This week, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis and her pink Mizuno Wave Riders became overnight celebrities with a filibuster of her state’s proposed anti-abortion bill. If passed, Texas’ Senate Bill 5 sought to outlaw abortions at 20 weeks or more and set debilitating guidelines that would have likely closed most of the state’s abortion clinics. (Governor Rick Perry has called a special July 1st session to revote on the bill.)
The filibuster is a familiar tactic for politicians from all parties. But how do they manage to talk — on topic — for hours on end without food, water, bathroom breaks, or even a quick sit? We asked experts what it takes to make it through the toughest physical test in politics.
Taking a Stand — Why It Matters
The 50 year-old Davis, a runner and cyclist, prepared about as well as she could for her 11-hour speech. In a break with traditional decorum, she opted for comfy pink running shoes that have since become a rallying point for some politically tinged parody Amazon reviews. Davis also wore a urinary catheter to make the lack of bathroom breaks a little more manageable. At one point several hours in, she donned a back brace, though was given a warning when a colleague helped her put it on. The brace acted much like a weightlifting belt, giving her fatigued core muscles a surface to press against and help maintain an upright torso. And while going 11 hours without food or water likely won't cause the body any long-term harm, it definitely contributes to muscular fatigue. (Surprisingly, the filibuster has received little acknowledgement from the intermittent fasting community.)
#StandWithWendy — Tips for Filibustering
While Davis’ endurance was impressive, she didn’t set any records for filibuster length. In fact, the longest such effort in recorded history goes to former Texas State Senator Bill Meier, whose mind-boggling 43-hour filibuster occurred 36 years ago in the very same room as Davis’. Though we can’t recommend duplicating their efforts anytime soon — unless you really, really don't want a bill to pass — we asked two Greatist Experts for tips on making it through a marathon standing session:
- Train Like an Athlete: When it comes to filibustering, as with any endurance test, being fit is definitely an advantage. "General physical preparedness is key for any marathon activity, whether it's running or just standing in one place," says Greatist Expert and physical therapist Eugene "Bo" Babenko. "It's hard to prepare for something like that, but being fit and having a training background will definitely help."
- Respect the Core: "I can stand for a long-ass time," says Greatist Expert and trainer Jonathan Angelilli, "but my mid-section is very strong." In a long endurance effort where the goal is to keep upright, the big muscles of the legs and glutes are likely going to last longer than the 58 small muscles that make up the core. Training a strong torso is key to staying on your feet.
- Make Small Shifts: According to Babenko, small shifts in weight can make a big difference when standing for hours at a time. "Actively shifting weight and having a plan to do so will create constant change in pressure throughout the body, and that will allow you to stand for much longer."
- Pump the Calves: Engaging the lower legs can help prevent blood from pooling and flush nutrients back into tired muscles. "Actively squeezing the calves, even just going up on your toes every now and then, will help keep things fresh from a musculoskeletal standpoint," says Babenko.
- Come With (Lots and Lots of) Notes: Filibuster rules vary slightly from one legislature to the next, but in Texas, speakers aren't allowed to stray off topic. Unless you feel like improvising for 10+ hours, bring reading material. In preparation for her filibuster, Senator Davis solicited nearly 13,000 personal stories to read regarding the bill's potential effects.
- Hydrate Beforehand: Going without water for many hours — especially if standing the whole time — can lead to quick fatigue. Drink plenty beforehand, and if you want to skip the need for bathroom breaks by using a catheter, please consult a physician beforehand (no one said this was going to be fun).
- Don't Lock the Knees: Even with some conscious calf-pumping, long boughts of standing will cause blood to accumulate in the lower extremities. That ups your liklihood of passing out, says Babenko, which could cause serious injury if you hit the deck from a standing position: "Take a lesson from soldiers and keep your knees unlocked. That way if you fall, you'll fall straight down and your legs will take some of the impact instead of pancaking the floor."
What are your tips for future filibusterers? Let us know in the comments below and tweet the author @d_tao.