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Solid as Barack

How the former POTUS kept in shape despite having the busiest schedule of all.

This story was originally published in the February 2009 issue of Best Life.

At first glance, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have little in common. But the truth is, our 43rd and 44th presidents are two of the fittest commanders in chief we have ever had, powerful evidence that daily exercise shapes the successful man. President Bush lifts weights, runs marathons, and has a resting heart rate of 43 (lower than many elite athletes). And we all know the arc of President Obama's athletic narrative: The chubby teen slimmed down when he joined the high school basketball team and earned the nickname Barry O'Bomber, thanks to his shooting prowess. We've seen him raising his 6-foot-2-inch, 180-pound frame above a makeshift pull-up bar before an important speech. We know he believes that playing hoops on election days brought him good luck. Fitness is his rock. "The main reason I work out is to clear my head and relieve stress," the president told us in an exclusive interview. "It's a great way to stay focused." Here's how the self-described "skinny but tough" leader stays on track. And we have plenty more advice on How to Stay in Shape While Busy.

Habitualize Workouts

President Obama.

President Obama works out early in the morning six days a week. "Most of my workouts have to come before my day starts," he says. "Usually, I get in about 45 minutes of exercise." Research shows that having a routine gives you a better chance of achieving your fitness goals, says Chris Jordan, director of fitness at the Human Performance Institute, an executive training center in Florida. "It doesn't matter if you exercise in the morning, at noon, or in the evening," says Jordan. "The key is carving out a slot that works for you and exercising consistently." The benefits aren't just physical: Exercise makes you feel energized, lifts mood, and boosts alertness, says Jordan.

Vary Your Routine

President Obama.

President Obama is best known for playing basketball, but most of his workouts actually take place in the gym. "I'll lift one day and do cardio the next," he says. "I've been working out for a while now, and I make sure I don't waste time. My workouts have to be efficient." He typically does full-body workouts on strength days, hitting a range of machines and free weights. On cardio days, he runs on the treadmill or spins on an exercise bike. "He has a lean, athletic physique," says Jordan, "so he's doing the right things, but it wouldn't hurt if he hit the rowing machine too. It is super-efficient and builds the upper body." (Michelle Obama -probably wouldn't argue with that.)

Stoke Your Mojo

President Obama.

On every major primary election day during the campaign (with the exception of New Hampshire, which he lost), President Obama played basketball to de-stess and for good luck. Obviously, not everyone has to play basketball, but creating an exercise ritual–running a steep hill, swimming as far as you can, doubling one aspect of your workout–to do before an important meeting can help your performance, says Jordan. The latest science supports this superstition: Vigorous exercise sharpens focus and enhances decision–making skills, according to research by Arthur F. Kramer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois.

Buddy Up

President Obama.

One advantage the president has is his own "body man," or personal aide, whose name is Reggie Love. A former wide receiver and basketball player at Duke University, Love accompanies President Obama everywhere, including the gym, where he serves as a training partner. The president listens to his iPod during workouts, and he credits Love with introducing him to Jay-Z's beats. People who work out with a partner or group are more likely to achieve their goals, according to a range of research.

Attack Your Weakness


Vice President Al Gore popped his Achilles tendon while playing basketball…something that is on President Obama's mind. "My Achilles has been a little sore, so I take ibuprofen before I play," he says. "I also stretch it out and do exercises to strengthen it." Nicholas DiNubile, MD, author of FrameWork, says the president should be careful because tendons become vulnerable when men hit their mid-forties. He recommends daily calf stretches and an eccentric calf workout. "Prior to a game, President Obama should jog to break a sweat, and then do some static and dynamic stretches."

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