Health

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's workout is as fierce as her legal reputation

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits for an official photo with other members of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 1, 2017.
US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits for an official photo with other members of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 1, 2017.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

How does one of America's most powerful octogenarians keep fit? Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg credits personal trainer Bryant Johnson, author of The RBG Workout.

In 1999, Ginsburg was recovering from her first bout with cancer. Her husband said she needed to get her strength back. So she asked around and was led to Johnson — a court clerk who moonlights as a personal trainer.

Almost 20 years later, that relationship endures. A spry 84, Ginsburg works out two to three times a week with Johnson.

Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, April 27, 2017.
Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, April 27, 2017.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Johnson said that the Notorious RBG wasn't initially thrilled at the prospect of a hard workout.

"The workout has evolved over years," he says. "I do remember clearly that I told her that we will be doing pushups, and we'll be doing weight bearing exercises and we'll be doing a lot of things. And when I said pushups, she didn't say anything. But she looked at me like, really?"

Was it ever a problem making Ruth Bader Ginsburg do pushups?

"No, it was never a problem to me. The beauty is that exercise is the equalizer. It doesn't matter who you are — race, religion, color, gender, national origin, sexual preference. It doesn't matter. Exercise does not have a party line," Johnson says.

Bryant says the workout is good for any age and ability, but it is designed with older people in mind. He wants to help them stay independent, and to do that they need to be able to move around.

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to first year Georgetown University law students in Washington, DC on September 20, 2017.
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to first year Georgetown University law students in Washington, DC on September 20, 2017.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

He reveals that Ginsburg isn't fond of planking.

"This is my sneaky way of getting the justice down on the ground and then making her get up off of the ground. Because what are elderly people afraid of? Falling down, getting up. Just to get down on the ground and get up is going to take almost every muscle in your body - your core and everything - just to be able to stand back up," Johnson says.

His book is illustrated with drawings of Ginsburg doing squats, bicep curls and chest flies, all while wearing a special shirt.

"That's her favorite shirt, and it says super diva. It doesn't just say diva," he says.

Over the years, Johnson has pushed Ginsburg and helped her build her strength. He remembers when she was eventually able to do full pushups, off her knees.

"She lit up," he says. "I said, OK, Justice, you just did it without being on your knees. She's like, (gasps). And she was excited. That's the one exercise that she always does."