"On Writing..." and Lifting

Happy July 4th everyone!  As you’ve noticed – and unless you’re my Mother, you probably haven’t – the summer months have led me to crank out fewer blog posts than I’d prefer. I’ve been traveling, watching Orange is the New Black, and hanging out with my good friend – Channing Tatum. 

I’m just kidding.  I haven’t watched that much OITNB.

Annnnyway, the summer gives me a chance to reflect on the past 9 months and unleash my inner nerd by biting into my reading list.  My latest book has been “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser and it’s given me the answer to a question I’ve always been seeking – why do I enjoy writing?  After all, writing and deadlifts usually go together like tuna fish and bananas.

Regurgitating reflexes aside, I believe I’ve found my answer: writing – like training – is an expression of self.  And just like writing, training is a craft.

I know - that got real deep, real quick.  My bad.  But below are some of Zinsser’s biggest chunks of wisdom along with my own personal notes about training.

Writing is Rewriting

I’m always astounded by individuals that can churn out blog posts and articles like it’s nothing.  Writing has always been tough for me as it can take me days to compose a blog post.  It’s also normal for a three sentence email to take 5+ minutes for me to write.  I never quite understood why I was so slow until Zinsser explained, “rewriting is the essence of writing.”

It sounds cliché but training is training.  As a writer is going to make several mistakes before they come up with a finished product, the same can be said about any serious lifter.  If you have an hour I’ll gladly tell you some of the mistakes I’ve made.  For example feeding yourself eggs, ricotta cheese, and bagels every morning while hogging the squat rack to do bicep curls is a sure way to gain 30 pounds.  And it’s not “pure muscle.”

T-Rex will be mastering push ups....for-ev-er.

T-Rex will be mastering push ups....for-ev-er.

On the flip side, I’m still mastering exercises that I would describe as “easy” – front planks, dead bugs, push ups, and crawling.  And my pursuit of deadlifting 500 pounds made me a much better coach, and it taught me lessons I wouldn't have learned otherwise.  

Reduce Clutter

During my ol’ cubicle days I thought using fancy words made for good writing.  Now?  I realize that the majority of the time it's what Zinsser calls "clutter." Drowning out a sentence with long words, phrases, and overall BS is unnecessary. A few examples: "numerous" (many), "facilitate" (ease), "implement" (do), "due to the fact" (because), "for the purpose of" (for).  

(As a note of reference, President Lincoln's second Inaugural address included 701 words - 505 of which were one syllable and 122 were two syllable.)

Here's an egregiously bad offense - yes, irony intended - by one of my previous bosses:

"This report was created as part of the Exploratory Period to determine where and how we should engage the digital ecosystem to advance business objectives in the coming year."

Huh? Obviously something like "We made this report to find out what to do for you," isn’t fancy enough.  That’s unfortunate.

Just as verbal gymnastics are going to lose your readers - and your overall point - the same can be said with training.  If you're not selective, you won't maximize your training potential.

One of the most common mistakes in training is not setting a clear goal.  Unfortunately the lack of a goal usually manifests itself in program hopping and lack of a consistent theme in training.  It's not uncommon for those without solid goals to say "I want to run a half marathon, bench press 300 pounds, and be cast in the upcoming Magic Mike sequel (because you know they can't stop at two movies..)"

The result?  They get sub-par results.  When you have one defined goal everything needs to be geared to that goal.  When I started my pursuit of deadlifting 500 pounds - which has now morphed into my goal of a triple bodyweight deadlift (570 lbs) - everything I did was to help my deadlift.  Why did I squat?  To help my deadlift.  Why did I do pullups?  Help the deadlift.  My night before Chipotle burrito bowl superstition?  You got it - to help my deadlift.

As I've focused on one particular goal, I've noticed that all my former goals have gained ground as well.  A rising tide really does lift all boats.

Be bold

Lifting in a crowded gym tends to mirror having a blog - even if your immediate family is the only one who reads it.  In both cases, there's an odd dichotomy where you have to be confident and calm.....while being afraid you may do something wrong.

Yet the best writers are the ones who aren't afraid to be confident and bold, and the same can be said about lifting.  I get nervous when it comes time to lift heavy things.  But staying at the status quo isn't an option.  Make your own rules, navigate your own path, and like Zinsser realize that "a sentence is a fine thing to put a preposition at the end of."