Health and Wellness

How Ruth Bader Ginsburg ups the intensity of her workouts when she's short on time, according to her personal trainer

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at The Library of Congress on February 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images)
Shannon Finney

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that she "drops everything" for her workouts. For 21 years, Ginsburg, 87, has exercised with the same personal trainer, Bryant Johnson.

"There is no excuse. You either do it or you don't, and that's her attitude. She shows up," Johnson previously told CNBC Make It. "We are consistently working out."

So how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the octogenarian's fitness game?

In late March, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Ginsburg "limited private space" in a health facility so she could safely perform her workouts with Johnson, adding that "her doctors share her view that the training sessions are essential to her well-being," a representative for the court told Law 360. But the pair stopped meeting when Washington D.C.'s stay-at-home order was put in place. 

It's unclear whether Ginsburg is working out at home, but if, like Ginsburg, your gym routine has been interrupted by the pandemic, Johnson has advice on how to get in a solid workout in a short amount of time. 

It all has to do with interval training, a method that uses short bursts of intense activity followed by a period of active rest, Johnson told a blog for skincare company Pause.

"With Justice Ginsburg, I cut the rest time down between cardio to keep the intensity up," Johnson told Pause.

Research has shown that interval training is effective and efficient. For example, a 2015 study found that 30 minutes of high-intensity interval training (aka HIIT) burns 25%-30% more calories than 30 minutes of steady-state exercise.

"Think of interval training like gas mileage on a vehicle," Johnson told Pause. "Which burns more gas, highway or city driving? City driving, because it's stop and go."

The other benefit of interval training is that it can be applied to any type of workout, from strength-training to running. An easy way to start HIIT is to do 30 seconds of an exercise, followed by 15 seconds of rest, according to the American Council on Exercise. 

"Jumping rope can be better than running because it's high intensity," Johnson said. "Jump rope for 100 strokes, then rest for 30 seconds, then do another 100 strokes."

The key to cardio is finding something you genuinely like, he said. "Whatever cardio you choose, it can't be boring because you are less likely to stay with it." 

Strength-training is an important component of Ginsburg's healthy lifestyle, Johnson said, and it's easy to add to your own routine. "If you like to power walk, then walk for two minutes and do some squats," he suggested. "Walk again for 10 minutes, then do 10 lunges."

It's been a particularly busy work week for Ginsburg: On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people from workplace discrimination. And on Thursday, the Court ruled against President Donald Trump's effort to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a program that allows noncitizens brought to the U.S. illegally as children to apply for protection from deportation.

People often tell Johnson that they're too busy to work out. "I say, 'Are you busier than a Supreme Court Justice?'" he told Pause.

"Or they might say they have a bad back and are too weak to work out. Justice Ginsburg has survived four bouts with cancer and each time has continued to exercise," Johnson said. "I say be consistent over time and just show up."

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