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For this mayor, it's push-ups before politics 

by Jen Murphy

Reprinted with permission from the Wall Street Journal

Newell Clark, the 43-year-old mayor of Lexington, N.C., likes to lead by example. Since his election in 2011, Mr. Clark has taken his workouts to the streets, parks and even abandoned factories.

"It’s not enough to be in the gym at 5 a.m. and have three people see you making a commitment to your health," he says.

People would see him running down Main Street or doing pull-ups from a swing set in a public park and slowly began to ask if they could join him. In July 2013, his cousin Stan Lanier started tagging along. A few weeks later, city council member Frank Callicutt asked to join. Chris Allred, a financial planner followed suit. "It 

was strictly word-of-mouth but you heard whispers about how you have to go work out with the mayor," says Mr. Clark.

Today, he estimates 15 people fairly regularly participate in his workouts, men and women ranging in age from 35 to 52. Five days a week, the mayor leads the group through exercises ranging from push-ups with your feet on a swing seat to tuck-ups on monkey bars. He sets up exercise stations and shows the group how to do each exercise and then each person does as many repetitions as they can.

Mr. Clark competed in triathlons during college and was a certified personal trainer. "I like getting creative with my workouts and encouraging others to push themselves," he says.

He says initially people would ask if they could run with him. "I always tell people I’m not a runner," he says. "We might run 3 miles during a workout but the furthest you run at one time is 300 yards and then you’re at a station performing exercises. We’re climbing 

and hanging on stuff and doing fully body movements nonstop for 45 minutes. These workouts make you feel like a kid again."

Mr. Clark says he fell out of shape during his first campaign for mayor four years ago because he put his workout on hold and became lax with his diet. "I allowed myself to go from a six-pack to a two-pack," he says.

But he said within a month and a half after winning election, he lost the weight. The city of Lexington, with Mr. Clark’s encouragement, has hired a wellness coordinator who has implemented regular checkups available to all city employees, healthier food offerings at banquet events and encouraged employees to move more throughout their workday.

Citizens who don’t work out with the mayor can find inspiration on his Twitter feed, which often has 

motivational tweets such as, "Don’t let the #weather stop you. Get outside. Find time for Urself."

The Workout

Mr. Clark’s workouts start and end at his home. Some days he does a workout at Grimes Park that involves various stations. He uses the bar of a swing set for chin-ups or tuck-ups, where he tucks his knees up to his chest to work his lower abs. Or he puts his feet on a swing and his hands on the ground and does push-ups. "It’s funny when a 3-year-old is on the swing next to the mayor doing chin-ups," he says.

In an area of Lexington slated for revitalization called the Depot District, he does a workout at a factory that features more jumping and climbing. He does pull-ups while hanging from the lower rung of a fire-escape ladder 

and climbs up the ladder using only his upper body. On a set of stairs, he does decline push-ups with his hands on the ground and feet on the third stair. Then he switches and puts his feet on the ground and hands on the step to do incline push-ups.

Before each workout, Mr. Clark asks each person their number for the day, referring to the number of reps of each exercises they intend to do in the circuit. "I like to say this is a judgment-free zone," he says. "If you can do 10 pull-ups, you’re no different then the guy who can do one. Our philosophy is we all start together; we all end together. This isn’t about running a seven-minute mile it’s about supporting each other."

Once a week, he holds a yoga day at his home focused on teaching basic poses such as warrior one and downward dog.

When he’s on the road, he creates his own outdoor workouts. "I love going to D.C. to run and I use the benches for all kinds of exercises like triceps dips," he says. "I was just in New York City and I was riding the subway and noticed the bar that you hold when you don’t get a seat and thought, ‘That is a nice looking pull-up bar.’" But he restrained himself.

The Diet

Mr. Clark typically eats five times a day. For breakfast, he usually has black coffee, a spinach and feta cheese omelet and oatmeal and applesauce. His midmorning snack might be almonds, a cheese stick or a ThinkThin protein bar.

Lunch is often a turkey and lettuce wrap or tuna and hummus wrap. He skips the mayo in favor of a local, vinegar-based barbecue sauce. Post-

workout he makes the group protein shakes from frozen fruit, Greek yogurt, almond butter, honey and whey protein.

For dinner, he has a bowl of chili with a side salad or steak or salmon with steamed broccoli. He tries to eat most of his carbs in the morning and though he loves Italian food, he orders spaghetti with no noodles. "Just the meat sauce and a salad," he says.

Lexington is known for its barbecue, but "I’ll order the lean, white meat and avoid the hush puppies," he says.

The Gear

Mr. Clark estimates he spent $250 on weights and benches for his home gym and $199 for his TRX Home Suspension Trainer. He wears Asics Gel-Venture 4 sneakers, which retail for around $60. He wears black Nike Performance socks, which cost around $18 a six pack. "White socks get too dirty," he says.

He prefers shirts by Jockey and often wears a shirt with messages on it such as "Community." Six months ago, he bought a $99.95 FitBit Flex so he could monitor his sleeping.

The Playlist

"Every October Lexington hosts a barbecue festival that features entertainment by up-and-coming artists and I load up my playlist with music from those bands. Taylor Swift and Chris Daughtry played there before they got big," he says. "I was recently introduced to the rock-and-soul band the Broadcast, but I also listen to Tupac, Eminem and Dr. Dre. I usually put one ear bud in and leave one ear free so I can hear everyone but also still have the motivation of music."