Ripped Rep

Paul Ryan’s Extreme Workout Plan

The new GOP vice presidential candidate is just as zealous about zapping body fat as he is about slicing government spending. Eliza Shapiro investigates the extreme workout regimen that Ryan spread to his House colleagues as successfully as he sold his controversial budget.

New vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan has been called many things—a dangerous extremist, the future of the Republican Party, a mistake, a risk—but one thing nearly everyone can agree on is that he’s quite serious. That seriousness extends beyond cutting government spending. Ryan is very serious about his personal fitness.

The Wisconsin congressman has been a devotee of the brutal P90X workout for about four years, and frequently leads workouts with other members of Congress. P90X is a 90-day workout plan that involves intensive cardio combined with yoga, karate and other fitness staples for 60 to 90 minutes a day, six days a week. Created in 2005 by Santa Monica, California-based fitness guru Tony Horton and sold as a $140 package of DVDs, the workout bills itself as “extreme home fitness.” Workout sheets are timed to the second to optimize each work out—water breaks are timed from 37 seconds to one minute four seconds. Other P90X fans include Sheryl Crow and NFL star Kurt Warner.

Beach Body, which distributes the DVD program, claims that P90X is the “number one best-selling home fitness program in America,” and the company told The Wall Street Journal in February of this year that 3.5 million P90X DVDs had been sold since 2005.

Some fitness experts say P90X is so intense that run-of-the-mill exercisers may not want to try it at home. “A lot of people are not actually at the level,” required to undertake the program, says Thomas Williamson, a personal trainer in New York City. P90X demands a baseline level of coordination, balance, and strength, Williamson says. “A lot of people end up getting injured just trying to keep up. If they're in their living room doing the workout, no one is supervising them.” Horton does his best to coach beginners, urging them to take extra breaks and try easier versions of the exercises. For those who are truly prepared to undertake P90X, Williamson says, “it’s a great workout. You do get in shape.”

P90X is advertised largely through infomercials, one of which shows Horton striding through an industrial gym, announcing P90X is “about bringing it, it’s about intensity, it’s about finding out who you are, it’s about finding out if you can get in the best shape of your life. … Just do your best and forget the rest,” he says, barely panting while stretching his legs, armed with two large weights. During one video, Horton and a group of ripped P90X-ers, cross their arms in an X formation and yell “Bring it!” at the camera.

Paul Ryan has brought it, even crossing party lines in search of an appropriately rigorous workout. In a March 2010, Ryan told Politico that he and then-Michigan Democratic representative Bart Stupak “lead [P90X] every morning,” in the House of Representatives gym. “There are about a dozen of us who do it,” he said. Horton said that former Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner used the P90X plan, and anyone who saw the accidental Twitter pictures that were his political downfall has seen the evidence firsthand. “He’s hardcore,” Horton said.

Ryan says he keeps his body fat between 6 and 8 percent. At six-foot-two, the congressman says he weighs about 163 pounds and tries to get his heart rate to 165 during cardio. He says he wears a heart pulse monitor while working out. “I’m kind of a skinny guy,” he told Politico. Ryan held down three jobs right after graduating from Miami University in Ohio in 1992, one of which was as a personal trainer. Ryan’s father died of a heart attack when Ryan was sixteen, one reason, according to a New York Times article published Sunday, for Ryan’s dedication to fitness.

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In the Politico interview, Ryan praised P90X’s trademark “muscle confusion” tactic—something Beach Body’s website calls an “advanced science.” Muscle confusion involves, according to the website, “targeting training phases so your body keeps growing and adapting.” It worked for Ryan: “Muscle confusion gets you out of a plateau,” he said, explaining that people often reach an exercise rut when they do the same workout too often.

When asked by Politico for a final verdict on P90X, the 42-year-old Republican “young gun” replied, “It gets results. It works.”