Health & Medicine

Book’s challenge: Can you do squats like Justice Ginsburg?

Bryant Johnson, personal trainer for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with his book, “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong ... and You Can Too!” Johnson, who now also trains Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. He says he hopes the book will help convince people: “You’re never too old to do something.”
Bryant Johnson, personal trainer for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with his book, “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong ... and You Can Too!” Johnson, who now also trains Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. He says he hopes the book will help convince people: “You’re never too old to do something.” AP

Personal trainer Bryant Johnson hears it all the time: Four more years.

That’s how long fans of his client, 84-year-old Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, tell him he has to keep her healthy so a one-term President Donald Trump won’t get to name the liberal justice’s replacement on the Supreme Court.

Johnson’s response: Why just four years? Why not 14?

Interest in the workout of the Supreme Court’s oldest justice and in the man behind it has only grown since the election of Trump, who — to be clear — says he’ll occupy the White House for eight years. And it has resulted in a new workout book written by Johnson, out Wednesday: “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … and You Can Too!”

Johnson said he hopes the book will show people: “You’re never too old to do something.”

Ginsburg started working out with Johnson in 1999 after being treated for colorectal cancer. As Ginsburg tells the story, her husband told her that she looked “like a survivor of a concentration camp” and needed to do something to rebuild her strength.

That’s when another judge referred her to Johnson, the records manager at a federal court in Washington who also is an Army reservist and trainer. Their twice-a-week workouts helped Ginsburg regain her strength after her first bout with cancer and again after she was treated for pancreatic cancer in 2009.

“Early on, she saw the benefits of exercise,” said Johnson, who has trained two other liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Johnson says that what he does won’t necessarily make anyone live longer, but it will improve their quality of life. He calls Ginsburg “awesome” and “remarkable.”

Ginsburg has called Johnson a “very important part of my life.”

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, after speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. Carolyn Kaster AP

The idea for a book came about this year, after Politico Magazine wrote a piece on the workout. Johnson, 53, took reporter Ben Schreckinger through Ginsburg’s workout. The result was a piece titled “I did Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Workout. It Nearly Broke Me.”

An editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt wrote to Johnson after it ran. Would he help with a book? He ran the idea past Ginsburg and she agreed, even writing the book’s foreword. Schreckinger helped Johnson write the text.

The result is an approximately 120-page volume that walks readers through Ginsburg’s hourlong workout, with illustrations of the justice doing each exercise. Some illustrations show her in a workout sweatshirt that reads “SUPER DIVA!” on the front.

Ginsburg is often asked at appearances about her planks and push-ups, and not the modified ones in which people put their knees on the ground. The book makes clear that she does a lot more, including chest and shoulder presses, bicep and leg curls, one-legged squats, knee raises and an exercise in which she throws Johnson a weighted ball.

Ginsburg typically meets Johnson in the evenings at a gym at the court. “PBS NewsHour” plays in the background while she works out. Occasionally, Johnson says, a clerk has come down with some important brief, and he’ll move things around so Ginsburg can read, either while warming up on the elliptical or doing another exercise during which he can hold the paper for her.

Johnson can tell when Ginsburg is tired or going strong. Sometimes he’ll employ some “funny counting,” to get her to do more repetitions of an exercise. Or, he’ll cut her a break if she’s fading. The justice, he says, never says “can’t.” He calls her TAN: Tough As Nails.

Three years ago, during a workout session, Johnson noticed that something with Ginsburg was off, and she said she felt nauseous. Johnson got her assistants involved, and they persuaded her to go by ambulance to a hospital, where she had a stent implanted to clear a blocked artery to her heart. As she was about to be driven away, Johnson said, he joked: “Justice, don’t think you’re going to get out of these push-ups.”

What was going on in his head was something else.

“I’m thinking: Not on my watch.”

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