On a Tuesday afternoon I found myself in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, chopping wood with a nine-pound ax, a view of rolling hills and farmland in front of me.
I then heaved ten-pound bales of hay over to my partner, Bucky Mitchell. Next I ran across the fields with a 25-pound sack of feed on my shoulders to feed the farm animals.
Okay, fine: I was actually in a studio room at Vida Fitness on U Street on my lunch break, and my view was of a man working on some electrical wiring in someone’s backyard. But Mitchell, a personal trainer, really was there, coaxing me through a condensed version of his increasingly popular Amish workout.
Looking at Mitchell—at just under six feet tall, with puppy dog eyes and a neatly trimmed beard—you might not even realize he’s a personal trainer. And an Amish trainer, at that.
He grew up in an Amish household in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He remembers watching his dad chop large amounts of wood with a 25-pound ax, and seeing other men in the community throwing 40-pound bales of hay around the farm. And then there was all the heaving of heavy sacks of feed from shelf to shelf and into the farm animals’ mouths. Although Mitchell left the Amish community at age 10 with his mother, the images stayed with him. Once he became a certified personal trainer, he realized how beneficial a workout mimicking the Amish way of life could be.
“Just imagine having to throw 60-pound bales of hay over and over,” he says to me as we toss a ten-pound medicine ball to each other for one-minute reps. “Can you?”
I could barely imagine myself making it through Mitchell’s entire workout: four sets of ax swings (throwing a nine-pound bar down to a Bosu ball); hay bale tosses (heaving medicine balls across the room); feed bag twists (passing kettlebells to each other from side to side); and feed bag deliveries (sprints up the stairs while carrying sandbags.)
Did I mention he was going super easy on me? To be safe, we only performed one set of each exercise.
Mitchell says it took three months for his 31 clients to have strong enough cores to be able to get through one workout. Even his strongest and most longtime client only performs the Amish workout once a month so as not to overtax the body.
“I’m a big believer in movements that make your body think about what it’s doing,” Mitchell says. “You can do a bicep curl over and over while talking to your friend and not even think about it. But when you’re doing the ax swings, you really have to focus and realize that you’re working your whole body.”
But it’s not all heave-hoeing for Mitchell. The Amish workout ends with an integrative stretching session, and Mitchell encourages his clients to go to yoga class regularly. The downtime allows one to meditate and relax from the day’s stressors, he says, similar to when his family would silently reflect on the day’s work every day from 8 to 9 PM.
Mitchell, now 31, says that even though he’s no longer a part of the Amish community, he’ll always remember his roots. His appreciation of what he remembers from their lifestyle “gets better with age.”
Vida Fitness. 1612 U St., NW. Mitchell is not currently accepting clients, but you can check out his cooking class at LivingSocial on Tuesdays and Fridays in April and May.