Aaron Tippin is workin' it. He isn't honing a song in the studio. He's not on stage. At the moment, he's flat on his back, bench-pressing a barbell.
The man who once welded iron part-time when music wasn't paying the bills is now pumping it.
While there's not a lot of weight to contend with, it's a task, as he holds a pose. Since the late morning, he's struck freeze-frame images, lifting and pushing barbells, dumbbells, cables and body-building machines. Even with the occasional ocean breezes wafting through the open-air club, which looks more like a converted airplane hangar than the typical California chrome-and-strut fitness center, Tippin's breaking a sweat. This is likely the longest workout he's ever had, putting every body part through it's paces for a photo shoot. And there's at least two hours to go.
Tippin is likely the buffest man in country music; he's certainly its best known body builder, his arms bulging through short-sleeve shirts in videos for hit songs like "Working Man's Ph.D." and "There Ain't Nothin' Wrong With The Radio." He's looking at his peak this day, muscles well defined though not rippling or shredded like the Michelin Man look that some may associate with massive bodybuilders. While not excessively cut with veins popping out all over and lots of striation, he's looking lean.
"My older sister's a body builder, she got me into it," he says. "When I was 25, I got divorced and realized I wanted to live past 30."
Typical for those who take up the sport, the more he did, the more he got hooked. "Y'know, once you become an ironhead, you get memberships in all sorts of gyms around town."
Tippin attributes his current lean and mean physique to a diligent program that finds him attacking arms, shoulders, back, chest, legs and so on, six days a week, training sessions split in the day, attempting to work every body part three times a week. Though the weight he lifts isn't great, the intensity is tremendous and exhaustive. He does 13 to 15 repetitions of each set of exercises, such as barbell bicep curls for the individual arms or behind-the-neck pull-downs for the lateral muscles in the back, while seated at a machine that utiltizes cables.
"I only rest for about 90 seconds between sets," he says. This exhausts muscles differently than typical pyramiding, where a bodybuilder will start perhaps with a lighter weight at 10 to 12 reps, then increase the amount of weight and decrease the reps -- eight to 10, then six to eight, etc. -- and rest longer between the sets. Increasing the reps and shortening the rest period between sets will bring muscle failure faster, and failure, in either case, if often the goal. As tissue is broken down, it grows back stronger. The high repetitions -- "reps" -- exhaust muscles differently than lower repetitions. Researchers have discovered there are "high twitch" and "low twitch" muscle fibers. Simply put, the former influences the 'cut' look of muscles, while the latter affects bulk size, through neither are mutually exclusive.
"Through you try to keep up the high reps, it's usually down to eight to 10 by the end of the week," Tippin says. "Sometimes maybe even five to seven. Depends how hard you work." Magazines often run stories about stars who work out two or three hours each day. Tippin shakes his head and laugh. "An hour, maybe an hour and half for me. Hell, I'm an old man.
"I like to mix up and shake up the body parts," he says heartily, looking mighty youthful, despite his salt-and-pepper hair. "I'm getting ready to lift heavy again." What's heavy for him? In body building or weight-lifting, one may feel competition from other muscleheads, but it's all relative to one's own goals and abilities.
"You're not challenging anyone else but yourself," Tippin agrees, regarding the nature of the sport itself. "I'd like to have a 300-pound bench, 500 deadlift and 400 squats." Taking his size and age into consideration, that's still some hefty weight to push around.
Performing most nights a week is easily an aerobic activity, but when Tippin gets back to lifting heavy weight (most bodybuilders do it in the fall and winter months), he'll balance that with more aierobic activity in his routine. But he won't be sliding across some small mat back and forth, or stepping up and down a plastic riser like the instructors on cable channels, more likely, he says, he'll take to a stationary bicycle or treadmill.
Tippin's training schedule depends on the time of year and what time it is in his career. He often finds it easier to train on the road than when he's working in studios recording for weeks at a time. "On the road you can really be more regular about it and work it into daily routines," he says. His bass player usually trains with him and they rarely have a problem finding a place to get in a good workout, whether they're in a big city or the smallest of towns.
It's rarely a problem sometime during the day before a show. He'll often try to schedule interviews or promotional appearances around an iron session.
"There's no town that doesn't have a gym," he says. "And if you find one that actually doesn't, you can go to the local high school. They always have one."
Body building types aren't as strict as many of their friends may think -- most will admit you've got to treat yourself sometime and give in to that plate of fries or piece of cake. While not a diet fanatic, Tippin generally stays conscientious of his body fuel and cooks on the tour bus, where fats, salts and calories can be controlled. He laments a lack of perception when he does dine out with the band and road crew.
"Why can't people understand that concept of a plate of pasta with nothing on it?" he asks. "You wouldn't believe how hard that is to find sometimes."