Olympic Athlete. Elite cyclist. New York Times best selling author. Coach of the Year. John F. Kennedy Laureate Award recipient. US Bicycling Hall of Fame Inductee. USA Cycling Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. He coached Lance Armstrong. He runs a multi-million dollar coaching business with over 50 employees. He was a pioneer in online training and coaching. At the end of the day, he’s a father of three and a regular guy. And super humble. When I reached out to Chris Carmichael, I asked him if he remembered me and if he would have the time to be interviewed. His immediate response was, “Of course!” Let me take you behind the scenes with a one-on-one interview with Chris Carmichael.
Chris has built some of the most decorated US Cycling Teams in history. His company, Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) has produced more elite athletes and world champions than any other. Chris and his CTS Coaches also work with career professionals and working parents to reach their fitness and performance goals by focusing on training, recovery, nutrition, and time management as an integrated approach to improving personal performance at home, at work, and at play.
What (or who) got you interested in cycling and how did you determine that you wanted to become an Olympic athlete?
I grew up in Miami, FL in the 1960s and there was a big contingent of Cuban refugees at the time. There was a big junior cycling scene, complete with coaches yelling in Spanish from follow vehicles. They took it seriously, so I did too. I worked in a bike shop that brought in all of the European cycling magazines and I met John Howard when he visited the area. As a junior I had success and got invited to travel and compete with the US Junior National Team. I fell in love with the sport and the opportunities it opened up for me, so I threw myself into it full force.
As someone who is now in his mid-50’s, what do you do to exercise and stay in shape?
The biggest change I have made as I’ve progressed through my 50’s is the addition of strength training. As a younger cycling-specific athlete, I didn’t worry about strength training because it doesn’t really make you a faster cyclist. But as athletes get older strength training becomes more important from a lifestyle perspective. It helps to mitigate the natural decline in muscle mass, helps keep metabolism from declining, and acts as an insurance policy against silly injuries that would otherwise necessitate time away from cycling training. If you throw your back out moving furniture or doing yard work, you’ll be out of training for weeks.
As a parent of three, how do you encourage your kids to exercise, get outside and live a healthy lifestyle? Especially in this day and age when kids are glued to the Xbox and iPhone 24/7?
I think we have to lead by example. I’m not sedentary and I think that has influenced my children’s behaviors. They don’t necessarily have to follow my footsteps into cycling, but my children have always seen that exercise and training are a priority in my life. My oldest daughter was an equestrian athlete. Some of the best times I’ve spent with my son have been bike rides we’ve taken together. And my youngest daughter loves gymnastics. I think the best thing we can do for our children is demonstrate that fitness and physical activity can be integrated into a successful adult lifestyle. I want my children to view physical activity – in any form – as an integral component of living a successful and productive lifestyle.
Pink Fortitude is all about finding strength after life hands you trials and setbacks. You’ve had to reinvent yourself several times over your career including a broken femur that ended your cycling career and the Lance Armstrong controversy. What motivates you to keep going when you face adversity?
Interestingly, when I face setbacks in my personal or professional life I go back to my days racing as an amateur in Europe for motivation. In the early 1980’s, American cyclists in Europe were viewed as outsiders. We were cursed at and derided, told we didn’t belong, and told to go home. The racing was hard. The living conditions were abysmal. There were people actively working to make life as hard as possible for us. So, when life hands me adversity these days, I think back to those days and gain strength from the fact I fought through all of that to reach the US Olympic Team, the 7-Eleven Team, the Giro d’Italia, and the Tour de France. Those days were so hard that nothing life throws at me now seems that tough.
What are your favorite foods? Healthy foods and also your favorite indulgences?
I am not an extremist when it comes to diet, particularly because I view dietary choices through a performance lens more than a health lens. For health, a focus on whole foods and an abundance of fruits and vegetables is an obvious choice. From a performance perspective, I think athletes perform best when fueled by an “all of the above” mentality. As athletes get older I think a smart move is to shift the balance to more plants and fewer animal products, but I am neither a strict vegan nor a strict vegetarian. When you look at eating behaviors, most people who adopt a dietary strategy that eliminates entire food groups (ketosis, vegan, etc.) eventually gravitate back to the middle and end up deriving 40-50% of their calories from carbohydrate, 20-30% of calories from fat, and the balance from protein. The emphasis on whole foods and the way we eat (eating behaviors, not the foods) is more important than the macronutrient composition. As for my favorite indulge, I’d have to say good red wine. I know it doesn’t have any beneficial effect on athletic performance and I could achieve the same heart healthy effects from grape juice, but I like a glass of really good red wine.
What is one thing you do every single day no matter what to maintain optimal health?
Push-ups. It’s not necessarily the push-ups themselves that are essential to optimal health, but rather it’s the consistency of including exercise in my daily routine. My travel schedule is very busy and I wish I had more time to ride my bike, but push-ups are something I can do in any location and without any equipment. It provides a touchstone to activity that I can then leverage to being more active in other behaviors. Daily push-ups remind me I’m an athlete, even if I am not able to do more than that on a particular day.
What is one piece of advice for anyone in their health journey, at any stage, for maintaining a long term healthy lifestyle?
CTS coaches an 84-year-old athlete named Fred Schmidt. He wins National Championships in just about every event he enters (I think he has 27 at this point). Whenever he is interviewed the reporter asks about his secret for staying competitive into his 80’s, and his response is always, “Just don’t stop.” Fred has gotten slower over the years, as expected, but he keeps going. He doesn’t stop, and he doesn’t let anything stop him from enjoying training. So I’ve adopted Fred’s mantra: Just don’t stop.
Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us today. We really appreciate it and I know you’ve inspired our readers! You’ve definitely inspired me, that’s for sure! And just for grins… I wanted to share this picture. I think this was 17 years ago.
Learn more information about Chris Carmichael’s seven books, including “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” and “The Time-Crunched Triathlete, along with the New York Times Bestseller “Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness.”
And visit CTS online and via social media at trainright.com.
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What about you? How do you keep your balance in life and when training?
Love, hugs, and not stopping.HERE.