CHICAGO – Many women recoil at the thought of baring their arms in sleeveless dresses or blouses, but not Michelle Obama — half of the fabulously fit new first couple.
Both President-elect Barack Obama and the future first lady have exercise routines that would put most people to shame. Michelle Obama used to join a friend for 4:30 a.m. workouts, and Barack Obama usually starts his day in the gym.
Michelle Obama has been interviewed on television, graced the cover of Newsweek and hit the campaign trail, all with her buff arms bared.
"One of the things I always talk about is got to exercise," the 44-year-old mother of two told an overwhelmingly female crowd at a campaign event last year in Chicago.
That's sure to continue when the Obamas and their girls — 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha — move into the White House, which has plenty of places for them to stay active.
Fitness is a tradition for residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. President George W. Bush is an avid mountain biker, former President Bill Clinton jogged around Washington and former President George H.W. Bush liked to golf and jog, play tennis and pitch horseshoes.
"Most of my workouts have to come before my day starts," Barack Obama, 47, told Men's Health magazine in an interview for its November issue. "There's always a trade-off between sleep and working out. Usually I get in about 45 minutes, six days a week. I'll lift one day, do cardio the next."
His preference, he said, would be to work out for 90 minutes.
On the campaign trail, even during the busiest periods, Obama made it a priority to start the day with a workout. That often meant a small motorcade of Secret Service agents and reporters following him to a local gym.
A German newspaper took advantage of this habit by stationing a reporter at a gym Obama might use during his European trip during the summer. The reporter, posing as just another person working out, got her picture taken with Obama and wrote a breathless story about how fit and handsome he was.
The president-elect has said his favorite fitness activity is basketball, and the game became a kind of campaign ritual. He got in the habit of shooting hoops with friends on the days of primary elections, and that carried over to such major events as his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and Election Day.
"He's very good, he knows how to play, he understands the game and he's in terrific shape," said Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a friend who played professionally in Greece and frequently joins Obama on the court.
At the White House, the president-elect can get his basketball fix by shooting hoops on its outdoor court, but he has joked about replacing the bowling alley with an indoor basketball court.
Obama calls himself skinny, but he looks in top shape. A photo of him bare-chested at the beach — something he has called "embarrassing" — made the rounds of celebrity magazines last year.
Michelle Obama is equally devoted to her fitness routine, telling People magazine this summer that she manages a 90-minute workout three times a week.
Friend Sandy Matthews, who used to work out with her at 4:30 a.m., said the future first lady is a fan of cross-training, a mix of strength and cardio exercises usually involving weights, the treadmill, the stair-stepper or a spin bike.
Obama is competitive in her workouts, pushing herself to get the most out of her time in the gym, Matthews said. But it's not only about keeping in shape.
"It's your time. I think every woman has to find their space and their time during the course of a day, especially a working mom," Matthews said.