Recently, online magazine Politico sent a “young and reasonably fit” journalist to meet with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal trainer and go through the same workout routine the 84-year old Supreme Court Justice does. Ginsburg’s workout “nearly broke” the young man, which shows that serious fitness is a matter of training, not age. Even if you don’t aspire to bench press 70 pounds the way 100-pound Ginsburg does, we can all learn something from her routine, which includes stretching, strength training, balance work, and at least one exercise her trainer recommends to avoid or delay the need for in-home care.
Training like a Supreme Court justice
Politico’s reporter, Ben Schreckinger, didn’t get to work out with Ginsburg herself. Instead, he did a 90-minute simulation of Ginsburg’s twice-a-week hour-long workout with personal trainer, 52-year old Army Reserve Sergeant Bryant Johnson. Johnson trains a number of judges based in Washington, including two other Supreme Court Justices, 56-year old Elena Kagan and 78-year old Stephen Breyer.
During Schreckinger’s workout, Johnson put him through exercises designed to keep his clients strong and help them maintain good balance. Besides doing multiple sets of 70-pound lifts on the bench press machine, Ginsburg’s workout involves twenty full push-ups and a variety of other strength-machine exercises like rows, leg presses, and lat pull-downs. Ginsburg also does standard and side plank exercises to strengthen her core.
Side planks are also a balance-building challenge, and maintaining good balance as we age is the key to reducing our risk of falls. Other balance exercises in the routine Johnson put together for Ginsburg are one-legged squats and squats on a bosu balance trainer that wobbles. (For safety, the exercises are done with a spotter.)
Exercising your independence
There’s one more balance exercise that Johnson made a point of including in Schreckinger’s Ginsburg-style workout. “He had me sit on a bench while holding a medicine ball, then stand up, toss him the ball and sit back down again after he flipped the ball back to me.” This series of moves is designed to strengthen the muscles and balance needed to use the toilet without help – something that can help avoid or delay the need for in-home assistance or assisted living.
Starting or changing your fitness routine
Ginsburg’s fitness routine didn’t get tough overnight. She started working out with a trainer in 1999 after her treatment for colon cancer was finished. In 2013, she told the Washington Post she never imagined then that she’d be able to handle the kind rigorous workout she does now. Long before she could knock out twenty full push-ups, she started with standing push-offs against the gym wall. Over time, her strength and endurance have grown.
Her trainer’s ruling for the rest of us? Do some kind of physical activity. It doesn’t have to be two hours a week of intense personal training, but we’re all better off with some kind of exercise routine. If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your doctor for recommendations and check with your local senior center and community pool for gentle fitness classes like yoga and water aerobics to get you started.