Throwback Thursday, #WeightGate Edition: Were Paul Ryan's Workout Photos the Real Deal?
Photo by Gregg Segal for TIME


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Throwback Thursday, #WeightGate Edition: Were Paul Ryan's Workout Photos the Real Deal?

In 2011, the now-Speaker of the House posed for TIME Magazine curling 40-pound dumbells. Or did he?

"What I've learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one's reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one's master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person's view requires to be faked…. The man who lies to the world, is the world's slave from then on…. There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all."


—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Even if you're not much of a conspiracy buff, you have to admit that something has always seemed off about Paul Ryan's weightlifting photos. You've seen them before, I'm sure of it. The photos, by Gregg Segal, were published by TIME in 2012, with Ryan wearing a backwards red hat—which may or may not be an early prototype of the Make America Great Again line—and in one shot, the Wisconsin Congressman has his arm extended as if to say, "Not now, broseph. I'm making gains."

I've been thinking about these images lately because starting on Friday, Donald Trump, the lyingest liar to ever lie his way to a position of power, will be President of these fucked United States (fuuuuuuuck). It will be up to Ryan, as Speaker of the House, to maintain some tiny degree of civility, respect, and honesty in our completely fucked political system. Is he up to the task?

The answer may be hidden in these photos.

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First, let's establish some priors. OK, just one prior: Paul Ryan is already an established lying liar when it comes to his athletic achievements. In August of 2012, about two months before this TIME photo shoot was published, Ryan told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he ran a marathon in under three hours. Exact quote: "I had a two hour and fifty-something."

The forums jumped all over this one. For one, a sub-three hour marathon is a 6:50 mile pace, which is pretty freaking fast. Ryan, at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, does not have the body frame for that kind of performance. Second, that phrase, "two hour and fifty-something," doesn't pass the sniff test. Only serious runners can log a sub-three marathon, and any serious runner would know his PR down to the second. This would be like a hardcore competitive weightlifter not knowing his one-rep bench press max. "I dunno, 400-something?" Yeah, no fucking way, man.


But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

It turned out Ryan did in fact run a marathon. In 1990. But he didn't run it in under three hours. He ran a four hour, one minute marathon. No #fakenews here, folks. What mile pace is that, you might ask?


This was my first clue. Ryan was trying to tell us something through his athletic endeavors. I didn't know how big this could get, so I decided to take a closer look at those weightlifting photos.

Ryan was photographed for TIME in December 2011, when the Wisconsin Congressman was a runner-up for the magazine's Person of the Year. For Ryan, it was the perfect opportunity to establish himself as America's Fittest Congressman heading into an election year, and also to provide Republicans with the perfect, small-government alternative to Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign. As an Ayn Rand devotee, he's into self-improvement, self-reliance, pretty much every self-centered philosophy you could imagine (except the ones about women having control over their reproductive health). Of course he would want to prove himself here.

So here, I think, is what happened: Ryan, never a man to lean back and let fate just unspool, decides to take matters into his own hands. Before the photo shoot, he orchestrates a scheme to smuggle used dumbbells marked up with fake weight indicators into the Janesville YMCA. Just look:

When the people's business is getting swoll. Photo by Gregg Segal for TIME

I know what you're thinking: Aaron, this is brilliant, and probably accurate. Thank you. But don't take my word for it. All the evidence is right there, hidden in plain sight.


Paul Ryan is, in theory, curling 40-pound dumbbells here, even though he told TIME he's into p90x, which is basically a High Intensity Interval Training regimen based on low weight and high number of reps. Forty-pound curls are what 250-pound, six percent body fat dudes rip off as they scream in the mirror. No fucking way, man. A dude of Ryan's size should be using 30s AT MOST.

Awfully convenient how that "40" is in giant, white lettering prominently facing the camera, no?

The photographer for the shoot, Gregg Segal, told VICE Sports that he recalls picking up the weights at one point during the shoot and noting they were "heavy," which, if he is to be believed, rules out the use of complete dummy weights.

And this makes sense, too. Because Paul Ryan is not an idiot. He would have known he couldn't use dummy weights, because doing so wouldn't produce tension in his arm muscles as he did the workouts, a dead giveaway he was pulling a fast one on the good readers of TIME magazine. So he had to use a real weight, just less than the advertised amount.

As you can see below, Ryan's arms show tension. They show the use of real weights, and sell the idea that those weights are, as Segal put it, heavy. To the untrained eye, that would be enough to erase any suspicion.

But let's look deeper. Let's zoom in on the weight:

We can see some clear wear and tear on the weight, as marked above. Also note that wear and tear appears on the part of the weight with the lettering, which means the markings must have been forged well in advance of the shoot. Very clever. A sure sign that nothing was left to chance, which is how all good conspiracies work.


To confirm, let's go to the scene of the crime.

The shoot took place at the Janesville, Wisconsin, YMCA, where Ryan regularly works out when he's home. Ryan was born and raised there, so he has relationships. Connections. Is it really a stretch to assume the most famous and respected person in Janesville could call in a favor or two, no questions asked?

OK, now here's the biggie. Segal, the photographer, told me that Ryan chose to use heavier weights. So these weren't randomly selected dumbbells. He picked them. The weights easily could have been planted in advance to make Big Tough Self-Reliant Small-Government-Maker Guy Paul Ryan look like he's popping off 40-pound curls like it ain't no thang, Atlas shrugging and curling, when IN FACT he's pulling the old "two hour fifty something."

What have we got here? Thirty-pound iso curls? Gimme a goddamn break. Photo by Gregg Segal for TIME

The Janesville YMCA website looks like it hasn't been updated since the beginning of this decade, which makes it perfect for capturing the equipment they had at the time. But there are no photos on the website aside from stock photos and ClipArt. Why would a workout facility have no photos to show people what kind of equipment they have? Maybe because they don't WANT you to know.

What about Facebook? There is a grainy-ass video of some dude benching 545 pounds at the YMCA, and, well, that's it. Every other photo is of the gymnasium or some stock photo. Suspicious? I think so.

Google Maps? Four photos, and only one of exercise equipment, which doesn't have any free weights or dumbbells at all.



Instagram? Mostly the same deal. There is one video from November 2015 geotagged at the YMCA Janesville that shows someone using a classic EZ bar, which doesn't help us out much. I have blurred her face to protect the innocent.

But there, in the background, is the only available online glimpse of the dumbbells on hand at the Janesville YMCA. Enhance:

Wait a minute …

Those DO NOT look like the same weights. For one, the Instagram video clearly shows black weights, not rust-brown ones, and they don't look plated. Moreover, they don't feature bright white lettering showing weight amounts.

This is the only photo in any geo-tagged post on Instagram at the Janesville YMCA of the free weights/dumbbell section. I cannot help but find it an AWFULLY BIG coincidence that it is impossible to verify online that the weights Paul Ryan used in the photo shoot are the same as the ones used in the gym where the shoot took place. You're telling me a guy who HAPPENED to run a marathon at a 9:11 pace 11 years before the tragic events of 9/11 doesn't have the sway to fake a dumbbell? Fuck yes, he does.

I have contacted the Janesville YMCA to find out if they switched dumbbells at any time since 2011. Unsurprisingly, I have yet to receive a reply from Ryan's cronies.

Let's connect more dots. Could Ryan's "40 pound" weights have been smuggled in with little notice? Easily. Here's the Google Street View of the building:


The front door would be too risky, but there are several entrances around back:

Look at that door on the right. Here's a different view:

You couldn't ASK for a better entrance/exit for a quick, covert operation. Hell, it's on DODGE STREET for crying out loud. As in, dodging the TRUTH.

Here is the complex from above:

It doesn't really add anything to our analysis, but no getaway plan worth its weight in fake dumbbells is complete without an overhead satellite shot.

Consider the overwhelming evidence, and I think it's pretty obvious what happened here. One of Ryan's unidentified associates smuggled in the weights via that side door on Dodge Street, planted them, and then slipped away with no one from TIME Magazine the wiser. Ryan's little quip about using heavier weights was just a clever bit of psy-ops, the better to make the whole thing seem authentic. You don't rise to Speaker of the House without the ability to make people think you're sincere.

Maybe you're still unconvinced. Politicians have so rarely been known to lie to the American public; maybe you want to give Ryan the benefit of the doubt. OK, fine. Suppose the dumbbells are, in fact, 40-pounders.

Let's take the man at his word. If he's telling the truth, it opens up a second possibility for skullduggery: Is the man who is third in line for the presidency should Trump unthinkably leave office early actually CURLING the weight?


Let's examine the two photos of Ryan in action:

What do the shots have in common? Both capture the HEIGHT of the movement, when the muscle is contracting. But in weightlifting, much like jazz and international intelligence dossiers, it's important to examine what you're NOT seeing, and what we're not seeing here is Ryan mid-rep. Did Ryan actually curl this weight from its starting position? Or did he just hold it in place while posing, flexing his bicep and holding his breath, bracing the weight with the rest of his body, cheating by using his back, and then drop it to the ground, letting gravity do the work while cutting corners on his eccentric contractions? Is he the type of guy who stacks the bench press, drops the bar an inch, and then re-racks it? Does he skip squats for a loaded-up leg press machine? Does our p90x fan even know what a bulk-and-cut cycle is? And what was that marathon time again, Mr. Ryan?

Look at his positioning. Is he really trying to sell us on doing a curl rep off-angle, chest angling toward the camera? Aside from being impossible with his strength profile, it's just shitty form. From his point of view, he'd have to be going UP and to the LEFT. UP … and to the LEFT.

And Ryan almost got away with it, too. Almost.

What else is there to say? White lies, especially ones reading "40" on the side of a dumbbell, are the blackest of all.

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