When a friend suggested I take a look at the workout video tweeted out Tuesday by first lady Michelle Obama, I was skeptical. I know that physical fitness is the first lady’s thing, that she looks great in her clothes and that she’s fit overall.
But because I rarely have time to work out and I don’t struggle with weight, I’ve never found her vaunted physicality particularly compelling. Mostly, I’ve been like meh, and please pass the Doritos because I don’t feel like getting up.
This was a departure from years past, when I used to run miles and dance, when I turned cartwheels, did splits and generally felt my younger self to be superbad.
Lately, I’ve done more reading and typing than sweating and moving. I lift laptops and cellphones, and I turn only phrases. I generally feel like a slug.
But watching the first lady’s two-minute video, I remembered something else about myself.
I remembered what it felt like to connect with my physicality, my desire to be strong. Not merely to look good in a sleeveless dress — although that’s a great byproduct — but to be strong enough to lift things and move them out of my way. A strength I could use to walk the world. I realized that Obama, 51, has become a stand-in, especially for women over 40. And not just for sophisticated tastes, fashion sense or creative motherhood, but as a standard-bearer who neither slinks nor sashays her way through middle age.
Joe “Do It” Neil, a nutritionist and fitness instructor from Chevy Chase, says he’s “very, very” impressed with the video. “You can tell she’s very athletic and has great coordination.”
He cites her criss-cross jump-rope action, then the V-up abdominal exercises, which she transitioned into ab twists with a medicine ball. “She showed great core strength with that exercise.”
Perhaps the most impressive move is the incline 35-pound dumbbell press. “If she was able to do 35 pounds on the incline, she could do 50 on the flat bench because you’re able to use larger muscle groups,” Neil says. “It shows how strong her upper body is and how strong her shoulders are as well.”
He says it’s a strength that will serve her well as she ages. That can help prevent injury, illness and general decline, because muscles are use it or lose it.
“I saw the accumulation of steady work,” says Michaela Angela Davis, a Brooklyn-based image activist who is also 51. “This is not CrossFit madness, beast mode. This is the result of a balanced lifestyle.
“When I was approaching 50, I wanted to feel strong,” says Davis, who works out with a trainer once a week. A lot of women’s fitness is targeted toward lose this gut, fit into this dress, but “I was feeling my vitality slip away. When you get older, you need to keep it moving.”
Davis likes that we saw the first lady in workout gear. “You saw her body make shapes through space, and it was strong and long,” she says. “It doesn’t take away from her femininity, it makes her that much more accomplished.”
Maybe that’s what spoke to me about the video, or maybe it was just the connection I always feel when I see somebody putting their backs and their shoulders into their lives, or just doing the high kicks to work out their kinks. It says: You control your life, the way you age, the way you look, and whether 75 finds you upright and engaged or stooped and struggling for the rest of your days. And that’s not a decision that will wait until you’re 74.
It’s something I used to know. It just took a few power moves by the first lady to remind me.
For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.