Ballerini runs up and down amphitheater stairs.
Whether or not you have access to equipment, it’s all about quick solutions. Erin Oprea, a personal trainer in Nashville who works with singers including Underwood and Ballerini, knows artists are crunched for time and is a major proponent of exercising in “quick bursts.” She literally wrote the book on it, as “The 4x4 Diet” urges four key foods and four-minute workouts.
“This relates to any person — we all have busy lives,” said Oprea, whose photo once made news when someone criticized her for jumping rope during her son’s soccer game and Underwood leapt to her defense. Still, Oprea urges people to take advantage of even a few minutes of downtime to get in exercise. When she drives over to a client’s house, for example, she’ll take a few minutes and do a quick Tabata workout — 20 seconds of high-intensity activity followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat.
That’s what she tells her famous clients, because there’s not always access to a gym: Find a space and do a few minutes of something such as push-ups, squats and jumps to tone muscles and burn calories. If they do have time — and time to shower — jog the arena or hotel staircases. Or, when they can, run on a treadmill while rehearsing a song to build endurance.
Obviously, trainers caution, nutrition is also a crucial component of staying in your best shape. This is a challenge for anyone on a summer trip when you’re eating every meal out. For country singers, this is especially difficult when they hit the summer fair and festival circuit and are constantly confronted with, well . . .
“Funnel cakes, hot dogs, hamburgers, beer,” ticked off singer Chase Bryant, who next week will go from the Heritage & Freedom Fest in O’Fallon, Mo., to a Fourth of July celebration in Gardner, Kan.
These entries may be tempting, but Bryant is focused on putting on the best live show possible.“Staying healthy and fit out there is something we take pretty seriously,” said Bryant, who works out for about an hour every day and will regularly set up weights and a rope pull outside his tour bus in a parking lot. Even though the image of young country stars is that they love to booze it up, he mostly sticks to water and coffee on the road and eats a protein-heavy, low-carb diet.
Oprea’s rule of thumb is to “eat clean 90 percent of the time” and to allow her clients cheat meals rather than entire cheat days. John Payne, a Nashville trainer who has worked with country stars and music producers for years, also strongly emphasizes this. Some artists who travel constantly pack food such as fruit and protein shakes to eat on the go. “Granola bar” may not scream a rock-and-roll lifestyle, though they’re trying to keep up their energy levels and not get sick.
“They may be drinking onstage in that red Solo cup and then may have a little drink before they go onstage, but the rest of the day has to be so good to balance this out,” Payne said. “When you’re eating clean foods, staying away from stuff that comes out of a package and prepping your own food, as boring as it sounds . . . your body just takes on a different appearance, and you look and feel healthier.”
Payne works with a lot of new artists, many of whom are nervous about looking their best for award shows and photo shoots. “Today’s standards are different than for some of the legends . . . Conway [Twitty] and Willie [Nelson] weren’t working out and training,” Payne joked. Mostly, he tries to get all of his very busy clients (singers or not) in the mind-set of turning fitness and health into a lifestyle rather than a means to an end.
“If you don’t eat well, it’s hard to feel your best,” Payne said. “And if you feel good about the way you look and are eating healthy, you’re going to optimize your settings.”