Working out the Amish way

Alex Beall, special to

WASHINGTON – Imagine throwing an 80-pound bale of hay overhead into a loft, swinging a 12-pound axe repeatedly to chop wood and moving bags of feed from side- to-side for seven hours a day.

Talk about a workout.

Bucky Mitchell thought so, too. He grew up Amish in Ambler, Penn. and spent his childhood watching adults perform laborious tasks like those mentioned above.

Now, Mitchell — known as The Amish Trainer — is a personal trainer at VIDA Fitness’ U Street location. He focuses on modern exercises that mimic farm work, as well as Amish nutrition habits and meditation practices.

“People are so fascinated by the Amish culture because it’s that thing they don’t know,” Mitchell, 31, says. “I really get to show people what it’s like, just a small tiny bit what it’s like to live in that. This is what these people do every day and now you get to experience it for just an hour.”

Mitchell, who has lived in D.C. for nine years, grew up in the Amish community until he was 10 years old. That is when his mother decided she wanted to leave.

He entered public school, graduated from college and earned multiple degrees. Mitchell went on to work in banking and immigration reform before he entered the fitness training profession.

Mitchell’s Amish workouts stress side-to-side motions, twisting around the torso, up and down movements and core strengthening.

“It’s taking that (transverse) plane of motion and bringing it into the gym,” he says. “It very much mimics what you would see on a farm.”

To imitate the movements of a farm lifestyle, Mitchell created exercises for himself and for his clients.

For example, he swings a 12-pound bar over his shoulder onto a BOSU balance ball — much like the movement one would make to chop wood with an axe.

Mitchell’s torso rotation exercise imitates moving feed or cement by requiring the trainee to move a kettlebell — or a low-hanging hand-held weight — from side-to- side.

The “hay bale toss” involves throwing large, 40-pound balls across a room.

Mitchell also brings the Amish tradition of a “quiet hour,” a daily time of reflection and meditation, to his program. For this, he does yoga twice a week and expects his clients to do the same.

“It’s a really good place for them to calm and relax from the stress of the day and breathe and just be present within themselves,” he says.

The last aspect of Mitchell’s Amish-inspired health and fitness program focuses on eating habits. But unlike other programs, Mitchell emphasizes the need for healthier food choices rather than a diet.

“Amish food, the way it’s grown, is organic and so it’s the most sustainable way,” he says. “To me it’s really about living healthy. I’m not a big fan of the word diet. Everyone is different so when you add diet into the equation you’re missing something that your body needs as an essential, and diets aren’t one fits all and that’s what most people think. It’s just a matter of making the healthy choice at the right time.”

However, Mitchell isn’t opposed to having a “cheat day,” as long as a workout follows.

“If you want to have a cheat day and a piece of pizza, have it before you work out because then you’re going to use it as your source of energy,” he says.

Mitchell even indulges in his own cheat day on Friday evenings when he has a popcorn and soda at the movies with his friends. He knows he’ll burn it off the next morning when he’s working out or working with clients.

“I think you should enjoy the food that you love,” he says. “Have a bad food, but have it in the morning because then you’ll burn it by the end of the day.”

After Mitchell began his career as a personal trainer, a client pointed out his unique style of teaching, which made him reflect on his program.

“The things I was teaching people were really the ways I had grown up,” he explains. “For a long time I think I suppressed it because there’s a part of it — you leave it, you don’t want to go back to it. Then I realized in my practice I was really doing these things from the culture that I thought were really essentially important.”

His fitness certifications helped him mold his training practices and incorporate the Amish culture into them.

“When you really understand the body and how the muscles work, how the kinetic chain works, how it all functions together, it was much easier for me then to say,

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