Feminist Icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was a Legend In the Courtroom — and the Gym

Her dedication to getting it done will serve as inspiration for the next wave of powerful women.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died of complications of metastatic pancreas cancer, the Court announced. She was 87. A successful civil rights attorney and lifelong champion of gender equality, Ginsburg frequently broke glass ceilings herself. In 1956, she was one of nine female law students at Harvard Law School — and the only married woman and mother. And in 1993, Ginsburg became the second-ever woman to sit on the Court. 

It's no wonder that in recent years, the proud mom, wife, and grandmother found herself dubbed the "Notorious R.B.G.," drawing crowds of young women who celebrated her as a feminist hero. Her fierce optimism, unparalleled work ethic, and resolute fight for equality and justice were infectious — all characteristics fueled by her tireless efforts to stay on top of her health. 

Here, the ways she inspired us through her love of fitness and tireless dedication to getting it done — in the gym, and in the courthouse.

She stayed fit while fighting cancer. 

Ginsburg, who fought a 20-year battle against different cancers, told an audience in 2019 that she preferred to stay active even as she faced various health challenges. "I found each time that when I'm active, I'm much better than if I'm just lying about and feeling sorry for myself," she said in New York at the Yale Club at an event hosted by Moment Magazine

And speaking at Berkeley Law last year, Ginsburg said that even after she was diagnosed with cancer for the fourth time, she never stopped working out — even if she didn't complete the entire routine. "I do pushups," the then-86-year-old shared, adding that she did planks, "both front and side," as well as weighted exercises with her personal trainer.

She stuck to a tough training routine.

In 1999, after finishing chemotherapy for colon cancer, Ginsburg began working out with ACE_certified personal trainer Bryant Johnson, a master fitness trainer for the military and a Sergeant First Class in the Army Reserves. Ginsburg would go on to call him "the most important person" in her life. Their sessions took place twice weekly at 7 p.m. at a gym right inside the Supreme Court and involved a series of full-body strength exercises that targeted her arms, chest, legs, back, shoulders, glutes, and abs. 

Knowing that Ginsburg fans and followers were clamoring for more detail on the justice's moves, Johnson penned a book in 2017 that documented his famous client's challenging routine: The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong...and You Can Too!. He later appeared on Good Morning America to demonstrate some of the moves.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and up until April 1, Ginsburg continued to stick with her training sessions, which were held in a private workout space at the court, according to Law360. At the time, doctors had deemed her exercise routine "essential to her well-being."

"She has that grandfather status to me, and if she wants to train, that's the least that I can do," Johnson told Law360.

She impressed her friends, colleagues, and comedians.

In a trailer for 2018 documentary RBG, the justice's friends expressed their awe over her fitness level at 85. "I've heard that she does 20 pushups three times a week or something. I mean, we can't even get off the floor, we can't even get down to the floor," one joked. "That's true," the other added.

Upon the release of RBG, Stephen Colbert hit the gym alongside the justice to see what her workout entailed. And Kate McKinnon, who portrayed her on SNL, did her best impression of Ginsburg's at-home workout. 

She had a winning attitude.

Just as she did throughout her storied career, Ginsburg never failed to show up for herself at the gym, according to Johnson. "Before you can do any exercise, you have to show up both mentally and physically, which she always does," he told NBC. "Sometimes she's been working all night and hasn't slept. So we adjust it a bit, maybe skip the stability ball and use the bench instead. But she always shows up."

Johnson attributed Ginsburg's commitment to both the physical and mental health benefits she got out of her routine. "The workouts help her, because she is so focused on the law all the time," he shared with NBC. "But when she's with me she doesn't think about it. She turns off the brain and works on her body. This keeps her refreshed so she can go back to the law having had a break."

Ultimately, RBG embraced the idea that "small gains can lead to big victories," Johnson explained to PopSugar. "The justice has faced every challenge, from fighting cancer two times to working one of the most challenging jobs there is, and she always makes time to work out and give it her all."