When SNEWS decided to take a look at President Bush's workout -- and how it was surviving in obviously busy times, you know, like during war -- as well as at what kind of exercise facilities are in the White House and what's in 'em, we never dreamed we'd be treated like we were doing foreign espionage.
"Exercise is part of the president's daily life and helps him feel physically and mentally sound," a White House spokesperson told SNEWS. "Running particularly clears his mind and helps relieve the enormous stress he is under."
Super, we thought. Great example he is. So, we continued, has he had to modify his routine at all because of wartime duties?
"Exercise is part of the president's daily life and helps him feel physically and mentally sound," we were told. Wait. Hadn't we just been told that?
Ah, the investigative journalism we undertake for SNEWS readersâ€¦.
Nevertheless, be it war, a sputtering economy, or rising unemployment -- none are apparently enough to keep U.S. President George W. Bush from lacing up his running shoes, climbing aboard the elliptical, or heaving a few weights around. Given Bush's outspoken commitment to fitness, we could have predicted this. We just thought it'd be, well, kinda fun to eke out a tad more detail about routines, staff facilities or equipment used. Turns out the White House Media Affairs staff -- color them humorless -- didn't recognize a light, fun, positive story. What we thought would be entertaining turned into an endless round of frustrating dead-end phone calls.
"Exercise is part of the president's daily life and helps him feel physically and mentally sound...." OK, already, we know that, can we move on?
The well-scripted staff was very reluctant to give the most basic of information, such as does he use the pool, why doesn't he like the track that Bill Clinton put in, has he ever had any injuries, how many races or marathons has he run, or does he encourage his staff to workout. You could fuggedabout getting what turns out to be the most highly classified information about -- gasp -- the brands he uses or wears or which brands are simply in White House workout rooms. You'd think we'd asked whether he wears boxers or briefs.
Running and exercise make the world go 'round
But that doesn't keep us from finding out a few tidbits, from some of our own sources, as well as from researching pictures of him or reading other news coverage, both TV and print, where the background is obvious or quotes can be culled. Running is his main catharsis, it seems. But look closely at his pictures -- you won't ever see a brand or logo emblazoned on any of his clothes. Except his shoes. Can't hide shoes. Normally, Bush is a Mizuno guy, it seems, wearing Mizuno Wave Creations, which according to running shoe reviews are for "maximum cushioning" for medium-to-large frames and medium to high arches. Hmmm.
Bush has said that on any given day, "There's never a question that I will exercise," adding that he has been running with more intensity, his times have improved and he has lost 10 pounds since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- when stress relief became a daily necessity.
Indeed, his statistics are impressive -- we were told by the monotone Media Affairs spokesperson that he works out six to seven days a week, running three to four times and using an elliptical trainer and strength training on other days. He stretches after workouts, too, perhaps as a result of previously working with a personal trainer (a nameless "friend of the First Family") who developed the president's regime.
The running bug bit Bush 31 years ago, and he credits it with helping him sleep at night, be disciplined, stay young and "add a little bounce" to his step. At six feet tall, the leader of the free world weighs 186 pounds and has a body fat percentage of 14 percent and a resting heart rate of 44 beats per minute -- all way ahead of the average weekend warrior.
And don't let his 56 years fool you -- this guy can run pretty fast, averaging 6:45 to 7:30 per mile for his typical three- to four-mile runs. Bush prefers to run in the morning -- particularly outdoors when at Camp David or his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He doesn't like the outdoor track that Bill Clinton had installed at the White House during his presidency (of course, no one could tell us why not), but Runners World magazine was lucky enough last year to find out that Bush wishes he could "take off on a long run around the Washington Mall." Ah, the lack of freedom when you are the president. (Think about it, he can't even go out for a run by himself, ever, and some Secret Service qualifications now include being able to run a 6:30 or so mile.)
Hitting the gym
Flexibility is a job requirement when you're president, so inevitable variances in his schedule send Bush to the gym at lunchtime or after work to break up long days and recharge his batteries. Air Force One has been outfitted with a treadmill (no, the spokeswoman didn't say which brand, for goodness sake) to make productive use of his frequent time in the air, we were told. And she said that Bush once ran 90 minutes on the treadmill when flying to Europe (actually, she read this to us from the Runners World story last year). And although she said that she didn't know how the president exercises when he travels and is in hotels, Bush has already said that "there's always a treadmill in my room."
When we asked about what kind of equipment the president uses at any of his residences or Camp David, the White House said that it didn't know and couldn't release that information anyway. We've been told by several manufacturers that have had contracts for equipment with the White House that the fine print they sign states contractors will never ever say they sold to the White House, what they sold and will never use that information for any promotion -- under threat of being black-balled. Forever.
But insiders tell SNEWS that Bush uses a Life Fitness 9500HR elliptical cross-trainer, a Woodway Desmo Pro treadmill, a variety of free weights which includes some Cybex equipment (he has a squat rack and a bench press station in his personal facility at the White House residence), and a stability ball. Woodway also claims to have received orders for two of its Desmo Pro units for Camp David, but our spokesperson said she didn't know what Camp David facilities offered. Ha. As if she'd tell us if she did?
Staff gets to sweat too
As for Bush's staff, non-exercisers don't make the grade. The president expects his workers to elevate their heart rates and pump some iron, recognizing that they will perform better if they are healthy and fit. He encourages them to exercise daily -- before or after work or during the day -- and to take advantage of the two fitness centers in the White House that provide cardiovascular equipment, weight training machines and group exercise classes. As far as which and how many machines there are, the size of the facilities and what type of classes attract the D.C. clan, you'll just have to imagine it since the White House said -- no surprises here -- "we don't give out that information." At least we were able to confirm that there are locker rooms.
Whatever equipment they are using, White House staffers appear to be following the president's example. In fact, the February issue of Shape magazine shared the stories of six "First Ladies of Fitness" who work in the White House and report that they are visibly benefiting from its fitness-friendly environment. They include Mary Matalin, counselor to the vice president; Nicolle Devenish, director of media affairs (hey, maybe we should have called her directly?); Margaret Spellings, director, Office of Domestic Policy; Wendy Nipper, special assistant to the director, Office of Global Communications; Andi Ball, deputy assistant to the president and chief of staff to the First Lady (who we hear is a fitness walker herself); and Jennifer Millerwise, press secretary to the vice president.
Will the country as a whole benefit?
Beyond the four walls of the White House, Bush last June launched the HealthierUS Initiative to help Americans get off the couch (see SNEWS story, June 21, 2002). Here he encouraged people to "improve America" by being physically active daily, eating a nutritious diet, getting preventive screenings and eliminating tobacco, drugs and excessive drinking. As part of the program, Bush re-launched the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and signed an executive order directing federal agencies to work together to develop policies to promote personal fitness. The president is in fact resolute that anyone can make time to exercise.
SNEWS View: With a job like Bush's, being fit and healthy undoubtedly must pay huge dividends in being able to maintain energy, stamina and clear thinking in the face of extraordinary pressure. Something about survival of the fittest?
We are thrilled that the president has emphasized personal responsibility for health and fitness in a culture obsessed with pointing fingers and looking for excuses. But while we applaud the HealthierUS Initiative, it doesn't appear to have the muscle necessary to motivate stubborn, sedentary Americans to start sweating. We can't tell if there is more to it than just a website with information on fitness, nutrition and healthy behaviors. So far, the outdoor, fitness and sporting goods industries apparently aren't reaping measurable benefits from this program, but maybe that's still to come. The government has given the PE program â€“ PEP â€“ more money for grants of late, so that's a positive step.
It certainly is a plus for the fitness and recreation industry to have an active and highly visible advocate leading the charge. His unwavering dedication to fitness, his infectious enthusiasm for exercise, and the fact that he embraces his role model status aren't to be dismissed.
Although we honestly didn't expect the White House to divulge what brands the president uses, we thought general information about how White House workout facilities were equipped would be innocuous at best. In fact, we were sort of miffed at the tremendous lack of answers to the most blasÃ© of questions, as well as the downright secrecy of information such as if the president uses selectorized machines or free weights. We understand that perhaps reporting the president likes to run through the streets of Europe may be an issue of national security, but we didn't think knowing how many elliptical trainers are in the White House fitness centers would be a big deal.
One thing for certain we do know: "Exercise is part of the president's daily life and helps him feel physically and mentally sound...." And if he can do it, so can many more of the American public.