Politicians sweat out their differences

  • Article by: ASHLEY PARKER , New York Times
  • Updated: July 9, 2014 - 1:47 PM

Oklahoma's Markwayne Mullin puts fellow House of Representatives members through a politics-free workout.

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Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) passed a medicine ball back and forth at DCBFit Gym in Washington during an intense predawn workout routine led by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.).

Photo: Drew Angerer • New York Times,

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– A new muscle-crushing, sweat-inducing workout has infiltrated the inner sanctum of Congress, the members-only gym of the House of Representatives. And it is called, simply, the “Markwayne Mullin.”

Named after Mullin, the 36-year-old Republican representative from Oklahoma and former professional mixed martial arts cage fighter who leads the predawn, bespoke workout, it is a “mix of CrossFit and circuit training,” he says.

On a recent Thursday, at 6:30 a.m. in a gym in the shadow of the Capitol, a bipartisan group of seven House lawmakers gathered for Mullin to put them through the paces, as he does almost every morning when Congress is in session. Representing the Republican side: Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader; Todd Rokita of Indiana; Aaron Schock of Illinois, and Jason Smith of Missouri. And on the Democratic side: Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The only sign that the huffing, grunting gym rats were members of Congress and not just early-morning fitness enthusiasts were the two men wearing suits and earpieces, members of McCarthy’s security detail. (Normally, the group meets in the House gym, but to allow a reporter and a photographer to attend, they briefly took over DCBFit, a locally owned training studio.)

After a series of situps with a twist, in which pairs pass a medicine ball back and forth, Mullin offered a brief compliment before urging the group into their next exercise: “You guys owe me 30 burpees,” he said, referring to an exercise that involves launching from a push-up position into a upright leap.

McCarthy, clad in a ratty Stanford T-shirt and leaning against a boxing bag to catch his breath, wondered aloud: “At once? Or two sets of 15?”

“Or three sets of 10,” Mullin shouted back. “I don’t care. Just get it done.”

Politics set aside

In an era of increasing gridlock and vitriol between the two parties, the House gym has emerged as one of the few places where members can set politics aside and achieve some sweat-infused bipartisanship.

The regimen is politics-free. “It’s just a rule that’s unsaid: No one ever, ever brings up politics,” Mullin said. “It’s just people who have something in common. They want to live healthier.”

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, previously garnered attention for leading members in an intense P90X workout, which includes a rigorous mix of jumping, martial arts, strength training, cardio and yoga.

But after watching Mullin do his own workout, several of the P90X aficionados slowly defected, preferring the spontaneity and originality of Mullin’s routine, which he makes up each time, pulling from his years as a high school and college wrestler, and later a professional fighter.

Now, the P90X guys share space with Mullin’s crew, though the P90X group still controls the stereo. “I do hear that P90X soundtrack getting louder and louder every day,” Rokita said.

Impressive results

Mullin’s results have been impressive. Smith has already met his original goal, losing just over 60 pounds since January. “It’s the Markwayne Mullin diet,” he said. “Fish, fruits and vegetables.”

McCarthy joked that he also adheres to the diet: “I eat all that, then I add ice cream and other things, too,” he said.

Mullin likes to begin every morning with a warm-up run. “We try to run as hard as you can for 4 minutes,” he said.

Up next: What he calls “3-minute abs.” “You absolutely kill your abs in three minutes,” said Mullin, who has nine different abdominal workouts he cycles through. “You leave them on the floor.”

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  • Mullin, a former cage fighter, put himself through the paces. “It’s just people who have something in common. They want to live healthier,” he said of the bipartisan workouts.

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