Behind the Body: NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is a fitness fiend
Nearly a decade ago, Danica Patrick discussed her workouts and how she spends her time away from the track in a Sports Illustrated article. “I don’t work out on race days, but other days I usually work out in the mornings. I’m up at 6:30," said Patrick, who also appeared in the 2008 SI Swimsuit issue. "I do 30 minutes to an hour of cardio. I’ve done extreme yoga, in a room heated to more than 100 degrees. I’ve also been lifting pretty hard lately. I focus on upper body: shoulder, upper and lower back, core and abdominals. I don’t work biceps and triceps. I don’t want to get too bulky looking.”
A lot has changed since then. Before the 2012 season, Patrick moved from the IndyCar Series to NASCAR to race stock cars fulltime and she is now the driver of the #10 Nature's Bakery Chevy. Most recently, she set a new record for the most top-10 finishes of any female in Sprint Cup competition by compiling a total of six top-10 wins early in the 2015 season. Patrick is also a dynamo off the track—one thing that hasn't changed is her commitment to her wellbeing.
Now, at age 34, Patrick is dedicated to maintaining a healthy lifestyle more than ever before. The fitness guru caught us up on what has changed, her love for burpees and two-a-days, and where she hopes to be when Sports Illustrated checks up on her again in 2026.
34 years old
On that early morning wake-up call: Long gone are the days when Patrick would set alarms for 6:30 a.m. workout wake-up calls. The fact that I do get up early has changed, because I do not work out at 6:30. It's a lot different. To me, the fun thing about fitness is that it should evolve because your body needs the evolution; it needs change, it needs variation. So, I mean nowadays, most of the time I work out mid-morning or mid-afternoon, sometimes both. And I do not do 30 minutes to an hour of cardio. I do not do that anymore. I don't ever run for any longer than five or 10 minutes just to run. The only kind of running I do now is interval running. Sometimes it's 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off of sprinting and walking. Maybe it's a minute of running with 30 seconds of sprinting and then 30 seconds off. Or sometimes I’ll add 10 no-pushup burpees, or 10 jump squats, or 10 alternating lunges, and then I'll sprint for 30 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. I tend to only give myself 30 seconds off even though it's really hard sometimes.
Other than that, I mostly do CrossFit or cross training style stuff. And circuits, I definitely do a lot of circuits. So, the only cardio I do is intervals. Normally I'll do some kind of cardio warm up. I’ll lift once a week, maybe twice at most because a lot of the stuff that I do has lifting in it. When I do lift it's mostly Olympic style lifting—cleans, dead lifts, squats, push press, strict press.
Thank you to those who have sacrificed a lot more than the sweat I just did. Happy Memorial Day. #crossfit #murph (I didn't wear a vest, Maybe next time😜) "Murph" For time: 1 mile Run 100 Pull-ups 200 Push-ups 300 Squats 1 mile Run In memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005. This workout was one of Mike's favorites and he'd named it "Body Armor". From here on it will be referred to as "Murph" in honor of the focused warrior and great American who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is. Partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as needed. Start and finish with a mile run. If you've got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it.
On CrossFit vs. yoga: When Patrick is at her large-property home in North Carolina, she can be found in the barn, which was converted into a CrossFit gym, or the wo-man cave, where she does crafts and yoga. Yoga is something that I started back up at the beginning of last year, and I really liked getting back into it. I used to do it a long time ago, but I got away from it. I wouldn't say I ever use yoga as a workout; I use it as an addition. But I really do enjoy it. I think it's good for my body and my mind. I think that in fitness you need strength, flexibility and endurance. The good thing about yoga is that you’re never stopping; you can always keep going. When I start to do yoga, it's like a time warp. Once you start and you get warmed up it can get really addicting. It’s not uncommon for me to be playing around for at least two hours in there [the wo-man cave].
CrossFit is my preference, though. I've learned how to work out with more intensity, a lot more.
My motivation for yoga is largely trying to make my foot touch anything new when it's behind me, that's my competitiveness and ego pushing me....but the more I do it the more I find myself slowing down and trying to follow my breath and relaxing into myself and much deeper poses. It's such a balancing act to do good yoga, pushing and pulling but not forcing and causing restraint in the muscles and mind. It's a cool mental and physical challenge. Anybody else with me?! Happy #worldyogaday!
On her favorite CrossFit workout: Burpees. Any body weight exercise in CrossFit is good for me. I have no problem with burpees. I really like burpees; I'll just keep going. I also like the GHD (Glute Ham Developer) machine. I’m pretty strong on the GHD machine. It’s something that murders people. You will be destroyed after doing them, like you’ll get the painful delayed onset muscle soreness two days after, and then you won’t be able to sit up in bed. But it’s good.
How her time spent in the barn or wo-man cave has attributed to her success on the track: I just think you have to do the things you like to do. I like to workout. Sometimes I get criticized for working out or for the size of my biceps, but I do enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge, not only the physical challenge, but also the mental challenge. Physically, being stronger can never hurt you. I don't get tired in the races, and our races can be really long. So, that endurance is good. I mean other than that, there’s a large part of it that I do for myself. It’s not going to make me go around a turn faster or anything like that, but in general I believe it’s good to do the things that you enjoy doing because it makes you feel better.
I also don’t overlook the fact that being fit is part of my job. I have some incredible sponsors, and for one of my sponsors I have to be in a sports bra and shorts. So, I also like to do it for those reasons because I enjoy that challenge as well.
On taking a day off: Most of my days off are forced days off; I don't take them on purpose. I think if I had a regular job where I lived at home and went to work and had weekends off I would. But that's something I've gotten smart about as I've gotten older, knowing to not over exert myself. I mean that's when you get sick and worn out. So I'm a lot smarter about that stuff. On the other hand, it's not uncommon for me to work out twice a day. Maybe one workout isn’t as long and the other is only 30 minutes or it’s yoga. I’m much more of your 20-minute girl. I love the 20-minute workout because I think they’re long enough to get a really good workout and short enough to push yourself. I had never really done two-a-days before, but I think there is a lot of research on the correlation between your metabolism and working out twice a day. The second workout doesn’t have to be out of control—20 minutes, maybe 30, is enough to boost your metabolism and burn more fat.
I rarely just sit on the couch and watch TV, like ever. Pretty much The Bachelor or The Bachelorette is the only thing I watch. Other than that, I’ll take the dogs for a walk or do some yoga if I don’t feel like working out hardcore.
On the best way to recover from a workout: You need to eat enough. I think that sometimes, especially if people are dieting, they're not eating enough and won't have enough energy. I mentioned that I don't get up at 6:30 a.m. to work out because I need more energy with the things I do now. You’re going to get lightheaded and dizzy if you're jumping up and down and lifting weights and all you’ve had is coffee and water. For the most part, recovery is about staying fed and staying hydrated. I’m working out twice a day. I couldn't do that if I wasn’t feeding myself right.
On what she puts into her body: Meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. I pretty much know whatever I’m putting in my mouth. I learned that a long time ago. My diet has definitely evolved. I have stopped eating gluten and dairy, and I am pretty good with paleo. But I’m not super strict because it is hard to be perfect about it all the time. I am always thinking about carbs, protein and fat but I find that since becoming paleo, I just need more fat; I need more fat in my life. There are studies about how animal fat is this horrible thing, but it's really not. After cutting out gluten and dairy I felt really good. I was wondering how I would feel cutting out a lot of grains, but I feel fine. I’ve been doing that for a few months now and I’ve definitely increased my strength. So maybe that's part of it. My boyfriend thinks it’s just because I have worked out so much.
Favorite workout buddy: Ella, Dallas and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is also a professional race car driver. The dogs are getting much better up at the barn. When I have my workout clothes on, Ella starts freaking out. She’s super excited, spinning in circles and jumping up and down and barking. They love going up [to the barn]. They’re getting much better about sticking around. Dallas likes to wander a lot, so I usually have to zap her [training collar] to get her back. They also love going for walks, and I love taking them for walks. It’s something I do that’s not hard but gets me moving.”
But my favorite workout buddy is my boyfriend. It’s more fun to have a little competition. If Ricky worked out all the time he would probably beat me a lot of the time, especially if the workout was under 10 minutes. When it gets to 20-or-so minutes, I tend to shine. I like working out with him. It’s nice to have someone to go workout with. CrossFit was definitely designed to be a community. But luckily I’m well-trained mentally to push myself, but I do know that I would go faster and harder if I did work out with people.
Workout vibes: Beyoncé, Trevor Hall and old-school rap. Sometimes I’ll play really chill stuff; like the other day when I was up there [the barn] working out, I played Trevor Hall on Pandora. I have always been a slow music listener; I don’t feel uninspired at all. I don’t really care about the beat; it’s not going to make me go faster or slower. But sometimes I like to play old-school rap. That’s fun too. Old school rap or Beyoncé are my upbeat channels.
Fitness pet peeve: People who don't try hard enough or people who give up. I find it very frustrating when people stop and just think they can’t keep going.
Her best advice: Try harder. I mean you can always do more. It is mostly mental, which is the challenge that I like. You can push through. I always tell people that the pain comes, and it comes for me too, but it doesn't get that much worse. Just finish; you won't regret it tomorrow. You have to push yourself to find new limits because you'll never have a new limit if you don't push it.
On where she sees herself in 10 years: Well, on the track I hope I will have won a NASCAR. I don’t think I’ll be racing in 10 years; that sounds like a really long time from now. Maybe I will, you never know. Personally and fitness-wise, I would like to have a business. I’d like to have something outside of driving that is fitness-oriented and inspiring, and uses my knowledge of what I’ve learned about health and fitness, both on the fitness side and nutrition side because I love cooking too. Hopefully I can use that to help people.”
Now that you've caught a glimpse of Patrick off the track, be sure to catch her on the track on Sunday, July 31 when NBCSN presents Sprint Cup racing from Pocono Raceway at 1 p.m. EST.