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In Defense of the POTUS: Everything Right With Barack Obama's Workout

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The commander-in-chief's recently been catching a lot of criticism for a workout at the Marriott hotel gym in Warsaw. Given my experience as a certified strength and conditioning specialist, with a Ph.D. in exercise science, and having spent the last seven years studying health and well-being among some of the world's best athletes, I feel compelled to point out a few things in defense of the president.

The criticisms basically center around three themes:

a) "Dude, bro. What's up with the little girlie weights?"
b) Obama's such a sissy compared to Putin
c) Substantive critiques of the exercise routine

Let me dismiss the first two points quickly and succinctly.

a) Have you ever met a female athlete? Having spent the better part of the last 20 years working with them, let me offer you a clue: 99 percent of them are stronger, faster better at sports, and overall more physically capable than 99 percent of the dudes I know. Sorry bro, if that makes you feel insecure about your manhood. This is the 21st century. Get over it.

b) Seriously? Here's the thing: global politics isn't an arm wrestling contest. Barack Obama has command over one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. Vladimir Putin has the other. You think this is about who looks better on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine?

As for c), instead of what's wrong, why don't we point out what's right about the routine.

1) He's doing it. Here's the leader of the free world, a 52-year-old, workaholic executive, in the midst of arguably the most challenging American foreign relations crisis since the Cold War traveling to a country that was at the epicenter of said Cold War. The president's making time to work out, because the overwhelming evidence says it will make him happier, healthier and more effective at doing his job. You, like many Americans, haven't worked out since Game of Thrones started, because... you know... it's... like... really captivating.

2) He's doing cardio and weight lifting, both of which are essential components of healthy exercise, as defined by every authoritative body in the world (for instance, the American College of Sports Medicine, American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and World Health Organization). According to the most recent data, a mere 20-percent of Americans manage to do this on a regular basis, because... you know... The Bachelorette just started back up (who has time?! And weight lifting will just make you bulky!)

3) He's doing efficient, effective, functional multi-joint exercises that use multiple large muscles (a step-up, for instance, engages the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and trunk stabilizers), while at the same time challenging balance and coordination (aka "neuromotor exercise"). He even did a combo lower-body lunge with upper-body curl/press. This is a great example of a time-efficient way to approach healthy strength training, instead of countless repetitions of single joint exercises (e.g., quadriceps extension, hamstring curl and triceps extension) and crunches that so many people focus on.

Of course, any qualified, competent fitness professional who watches anyone work out will see opportunities for improvement and correction (especially given only a 90-second glimpse). I'm no exception. It looks like greater range of motion might be appropriate for the lunge and shoulder press. Then again, maybe the president has a knee and/or shoulder injury that contraindicates full range, in which case this is a completely appropriate adjustment. I'm not a fan of the headphones, but a) maybe he's listening to something really important (being leader of the free world and all), or b) maybe he's listening to some good music, helping him enjoy the experience, and thereby make his workout more effective.

Many seem to think the weights are too light. I don't know the president or train him, so I have no idea what weights are appropriate. Neither do you. It depends on his fitness level, training history, injury history, other exercise he's doing, recovery state, etc. His technique isn't flawless, but it's not egregiously awful either. It's always better to do an exercise correctly than to compromise quality to lift more. While I love free-weight squats, lunges, rows, pulls and presses as core exercises, they're not for everyone, especially if someone isn't trained to perform the movements correctly. All of this depends on a proper needs analysis, which again requires a trained professional to know and work with the president personally. I happened to see a minute-and-a-half of one random workout, so I can't possibly understand the bigger picture.

To be honest, at the end of the day, based on what I know, and despite the flaws I see, the president's routine looks better than 90 percent of the workouts I see at the gym. It's probably better than that of many elite athletes. Could it be better? Of course. But it's certainly a good starting point, and a lot better than what most of us are able to manage.

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