News & Politics

Is Jamaal Bowman Our Strongest Politician? A Mostly Scientific Investigation.

From RFK Jr. to Marjorie Taylor Greene, pols love public iron-pumping. But who is truly más macho?

Jamaal Bowman (left) and a big pile of weights (right). Photograph of weights courtesy of

Jamaal Bowman is inarguably strong. Last week, the Democratic Congressman from New York posted a video on Twitter in which he bench-pressed 405 pounds three times:

Four hundred and five pounds is a lot of freaking weight! That’s substantially heavier than the standard 225 pounds that prospective National Football League players are asked to bench press at the league’s annual draft combine. It’s heavier than National Zoo panda Tian Tian (275 pounds and looking fabulous, thank you very much). It’s safely in the middle range of what fire hydrants weigh, and try picking one of those up.

So yeah: Bowman is pretty jacked. But is he our strongest politician?

This probably seems like a stupid question. Because, quite frankly, it is. However, it’s also something that our duly-elected leaders and would-be office holders seem to care about. After all, they’re the ones performing shirtless pushups in public and posting on social media about how workouts are “my Covid protection.” Earlier this week, Politico even declared that the “testosterone primary of 2024 is ‘getting out of hand,’ ” noting that presidential aspirants like Francis Suarez and Vivek Ramaswamy are engaged in a “a frenetic fit boy summer sidequest in which candidates are drawing fewer contrasts on policy and proving more keen on comparing feats of strength.”

As such, it’s time to ask: among the pols who have put their weight workouts out into the world, ¿Quién es más macho? Since we can’t bring them together for an in-person barbells-to-barbells lift-off—though consider this article a standing invitation—Washingtonian is instead evaluating their public feats of strength across two dimensions:

  • Eyeball test: Do they look strong? Are they using good form? Or are they somehow cutting corners?
  • Total volume: Simple math to determine the actual amount of work being done—reps x sets x weight.

Bowman sets a high bar—no pun intended—in both categories. His form is solid; he brings the bar down all the way to his chest, and only needs a bit of spotter help on his third rep. Meanwhile, his total volume is 1,215 pounds. Not too shabby! 


Here’s how other contenders stack up:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

In June, the 69-year-old friend to crypto, foe to vaccines, and ostensibly Democratic presidential candidate fired off some incline bench presses at Meathead Mecca: the famous Gold’s Gym on California’s Venice Beach. Ryan Calder, the fitness coach who Tweeted video of the lifts, claimed that Kennedy was previously hoisting double the amount shown on video—but unlike Kennedy’s approach to the causes of autism, we can’t accept extraordinary claims without hard evidence. 

Eyeball test: Pass. Kennedy doesn’t just look swoll; he looks as if his well-documented skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry may not extend to testosterone replacement therapies. His incline press form isn’t textbook—somewhat limited range of motion, and his spotter gives him quite a bit of help on his last four reps—but it isn’t far off from what you see at the gym, and it’s a whole lot better than his pointlessly half-assed pushups. 

Total volume: Kennedy appears to be lifting 115 pounds for eight reps, for a total volume of 920 pounds.

Verdict: This data doesn’t lie. RFK Jr. simply isn’t as strict or strong as Bowman—making him a tanned show pony to the Congressman’s workhorse.


Marjorie Taylor Greene 

Like many CrossFit aficionados, the Georgia Congresswoman and former gym owner absolutely wants you to know about her dedication to the sport of fitness (even if the sports parent company would prefer that you didn’t think about it, nor her dedication to QAnon and overturning the 2020 presidential election). She simply loves posting her workouts—sometimes just for fun, and sometimes as part of her campaign ads or when railing against “Democrat tyrannical control” of DC.

Eyeball test: Pass, with a caveat. TG’s much-debated “kipping pull-ups” certainly look ridiculous (think a live fish, flailing on the end of a hook); however, CrossFitters swear by ‘em, and the workout world as a whole is divided when it comes to their overall efficacy. Less controversial are her overhead push presses in the same video, which appear wholly legit.

Total volume: MTG fires off five push presses of somewhere between 82 and 95 pounds (depending on the weight of her barbell), for a total volume of 410-475 pounds.

Verdict: According to—we know, but bear with us—an advanced female lifter should overhead press about 70 percent of their bench press. Assuming that MTG qualifies as an advanced lifter, her overhead press total volume translates to 586-678 pounds on the bench. Impressive, but not quite at Bowman’s level.


John Delaney

The former Maryland Congressman was almost certainly the buffest 2020 Democratic presidential candidate—according to the Washington Examiner, he consistently worked out and guzzled protein drinks while on the trail in Iowa, and could deadlift 350 pounds. He also does actual pull-ups!

Eyeball test: Incomplete. While Delaney told the Examiner that he didn’t “think I am particularly fit,” he appeared to being in pretty good shape for a man in his mid-50s. That said, his posted workout videos were of box jumps and ab rolls, which aren’t good measures of pure strength. Delaney also posted a photo of a loaded deadlift bar—but there’s no evidence of him actually lifting it.

Total volume: Without video confirmation of sets, reps and weight, we can’t calculate a number. 

Verdict: Also incomplete, since more data is needed. In general, people can handle more weight on deadlifts than while bench-pressing—and since Delaney’s deadlift is lighter than Bowman’s bench, it’s not unreasonable to assume the latter is stronger. But it’s also not a sure thing, since we don’t know if Delany’s 350-pound deadlift is actually his max.


Paul Ryan

In late 2011, the former Wisconsin Congressman, Speaker of the House, and GOP vice presidential candidate famously posed for a set of workout photos for Time magazine. Ryan was a bonafide fitness lover, telling Politico that he kept his body fat between six and eight percent and introducing P90X workouts to some of his fellow Republican members. 

Eyeball test: This is where things get weird. Ryan claimed in 2012 that he once posted “a two hour and fifty-something” marathon time, a claim that serious runners found highly improbable, and that Runner’s World exposed as completely bogus. (Ryan’s time, in his one and only marathon on record, run when he was 20 years old, was 4:01:25).

So: Ryan is not exactly a trustworthy narrator of his personal fitness journey. Which brings us to his Time spread. In 2017, Vice Sports suggested that maybe, just maybe, the purported 40-pound dumbbells that Ryan was curling in his photos were marked up with fake weight indicators—and that maybe, just maybe, Ryan didn’t curl those dumbbells at all.

Total volume: Who knows? Whatever Ryan claims, you probably need to halve it.

Verdict: Even without exact numbers, there’s no sliver of the multiverse in which Ryan is stronger than Bowman.


Barack Obama

During a 2014 trip to Europe, the former president was spotted lifting weights in a Warsaw hotel gym. 

Eyeball test: Pass, but just barely. This magazine once put a shirtless Obama on our cover and called our new neighbor “hot”—so we might be a little biased. Still, aesthetics and strength are hardly the same thing, and quite frankly, the former president’s slim n’ silver hotel weights aren’t going to show up in a Pumping Iron reboot.

Total volume: However many reps Obama knocked out with those mini-dumbbells, he’s not coming close to Bowman’s hefty, loaded-up barbell. Keeping things in the former First Family, Michelle Obama’s 2015 workout—posted on Twitter to encourage healthy activity—is both more impressive and partially quantifiable: we see five reps of incline bench presses with a pair of 35-pound dumbbells, for a total volume of 350 pounds.

Verdict: Despite Michelle’s best effort, this is a bigger Obama wipeout than the 2010 midterms.


Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the president begins his mornings with a workout that often includes biking and lifting weights; however, Biden’s “current Peloton preferences are something of a state secret.”

Eyeball test: Pass. Eighty years old and still working out is nothing to sneeze at!

Total volume: Though we don’t have the capacity to extract Biden’s workout data from wherever the government keeps it under lock and key—maybe Tom Cruise could help?—we do have a public hint of how much iron he’s pushing. In 2015, Biden released a video in which he performed four one-arm curls with a 30-pound dumbbell while taking phone calls in his office, for a total volume of 120 pounds.

Verdict: Biden isn’t in the same league as Bowman and the others—but let’s see where they are when they reach his age.

Patrick Hruby
Deputy Editor