Carry a Big Stick: Theodore Roosevelt
An asthmatic in childhood, TR was a home-schooled “indoor kid” commanded by his father to “make your own body.” And so he Got Big (where lesser men would have Died Trying), and through vigorous weightlifting and strenuous outdoor activity became the rough-riding, pulpit-bullying, big-game-hunting Bull Moose of American exceptionalism. Did you know that Roosevelt once stopped a bullet with his chest? Well, ok, technically the would-be assassin’s bullet was slowed considerably by the 50-page speech Teddy was carrying in his breast pocket — but, still, lung capacity.
For that fin de siècle strongman look, only one thing is needed: metal. Thick black iron, forged in the deepest, sweatiest bowels of the city by calloused immigrant hands, and lifted in grunting solitude. Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue Gym
is a small, inexpensive ($40/month, 5thavegym.com) basement spot with few cardio machines and no TVs or classes — just barbells. (You supply the handlebar mustache and black unitard.)
(goldsgym.com), meanwhile, began as the iron-pumping venue of choice for the storied bodybuilders of Venice Beach, California, including Arnold Schwarzenegger — like Teddy a pro-environment Republican and one-man cult of personality.
The Broad of Beam: William Howard Taft
Whether through genetics or gluttony, some of us are just a little heftier than others, as was the 27th president of the United States, affectionately known as “Big Lub” by friends (Taft once sent a telegram to then-Secretary of War Elihu Root, in which he mentioned horseback riding. Root’s terse response: “How’s the horse?” Hahaha. Just like an episode of Frasier!).
It’s not always easy for someone carrying extra weight to jump right into the hard-body, muscle-pumping atmosphere of a New York City gym, so if you’re feeling a little bashful about wandering amidst the beautiful, glistening freaks, the 24-7 Fitness Club
is, obviously, always open, so you can take advantage of off-hour emptiness. While it’s pretty cheap ($40 a month, 24-7fitnessnyc.com) and the membership comes with free classes (yoga, boxing), it’s also not that fancy — but where has pampering gotten you so far? Go on, lead a double life as an all-night gym rat and become less Taftig.
But midnight iron-pumping is only half the battle (the other half being midnight snack-eating). You, much like our beloved President Taft, need to make better choices about diet and nutrition — and we know someone who can help you. Marissa Lippert is the owner and founder of Nourish
(nourish-nyc.com), a nutritional counseling service that helps the hungry and the snacky make the most of their eating lives without resorting to Baked Alaska and bacon. And she has a blog. And looks a bit like Fran Drescher, ‘cept prettier.
The Light of Pocket: Herbert Hoover
The Depression president is perhaps best known for the eponymous shantytowns that sprung up all around the country under his watch (Hoovervilles!), but he also invented a new sport, or rather, created a hybrid of two relatively crappy sports: tennis and volleyball. Every morning, Herbie H. would toodle out to the lawn to thwack an oversized ball with a racquet, working up a sweat as the nation crumbled into widespread penury. Nice!
Ok, as we stand at the edge of Our New Depression, most of you are probably in the “Light of Pocket” category. But while tearing apart old pallets to build a shack is a good way to work up a sweat, some of you still may be considering joining a non-hobo gym. To wit, if you’re willing to forego some 2006-style luxuries, you can do just fine with the city’s recreation centers
— though facilities vary (some have pools, some don’t, some have basketball courts, some don’t) you can generally get decent cardio (treadmills, stairmaster, etc.) and weight training (machines and free weights, all for just $75 a year. Yes, that’s for the whole year. That’s $6.25 a month; $1.45 a week; and, what the hell, 20 cents a day (nycgovparks.com).
If you’re willing and able to pay a bit more, MonQi Fitness
(monqifitness.com) has a really convenient à la carte menu of everything they offer: pay-as-you-go classes, trainers, gym use… all broken down by specific fees, so you don’t have to lock into any crazy contracts.
If your consumer angst is less about sheer dollars and more about the overwhelming choice in New York, the American Health and Fitness Alliance
(health-fitness.org) is offering this crazy deal they’re calling a PassBook — for $75 you get 600 free passes to assorted gyms and fitness facilities all over the city. The drawback is that most of them are limited to two or three visits, so you’ll have to bounce around. Just like a hobo!
The Cantankerous Belligerent: Lyndon Baines Johnson
Appointed Majority Whip in his first term, the Senate’s all-time greatest arm-twister couldn’t keep his own party in line after pushing his Great Society through Congress — his political stamina ran out just as he was gearing up for a dogfight in the ‘68 primary. We’ve all been there: your political capital running on empty, your will-to-power flagging, and the next thing you know you’ve “pulled back a little at the office” and entrusted the future of your party to Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Who the Metrodome is named after. Nice work, asshole, now Nixon is president (... of your body? This metaphor is broken. On to the service-y paragraph!).
Regular boxing or martial arts, though, can keep the fighting spirit up, and make very effective strength and conditioning training — even for a frame sagging under the weight of historical sea change, Texas-sized utopian ambitions, and lots of barbecue. (Additionally, the skills you acquire may prove useful in the event of hand-to-hand combat with Charlie.) Premier Martial Arts
(manhattantkd.cmasdirect.com), at several locations in Manhattan, teaches martial arts, kickboxing, grappling and more, while Ronin Athletics
(roninathletics.com) specializes in mixed martial arts (like on the teevee, with the brain damage!) such as Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (not a sexual maneuver).
If going toe-to-toe with another person, pounding the crap out of each other, and then drinking beer together is more your thing, you can get sweetly scientific at DUMBO’s legendary Gleason’s Gym
(gleasonsgym.net), where professional pugilists train alongside the white-collar hobbyists who avoid eye contact with them in the locker room.
The Angry and The Stressed: Richard Milhous Nixon
While the 37th president was, indeed, a Quaker, Tricky Dick was by far one of the angriest, tightest-wound “Leaders of the Free World” ever. We can understand some of the bitterness: young Dick had to turn down scholarships to both Harvard and Yale because of lack of funds, but damn it if he was going to let those Ivy League assholes have the last laugh… no sir, not Richard Milhous Nixon… I AM GOING TO BURY THOSE COCKSUCKERS. Wow, sorry, lot of anger here. Sure, he was a good bowler, but we’d hardly call that real exercise. Maybe the nation wouldn’t have lost its innocence (for the umpteenth time) if Nixon had only found time for a little meditation…
If there’s one thing you and Nixon share (besides high anxiety levels and increasing levels of paranoia) it’s a love of all-inclusive, people-first organizations that don’t discriminate based on class (ha!). Yoga to the People
(yogatothepeople.com) is one such group, striving to provide low-cost yoga on a pay-what-you-can basis, with a suggested donation beginning at $10. In their own words, “Yoga helps people decompress and achieve a sense of inner peace.” You could use that, right?
Nixon was also a pretty pragmatic, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, so the “reverently irreverent” approach of East-West Yoga
(eastwestnyc.com) might appeal to him. They offer hatha and vinayasa yoga but they don’t take themselves too seriously, and understand that some people can’t quite stomach all the ancient philosophy and disconnected religiosity of thousand-year-old Sanskrit. Though we’re not sure The Bon Jovi Chant
(one of their teachers swears by it as a contemporary mantra) would work for The Crook. Or you, for that matter.
And, looking in the opposite direction, the same Nixon who went to China might also appreciate the Chakrasambara Buddhist Center
(meditationinnewyork.com), which offers basic instruction in meditation, regardless of your background or beliefs (Buddhists don’t really proselytize, so don’t worry about getting swept up in a cult, like Quakerism or the GOP). They also offer classes throughout the city, so you and the ghost of dead Richard Nixon have no excuse.
So You’ve Never Been to the Gym: John Adams
The second president was one of our hardest-working, most studious presidents, spending hours at Ye Olde Colonial Library reading up on subjects like “Founding a Country” and “The Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin.” As a younger man, this intensity was enough to keep Adams going, but as he got older, a lack of good exercise habits turned him into, well, Paul Giamatti. (Then again, he lived to be 90, which is like 200 in 18th-century years, so what do we know.)
If, like Adams, in your younger years you relied on cigarettes and sleepless nights to stay trim, you probably didn’t spend much time in the gym. First, don’t make the common beginner dude’s mistake of trying to get into Curves — that gym is for ladies only. To avoid injuring yourself right at the start, a personal trainer is a good idea, and you might want to begin your adventure with Pilates, which focuses on the body’s core muscles, developing strength and flexibility, with an emphasis on good posture through the torso and spine (so you won’t throw your back out reaching for the OED). The trainers at Pilates on Fifth
(pilatesfifth.com) have a reputation for being the best in town, and will customize your workouts and put you on a path to strength and hotness in no time. Seriously, though, if exercising in public makes you feel like a doofus (and really, getting all sweaty in stupid clothes is pretty lame) you can check out ultimatepilatesworkouts.com
, where you’ll find a bunch of free online mat exercises to get you going. Shut-in.
But if your early 19th-century American dollars aren’t worth enough today to buy a personal trainer, you might want to try the good old YMCA
(ymcanyc.org) — you’ve been swimming before, haven’t you? At first, it won’t even be like going to the gym… it’ll be like using a time machine to travel to your childhood in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Because you are John Adams, right? RIGHT!?