Portraits by Other Means

Feel the Burn

Feel the Burn
Credit: Margaret Chute

My doctor says I should exercise three to four times per week. He told me walking to the subway doesn’t count (neither does walking home from it).

Jimmy Carter

It is the kind of scene that happens every weekend all over the country, but this one is by now part of presidential history—the middle-aged runner with the yellow headband and the number 39 on his T-shirt nearing the top of a long hill in Catoctin Mountain National Park, then beginning to moan and falter. “I’ve got to keep trying,” gasped Jimmy Carter, now sweating heavily. “If I can just make the top, I’ve got it made.”

Bruce Lee

Lee would sometimes exercise with the jump rope and put in 800 jumps after cycling. Lee would also do exercises to toughen the skin on his fists, including thrusting his hands into buckets of harsh rocks and gravel. He would do over 500 repetitions of this on a given day. An article of the South China Post writes “When a doctor warned him not to inflict too much violence on his body, Bruce dismissed his words. ‘The human brain can subjugate anything, even real pain’—Bruce Lee.”


“Watch your breathing,” warns Usher. “When it’s burning, you can’t give up. You don’t pay attention to pain. Just breathe through it.”

He shows me some wild moves, including a snakelike variation of the pushup. (For those of you following along at home: Usher’s legs were straight and spread wide, hips high, forehead hovering just above the floor. He swooped down so his body was flat and just above the floor, then came up into a cobra, all in a fluid motion. Not only did it look cool, it worked almost every muscle in his remarkable body.)

Jane Fonda

It began with a fractured foot. Unable to take ballet—her preferred form of exercise for years—Fonda attended a class in Century City that was taught by Leni Cazden, who had developed an exercise technique that toned through repetitive movement, with popular music as an accompaniment. By 1982, Fonda was not only conducting classes on film sets and at her own studio; she had released the first of her workout videos, “Workout Challenge.”

Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley—hall of fame basketball player, Rhodes scholar, senator, presidential candidate, impressive American—doesn’t shoot hoops any more, but still manages to keep fit. He swears by walking outside, “five miles a day,” and claims, “walking is an intense experience.” Before damaging his hip, Bradley hit the Stairmaster four days a week for ten years. But overall, he isn’t a fan of gyms: “It’s hard to have a conversation when you are on the elliptical.”


Beyoncé has recorded a work out song in an attempt to get American children off the sofa for Michelle Obama’s Get Moving campaign.

Moves include the running man and “waving the American flag.”

Anderson Cooper

Cooper trains five days a week for at least an hour at a time. Some days he does two sessions. That’s how dedicated he is. We focus on one or two muscle groups a day for strength building and at least two days a week for endurance. A typical gym workout includes a lot of variety. For example: a 1K run, 50 pull-ups, 1K run, 50 box jumps, 1K run, 50 body slams, 1K run, 150 push-ups and another 1K run. When he’s on the road, it’s running, push-ups and pull-ups. Anything to keep moving.


TMN Editor Leah Finnegan is from Illinois by way of Texas. She splits her time between New York City and her website. More by Leah Finnegan

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