Heard on the Hill

Left and right unite around a common enemy: the burpee

‘No one likes it,’ admits workout maestro Rep. Markwayne Mullin

Lawmakers work out alongside NFL players Wednesday in honor of Men’s Health Month. (Courtesy Jini Hernández)

The mood in Washington today may be filled with partisan rancor, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers is determined not to let it break their bonds of (dis)affection for the squat thrust.

The burpee is the perfect exercise, congressman and possible sadist Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said, whose Men’s Health Caucus led a Wednesday morning workout in the lead-up to Father’s Day. 

“Well, first of all, no one likes it,” he said. “And you can let people know who’s in control a little bit.”

On a cool spring morning, the Republican barked training commands at lawmakers, staffers and former NFL players who came to sweat out their differences in honor of National Men’s Health Month.

The 50-minute session kicked off at 7 a.m. with four brisk laps around the park behind the Longworth House Office Building, followed by stretching, push-ups and lunges. Soon, Mullin stepped up the intensity, ordering box jumps on the fountain and push-ups on concrete benches to add a degree of difficulty.

When the end came, it was blissful — a five-minute meditation exercise led by Pilar Gerasimo from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

The lawmakers are used to it. Many in this group meet every morning in the House gym when Congress is in session. Outside their adrenaline bubble, Democrats are openly debating whether to impeach President Donald Trump and members of his administration. Inside the bubble, the only acrid thing is sweat, according to the lawmakers.

“If you want to make friends, go to the gym,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said. Mullin said she’s like a sister to him.

All this group exercise isn’t just about making friends; there’s also a legislative payoff.

“When my constituents in Hawaii had an active volcano and extreme flooding, some of my Republican friends in the majority stepped up to help out,” Gabbard said.

There’s a campaign payoff, too. Gabbard and fellow military veteran Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts says exercise is crucial for their health while competing for the Democratic presidential nomination. The two even drag their staffers into their workouts while out on the trail.

Moulton, who recently opened up about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and has introduced a plan to tackle mental health, said physical and mental wellness can’t be separated.

“I feel way more mentally healthy if I exercise,” he says. Whether it’s yoga or meditation, people should do “whatever you need to do to get in the right headspace to do your job well.”

If the conversation veers too far into politics, Mullin just yells out the order for more burpees. It seems to work. A former mixed martial artist, he combines the intensity of a personal trainer with the good-natured ribbing of a friendly high school star quarterback. One minute he’s yelling; the next, he’s cracking jokes.

“Martha’s the only senator here,” he says before the session begins, pointing at Arizona Republican Martha McSally. “Usually they’re too old to workout.”

More than anything, Mullin wants people to “push their limits.” He practices what he preaches, literally propelling himself off the ground when he does a push-up.

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