As Paul Ryan got pumped up about Thursday's vice presidential debate, observers were distracted by his pumped-up biceps in photographs of the Republican running mate published hours before he was to square off against Joe Biden.
Time magazine posted a series of pictures of the famously fit Ryan, wearing gym clothes and a backward red baseball cap and curling a dumbbell.
The Wisconsin congressman, 42, is grinning at the camera in some of the pictures, and while his physique is impressive, the image is not exactly vice presidential.
CNN quoted a Ryan aide accusing Time of "poor judgment" in releasing the photographs on the magazine's website on the day of the debate, during which Ryan and vice president Biden faced off on weightier issues like the state of the sluggish economy.
But Ryan aide Brendan Buck said the VP candidate was taking it in stride.
"Paul Ryan takes his health seriously. Clearly - judging by these silly pictures - he doesn't take himself too seriously," Buck told AFP.
Time said the photos were taken in late 2011 when Ryan was a finalist for the magazine's Person of the Year issue. The House Budget Committee chairman's Herculean efforts to undertake budgetary reform inspired the workout theme for the shoot, it said.
Ryan conducts early-morning workouts with fellow lawmakers in the House gym, and he favors a high-intensity routine -- also followed by First Lady Michelle Obama -- called P90X.
The pictures sparked a surge of debate, attention and parody on the Web, particularly after conservative-leaning news aggregator Drudge Report posted one of the photos and a link to the series on its homepage.
"Paul Ryan pics spark dumbbell debate," announced the headline on the Politico website's most emailed article of the day.
Some conservatives made light of the images, and suggested they could give Ryan an advantage going into the debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
"Well, at least we know Paul Ryan won't be outgunned tonight," Weekly Standard senior writer Mark Hemingway posted on Twitter, with a link to the pictures, followed by: "#heyohh!"
The pictures spawned an inevitable parody Twitter account -- @PaulRyansBicep -- and by 0030 GMT Friday it had about 1,400 followers.
"Only 196 more workouts until Election Day," PaulRyansBicep tweeted.