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Reagan’s Fitness Routine

Selected Visitor Comments Below

I’ve been wrong about President Reagan, thinking the most strenuous thing he did was ride a horse on his ranch.

A longtime friend just set me straight with a December 4, 1983, article by Reagan in Parade Magazine detailing his thoughts on fitness and his own regimen. It 's an inspiring game changer.

The back story explains my confusion.

My long-held assessment begins with Dan Lurie, one of the big-three muscle moguls in my early years of training: Hoffman, Weider, and Lurie. Everyone has heard of Joe Weider, many know about Bob Hoffman, but not many are aware of Dan Lurie.

Buffs, however, will tell you that Lurie was much stronger and better built than the other two.

He won the “Most Muscular” award in the Mr. America contest four times!

He was also known for amazing feats of strength.

Dan Lurie 1944.png

This photo of Dan on Wikipedia shows his power-house muscularity


He famously arm-wrestled Reagan in the Oval Office, claiming that the President beat him twice. Sounded like a kiss-up to me. If so, it worked, generating a huge amount of publicity. Anything on Dan in the main-stream media is practically guaranteed to include a photo of him arm-wrestling the President. Google his name and this photo will pop up.

File:President Ronald Reagan Arm Wrestling Dan Lurie of Muscle Training Magazine in Oval Office.jpg

*  *  *

My first “direct” contact with Dan Lurie didn’t come until I turned my focus to bodybuilding in my 40s. I'll never forget it. Denie Walter, Editor-In-Chief of Lurie's Muscle Training Illustrated, called. “We’re going to have to put you on our cover," Denie told me in a very serious voice. “Dan is complaining that your bald head is a little fuzzy,” he teased, “but we’re going to use the photo anyway.”

This is my one-and-only front cover on a major muscle magazine. Makes me smile every time I look at it on my office wall.


I talked to Dan on the telephone and exchanged emails some years later. He was always up-beat, friendly, and full of life. In one email, I congratulated him on his website and new book and, referring to the famous photo of him arm wrestling President Reagan in the Oval Office, asked “Who won?"

“Reagan beat me twice,” he replied. “Next week I’ll be 76,” he added. “Feel great. Be well.”

Dan passed in 2013 at 90, outliving Hoffman and on par with Joe, who made it to 93.

*  *  *

Reagan’s article in Parade shows a thoughtful and balanced approach to physical conditioning. Far beyond what I’d been led to believe. You might think someone wrote the article for him, but I don’t think so. Reagan was a prolific writer long before he became President. His finger prints are all over it.

Article High Points

President Reagan’s energy and good nature are apparent from the get go.

After relating that that he is a great believer in exercise, has exercised his entire life and finds sheer pleasure in it, he adds: “So move over, Jane Fonda, here comes the Ronald Reagan workout plan.”

It is true that horseback riding is a cornerstone of his fitness routine. You may want to take it up yourself after reading his take.

A lot of people also don’t realize what good exercise horseback riding is. You don’t just get on the horse and sit there as if you are in a deck chair. When that horse takes its first step, every muscle in your body reacts and moves with it.

And the faster the horse moves, the more your muscles react. It is great for flexibility, and anyone who has cantered even around a small ring knows that cardiovascular work is involved as well.

Now the other advantage of riding is that, once you are up on that horse, you get a different perspective on life itself. It is a tonic, really, refreshing both the body and the mind. I have often quoted the old cavalry saying, “There’s nothing as good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.” I believe that wholeheartedly, and I ride as much as I can, although my time now is limited, as you might imagine.

(My experience with horseback riding was as a young boy at summer camp. What I remember most is that the horse sunk its teeth into my back. Don't know what I did to deserve that, but it hurt like Hell.)

He goes on to explain the benefits of ranch chores:

A friend who knows how much exercise I get from this says I ought to write a fitness book about the benefits of chopping and stacking called "Pumping Firewood."

It would do a world of good for more people in Washington to do that sort of manual labor now and then. It gives you the right attitude.

After touching on swimming in the ocean and a few other outdoor activities, he turns to indoor exercise.

I was surprised by all the exercise equipment in the White House, making it clear that Reagan’s fitness plan extends far beyond horseback riding and ranch chores.

Our little gym is equipped with a weight scale, Exercycle, treadmill, a leg-lift contraption, and a machine with pulleys and weights that enables me to do a variety of exercises for arms, stomach, shoulders and legs.

There is also a rack of hand weights, which sort of looks like a xylophone, with weights of up to 15 pounds apiece. Someone recently recommended I get a punching bag, so that when I have had a rough day, I could just paste up the picture of whomever has been giving me trouble and give them what for.

The photo used by Parade shows that the leg-lift contraption is a Nautilus leg extension machine, just like ours.

Sounds like he might be tuned into to Arthur Jones, who at the time was making waves world wide.

But after a long day, I greatly look forward to working out. My program, which was designed by a professional, consists of 10 minutes of warm-up calisthenics, followed by about 15 minutes of workout on the machines…The trick to keeping the exercises brief but effective is to increase the weights rather than the repetitions….All your muscles – not just a few – need exercise. Many people have a problem sticking to their exercise routine because they get bored. The beauty of the routine I follow is (1) the alternate sets of exercises, which give some variety, and (2) the brevity of the routines, which gets me out of there in half an hour.

He then turns to diet:

After my workout, I hit the shower and then have dinner, which brings me to the third element of a good physical fitness plan – diet. The key here is moderation.

At 6 feet 1, I weigh in at 190 pounds, five pounds more than when I came into office. I am quick to point out, however, that muscle is heavier than fat and most accounts for most of the increase. Still, I do watch what I eat.

For example, I pass up the pancakes and sausage in favor of cereal and fruit, skim milk and decaffeinated coffee. For lunch I usually have soup and a salad. But on Thursday here at the White House they have a Mexican plate – tacos, enchiladas, beans, rice, the works.

Once in a while I go for that; I tell myself I’ve earned it. But when I do have the big lunch, I cut down in the evening. Our evening meal usually consists of fish, chicken, or meat with fresh vegetables and a salad of some kind.

(Could it be that one or more of ours books found their way into the White House?)

He concludes with a message for all Americans:

The next time they report I’m out riding or chopping or otherwise getting the old circulation going, why don’t you get out there and enjoy some exercise yourself? If all of us do, American will be in better shape, too. I’ll be thinking of you. Good health to you all.

Hopefully, I’ve made you want to read more about the Ronald Reagan workout plan. Here’s the link: Ronald Reagan's Presidential Workout (1984) - Inside Bodybuilding

*  *  *

Still think Dan Lurie let the President beat him twice?

Maybe not. Reagan looks more fit than Lurie in the celebrated photo.


Selected Visitor Comments


Dan Lurie

I grew up in Brooklyn and bought my first set of weights from Dan Lurie. He worked at his own store in Brooklyn NY. He had thick wrists and a big chest and arms. He was friendly and courteous. Several years later I purchased my copy of Ripped at his store. He was not as flamboyant as Weider but was probably a lot stronger and did a lot for the sport.

Magazine Cover

Wow! And while I never saw the magazine cover you posted, what a fantastic shot!

Lurie’s photo shows how amazing he was in his prime, the Reagan arm-wrestling photo was a classic, and you were definitely holding your own on the Muscle Training cover right next to the legendary Franco Columbu!

No Pushover

Just a word to let you know what a kick I got out of the Ronald Reagan article. He was no pushover for sure.

Miss Reagan

I really miss the days when Ronald Reagan was our president. Although he was a Republican, those were the days when a president could be respected even by those on the other side of the aisle. I loved his upbeat attitude and his patriotism, as well as his ability to just get things done.

August 1, 2021

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