The muscular Minnesota country singer gives us the lowdown on his fitness routine.
When we premiered Dave McElroy’s “Trucker Hat” video this summer, we couldn’t help but notice how seriously strong and muscular the guy is. So we went back for an in-depth conversation about fitness, eating clean, working hard, and splurging. We also got his picks for some hard-driving songs to train to.
“I hope I don’t come off as preachy about training or trying to live a healthy lifestyle,” McElroy says. “It is all supposed to be fun. I live my whole life around fun!”
Let the fun begin.
Cowboys & Indians: What is your weekly fitness routine and do you combine the gym with other areas in your life — like working on the farm — into your cardio or fitness regimen?
Dave McElroy: I grew up working for my parents starting at a very young age around farming and that world. My base muscles and my strength come from years of hard work. I still maintain that base working on my property, cutting up trees, and working the land. I also train at the gym to work on my functional strength to make sure my stage show is the best it can be. I combine healthy eating and good sleep — two crucial elements to training — with this routine at the gym. Every day I do some kind of light cardio and core. Your core is the one muscle group that you can work every day. I combine that with this regimen: Mondays: I work chest and back; Tuesdays: shoulders, biceps and triceps (affectionately known as beach muscle day); Wednesdays: I work legs. Then on Thursdays, I will do more intense cardio using interval training to burn fat, not muscle and core. I listen to my body and based on what I’m feeling, I may start the regimen all over again starting on Friday or take a day off. The key is that I’m moving my body every day in one way or the other. So, if I’m not training then I might be working on my property or going on a hike or something of that nature. I love the outdoors, so whatever I can do outside to maintain my health, I will.
C&I: How does this play in to performing?
McElroy: I am a mover on stage when I perform! You will see me shuffle or run from one side to the other or hop up on a speaker or even down into the crowd at different times when I can. I train specifically for those purposes, and because of my strong cardio regimen, I never get pitchy or flat. Everything thing I do training-wise is to put on the best possible show that I can for our friends around the country to come out and spend their valuable time with me, and to live a healthy lifestyle so I can work on my property and do the things I love to do — hunt, fish, and play sports!
C&I: For our readers who are active cowboys, do you have any training that might help for endurance for the working cattle or working in the fields?
McElroy: I grew up in that lifestyle, so I would say more than anything, legs, core, and lower back are the key components for those working in the fields. That and flexibility. Maintaining a good regimen of busting things loose through solid, easy stretching. Coupled with tons of water every day. Keeping everything fluid and flexible is a key to recovery and surviving long, hard days of work and training for completion in the sun. The upper body is important too. You need to stay balanced and you need that for the lifestyle, but any farmer, cowboy, and anyone in the rodeo will tell you that your legs and lower back are needed the most and the core ties right into that as well. As for cardio in their day-to-day life, make it a game in your head to crack out repetitive chores that need to be performed every day with as little break as possible. Bring your heart rate up, let it rest a bit, and then attack the next chore. You will get great cardio that way by repeating that cycle and your body will burn fat at the same time. Just like when I do cardio at the gym, you have to bring your heart rate up. Then after 30 seconds to a minute, let it drop and get right back at it. It helps with stamina and attacks your fat and not your muscle. If you go straight through on a treadmill for an extended period of time it will attack your muscle and not your fat. It’s all about interval training. So, make it a game in your head and reap the rewards. You’re not going to see too many cowboys, if any, on a treadmill, so that’s the way to do it!
C&I: How has your workout routine adjusted since the days you played college football? What areas from that timeframe do you still use in your training routine?
McElroy: I use many of the functional strength-training exercises that I used in my playing days. Just like on the field, it prepares you for anything, so when I’m working on my property or on stage I am fluid and don’t have to worry about injury. A lot of my core strength exercises as well come from my college football days. I have learned a great deal since then. As fitness and the understanding of the body evolve, so have my workouts.
C&I: How about supplements?
McElroy: To be honest, I don’t really use supplements. I was raised very European style, where my parents fed us well (clean) with lots of fruits and vegetables and good protein and fats, and I learned to put on muscle mass that way very quickly by moderating my eating and what my body responds to. I do like a protein shake after a workout at times if I can’t eat protein right away, and occasionally I will use a vitamin only, noncaffeinated pre-lift if I have been pushing myself crazy hard in my day-to-day life to fuel my workout. I use products made by Lifetime Fitness — they are non-gmo and completely clean products.
C&I: Do you believe in splurge days or fasting?
McElroy: I do believe in splurge days, but that doesn’t mean you go crazy! If you’re eating well that will just leave you feeling horrible anyway! You have to take care of the soul too, right? The longer you eat healthy, the less your body will crave bad things and the more it will crave healthy things. Having said that, my go-to is ice cream! I love chocolate ice cream with almonds in it! Like a lot of artists, I can’t have any dairy any time around when I’m going to be singing, but it’s a special treat when I get done with a stretch of shows or studio time and I don’t have to sing for three or four days.
C&I: Many people have rest days in between workouts. Is there something you do on those rest days to help facilitate muscle repair?
McElroy: You bet! I try to eat well, drink lots of water, stretch, and maybe do something small to move my body a bit like a hike or something. Then I just chill the rest of the time.
C&I: You’re probably not thinking of fashion when you hit the weights, but do you have suggestions for proper training shoes, clothes, and gear?
McElroy: Just be comfortable! Choose clothes that give you the freedom and protection you need when working out. It’s not a fashion show even though many dress like it is. Wear what works for you and you feel comfortable with. The only thing I would say is wear a good shoe with arch support for your cardio and make sure you warm up your muscles before you start to train. If you want to lose some water weight, go ahead and wear long sleeves or hoodie up in the winter and wear sweats bottoms (joggers) and what you want on top as long as you’re keeping your muscles warm and pliable.
C&I: What advice do you have for people who have a hard time staying on schedule? How do you deal with those days when you’re busy juggling life?
McElroy: Those days come up a lot in my world. My schedule changes by the minute and sometimes I can get a call and they’ll say we need you on the next plane out for a show. So I would say on the days when your schedule gets all messed up, do a few things: Eat well, drink lots of water, and try to move your body at some point. Go for a walk at the very end of the day when it all stops. Do something — don’t just give up on the day. If you can get yourself motivated after a long day, then do it! You will feel better having done it. Whatever you do, don’t let the days start piling up. Find a way to be active in one way or another. If it does happen that you lay off for a while — whether it’s a couple of days or a week or longer — don’t give up! Get back into it. You will be happy you did. Mental health is directly tied in so many ways to physical health.
C&I: Can you give the readers your favorite healthy go-to recipe?
McElroy: Grilled chicken or pan-cooked chicken (in olive oil) with sweet potatoes, brown rice, and asparagus or broccoli. Or just a bowl of my homemade chili!
C&I: And since you are a music man, how about your go-to 10 best training songs?
McElroy: These are my more-aggressive songs for days I’m a little tired. All but Prince!
“Shoot Me Straight” — Brothers Osborne
“It Ain’t My Fault” — Brothers Osborne
“Click Click Boom” — Saliva
“Ladies and Gentlemen” — Saliva
“Gin and Juice” — Snoop Dogg
“First Day Out Tee” — Grizzley
“Snow (Hey Oh)” — Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Alphabet St.” — Prince
“Lights Come On” — Jason Aldean
“Enter Sandman” — Metallica