I‘m a personal trainer, or I was a personal trainer.
Somewhere along the lines I became a writer. This was never my intention, goal, or aspiration. But on Dec. 15, 2009 I glanced up from a business book I was reading and, in a trance, looked at the snow out of the window before turning on my computer and typed out,
“Idea: A book about how to be a successful personal trainer from a personal and a professional standpoint stemming from my experience in addition to colleagues and other professionals experience.“
I don’t know at what point I started to classify myself as a writer or when I told people that I was both a personal trainer and author. I accepted the term grudgingly having the utmost respect for the writing profession. Calling yourself a writer because you self-publish some stuff on the Internet is akin to doing sissy squats on the smith machine and saying that you trained. But as I wrote more and started to get paid for my writing, I accepted the term grudgingly, though I still hesitate when telling people what I do.
At first, the two disciplines of fitness and writing seemed to be completely separate — one for the intellectual and the other for the guy who likes to pick stuff up and put stuff down. Despite the obvious differences between the two, my mind inexplicable chose to pursue a passion in both.
It wasn’t until I found myself sifting through the one badly stocked book store in the airport in Cebu, Philippines that I came across the answer. An off-yellow tattered book caught my eye called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
The title immediately sparked my interest. Speaking about exercise is a fine line between enthusiasm and narcissism. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the book was written by Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite fiction authors.
Murakami eloquently compared his two passions of running (he has run 50+ marathons) and writing. The two feed off of each other because the disciplines are similar, not in the actions performed but the mindset of the person performing them.
Procrastination is opportunities natural assassin. We’re built to become addicted to immediate gratification in everything that we do. In lifting, as in writing, one must invest a lot of effort with little or no immediate benefit in order to reach a distant goal. And, while the end goal is glorious, few are able to maintain the requisite consistency and pig-headed discipline to attain the level of success that they originally set out to achieve.
Some of the following ideas started with Murakami and others are ones that I believe are originally mine. I think a lot about training, or in particular, why the hell I put myself through DOMS.
Rep by Rep
Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird tells a story of her brother who, overwhelmed with the massive task of both starting and completing a report on birds, realized that it was due the next day. Her father sat down beside him and said, “bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird”.
Want to know what it feels like staring at a 40 page chapter outline on your right while all that’s written on your computer screen is, “chapter 1”? The hugeness of the task is overwhelming and it’s the continual blocking off of sections and mental reminders to take it bird by bird that help me keep at it.
Why doesn’t everyone have a six-pack? The science is there and you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who wouldn’t have one if given the choice. Exercise is daunting. It’s hard to get started and even harder to keep with it when results are slow and not forthcoming.
Choosing an exercise program for the uninitiated has got to be one of the biggest hurdles to jump. With the constant barrage of new fitness secrets and magical fat loss elixirs, it’s hard to know who to believe. So some people try and far too many quit. All they had to do was take it bird by bird. If we could only communicate to them that it doesn’t matter whether the bird is a cardinal or sparrow, just pick one and get to it, it would make a big difference. But there’s too much money in marketing the next big thing in the fitness world for that to happen.
In Japenese Ken means “seeing” and Sho means “nature” or “essence”. Kensho is the first state of Zen and here I, perhaps inappropriately, use it to describe the feeling of being in the zone.
The elusive zone in writing is something we all strive for. Many writers have their tricks to get into Kensho on those magical days where they find 5hrs of continuous write time. I take a 10 minute walk along the water to clear my mind followed by sitting in my favorite chair, drinking my coffee with a drop of honey, and playing some Rodrigo y Gabriela. Proper state of mind is everything and my preparation towards attempted writing bouts could be described as superstitious.
Out of every 20 workouts you do, 15 are OK, 3 are terrible, and 2 are awesome. Those 2 are zen-like. Gracefully you breeze from machine to machine seeing the other people as if they are faceless drones. Your body seems to be working in perfect harmony and your iPod may as well have run out of battery as you can’t hear the music. You’ve found Kensho, now go and repeat it.
When I prepare for a heavy squat I close my eyes for 4 seconds, tuning everything out. I picture myself performing two reps of the squat and take a deep but quick breath. The next steps are:
1. I flex my butt as hard as I can to remind myself it’s still there and I’m going to need it coming out of the hole.
2. I dip under the bar right shoulder first, then left, followed by a squeeze and a twist of the bar with my hands.
3. I take one step back, right leg first and adjust my stance.
4. After repeating “I GET KNOCKED DOWN” in the voice of Chumbawamba I grit my teeth and squat that shit.
All of this happens within 10s. I used to think it was pure superstition. Now I know it’s a way to prepare physiologically for the lift. At no other time do I perform this specific preparatory sequence. My brain knows that when it’s happening I’m going to attempt to sit down with a lot of weight on my shoulders and it’s going to have to help me get back up. It alerts the nervous system to start the squat pattern and fire all available motor units so I don’t get flattened.
Maybe I’m doing the same thing with my writing? Maybe.
Just One More book… One More Chapter… one more rep…
For the past 3 years I have spent too-many-hours-to-count typing. I’ve published two books, 5 Ebooks, and 200+ blog posts — and there’s probably twice that much material I haven’t published. I sit at least 8hrs a day and end up writing 3,000-10,000 words a day (note those aren’t quality words. That’s before the first edit).
Writing is for somebody who is obsessed with continual improvement for themselves, not for the accolades they receive from others. I do what I do because I crave the feeling of getting better. It’s always just one more book… one more chapter… one more word…
I was put in team sports my entire young life because of the lessons learned from playing nice with others. I never played nice. In hockey I was a puck hog — all I wanted to do was score goals. I cared about the name on the back of my jersey, not the front. So at 15 years old my Dad brought me to the YMCA and I became obsessed with the gym.
Team games never interested me because I never cared about winning arbitrary prizes in arbitrary competitions. Placing first at a tournament doesn’t mean you’re the best, it means you’re better than everybody else who showed up at that same tournament.
For that reason weightlifting appealed to me. It was an activity that I could do by myself to better myself. Kaizen means continuous improvement. You will find in the “about me” on my personal Facebook page (add me as a friend) it’s been the only thing written since 2008.
The gym is a place for personal development. It is a place for the individual to get better. The gym is not a place for extrinsic awards and fitness is not a sport. In training as in life it’s always just one more workout… one more set… one more rep…