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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's trainer: "There is no such thing as 'girl push-ups'"
It’s official: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a legendary badass.
From being the first female member of the Harvard Law Review, to beating cancer (twice!), to crushing it in the gym alongside her fitness trainer of 20 years, the 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice has defined what it means to be a strong woman both in and out of the courthouse.
In the new documentary “RBG,” which details Ginsburg’s tireless fight to end gender discrimination over the past two decades, viewers get an inside look at the life of the Justice, including what it takes to train like a boss. LIVESTRONG.COM spoke exclusively to Byrant Johnson, her longtime personal trainer, who revealed the secrets behind what makes the Justice one of the strongest, most inspiring women of our time.
“Training the Justice and now looking at the documentary and getting more of an insight on how she has quietly attacked women’s rights like a ninja — it’s almost unbelievable,” Johnson says of his client. “The consistency, the tenacity and the commitment is what the Justice has.”
The RBG Workout
So what does a workout with the Justice actually entail? Let’s just say that Johnson holds nothing back when it comes to training the Notorious RBG.
“The Justice goes hard in the gym!” he laughs. “Our typical workout starts off with the three A’s: I assess, I adjust and I adapt, and this all happens the moment she walks in the door.”
Ginsburg, who according to Johnson has never been a fan of small talk, gets right to work the second she enters the room.
“The greeting typically is, ‘Hey Justice, how are you today?’” Johnson says. “Either she’s fine or, ‘Hey, Bryant, I’ve only had an hour of sleep.’ So that’s my assessment, and from that assessment I’m going to approach the workout from one way or another. I’m going to go hard on her, or I’m going to pull back just a little bit, but not too much because she knew we were going to train and she still showed up.”
Johnson, whose book “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … And You Can Too” was published in October, works out with the Justice twice a week, each in one-hour sessions, during which they cover everything from cardio to weights.
“I start off with having her on the elliptical, and that’s just a warmup to get the heart rate going and the blood flowing,” he says. “And then from there we’ll rotate the neck, rotate the hips, the shoulders, the arms, the ankles and really go into stretching. And then we get straight into the weights. We go into chest press, chest extension, leg press, leg curls, leg extensions — we do the whole routine.”
Girl Push-Ups? Yeah, right!
While Ginsburg’s list of accomplishments is long in the world of women’s rights, her fight for gender equality doesn’t stop in the gym. Specifically, push-ups!
“The Justice is ending stereotypes while training as an 85-year-old woman, and it’s been a powerful thing to witness,” Johnson says. “When we think of someone doing push-ups on their knees, what do people refer to them as? ‘Girl push-ups.’ It’s that old stereotype with women and push-ups, and it goes hand in hand with what the Justice has fought for her entire life.”
He continues: “No, she does not do ‘girl push-ups.’ There is no such thing as ‘girl push-ups.’ Whether you’re doing them on the wall, on your knees or off your knees, it’s just a push-up. The documentary is about her fighting for women’s rights and how she knocks down those barriers both inside and outside the gym.”
“Can’t” Is Not a Word
Johnson and Ginsburg’s relationship stems back to a pivotal point in the Justice’s life following her first battle with colorectal cancer in 1999. After nine months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and a nine-hour surgery, she was eager to get strong.
“I was introduced to the Justice by way of a referral,” Johnson recounts of their meeting. “Her husband literally looked at her after she finished chemo and said, ‘You look like you’ve just come out of a concentration camp. We need to find somebody to get you stronger and just improve your quality of life.’ From the moment we met, everything went into trainer-and-client mode. It didn’t matter who she was, it didn’t matter what she had, it didn’t matter that she was coming through her last bout of chemotherapy. To me, she was my client now. It didn’t really matter to me what she couldn’t do.”
He adds, “Can’t is not a word for me, and I can say it from working out with the Justice, she probably doesn’t understand what that word means either. When we are together, she’s never used the word ‘can’t.” She’s never fought me.”
Confidence Is Key
During their training following the cancer, Johnson recounts a sincere and motivating moment in the Justice’s fitness journey — one that he says makes his job the most rewarding.
“We started out with crunches, and then when she got stronger, we started to do planks,” he says. “I’ll never forget the day she started doing push-ups on her own without me guiding her or helping her in any way. The light in her eye was unforgettable — it was like she got her soul back. Her confidence was back.”
Just Show Up!
So what piece of advice does Johnson have for anyone looking to train like Ginsburg and get that same type of confidence in their own life?
“Meet me where you are, and I’ll meet you where you are — if you show up. And that’s what the Justice does. She just shows up.”
Want to learn more about Ginsberg and Johnson’s workouts as well as the Justice’s life spent fighting for women’s rights? Check out “RGB” in theaters now!