If you want to raise a barn, you need planks. If you want to build a better body, you need to do plank.
And you need to be able to hold the position for at least a minute and a half before personal trainer Bucky Mitchell will deem you ready for his Amish workout. The routine, which mimics the physical labor required on a farm, is a circuit of exercises that require carrying, heaving and twisting — and a little bit of imagination.
“He always describes it in a way that gives it a creative setting. You’re not just going to throw a ball. It’s a bale of hay,” says 50-year-old Clinton Alsip, who’s lost 35 pounds working with Mitchell two times a week at Vida Fitness on U Street.
The flashy gym is an odd place to find someone who calls himself the Amish Trainer, but Mitchell actually is an ex-Amish trainer. His family left its Pennsylvania community when he was 10 — his Italian-Catholic mother, who’d converted for his Amish dad, couldn’t take it any more. But that wasn’t until after he’d learned how to chop wood, carry hay and kill chickens for dinner.
“It’s nothing to me to pick up a chicken and chop its head off,” says Mitchell, although he doesn’t expect people attending his cooking classes to do that.
The lessons he’s offering through LivingSocial (see box) aren’t based on Amish recipes. But he promotes healthier choices inspired by the sustainable food practices he grew up with on the farm.
“I want you to be aware of your food,” Mitchell told the students gathered in the demonstration kitchen as he began a recent session. “And please feel free to ask me questions about growing up Amish.”
So while they prepared a vegetarian rice salad, Mitchell revealed that he had helped in two barn raisings. (“I was responsible for the roof,” he said.) As they chopped Brussels sprouts, he explained the origins of his beard: “It’s because I’m lazy.” In Amish culture, though, a beard is a sign of maturity and allowed only for married men, he noted. And in between extolling the benefits of various vitamins in the meal, Mitchell explained that his sect permitted the use of automobiles exclusively for work purposes.
Melani Lewis, 34, signed up for the healthy cooking advice, but she appreciated the anthropology lesson.
“That aspect of it adds another dimension. You’re learning the whole time,” says Lewis, who was floored by Mitchell’s story about hunting — and eating! — bear.
Nothing seems to shake Mitchell, possibly because of the final part of the Amish Trainer plan: reflection. Based on the “quiet hour” he practiced as a child, he recommends yoga, meditation or journaling to give the brain a chance to unwind.
Despite his affinity for these aspects of Amish culture, Mitchell won’t return to his old way of life.
“What I take is the good. There’s lots that isn’t good,” he says. “But the Amish do simplicity well, are a peaceful people and work hard. I bring a piece of that to the gym.”
Read up on Bucky Mitchell’s exercise tips, recipes and more at Theamishtrainer.com. His next 2½-hour cooking classes through LivingSocial are at 6:30 p.m. April 30 and May 7, 10 and 14 ($59 general admission, $79-$84 for special seating, 918 F St. NW; Livingsocial.com).