Weightlifting and writers. These two concepts don’t often rub up against one another but I believe they should.
Lifting(of all things) has become a critical part of my writing process over the past few years, and I want to try to get you excited about making it part of yours as well.
But there’s something we should face first.
Writers can be tough to deal with. We can be obsessive, indulgent, precious and irrationally protective of our writing time.
So why would I suggest that a writer should give up some of that time, to do something as seemingly unrelated as move weight through space?
For that answer, there are (of course) plenty of writer/athlete models to look to. Abby Wambach, David Foster Wallace, James Dicky and Jocko Willink are excellent examples of great writers who are not only great writers. They prove that athleticism and art are not mutually exclusive. Rather, these two pursuits can and should contribute to one another.
I myself wasn’t interested in athletics for years. I didn’t see the point.
But, in 2018, when I randomly got a free membership I didn’t want to waste, I discovered fitness. And it’s had a profound impact on me—the whole me, particularly my writing.
Physical fitness yields artistic advantages. If you’re an artist, you especially will benefit from exercise.
Moreover, I’ll argue that weightlifting in particular offers cognitive and emotional benefits, and ultimately contributes to an improved state of mental readiness. And all you have to do is lift.
To lift is to incur damage. And what could be more writerly than that?
Lifting (or subjecting your muscles to tension over time) lengthens the muscle fiber. This causes microscopic damage. When you rest, the muscle repairs itself by building new mass. It’s a whole thing. But what effect does this have on the brain?
In 2019 at the University of Missouri, researchers effectively weight trained lab rats over time.
Not only did our lifter rats do better in maze tests, their brains evidenced significant generation of new neurons.
The same thing happens to us.
Weightlifting increases cognitive function and ability.
Lifters brains demonstrate more plasticity and a greater ability to repair themselves, battle off decline and recover from injury.
Writing, of course, occurs in the brain. Throughout the brain, actually.
But this is the caudate nucleus, and this component is most associated with artistic and athletic improvement.
And what activity is associated with a greater caudate nucleus volume? You guessed it. Weightlifting.
Wait a minute…
Okay, so lifting improves brain heath, but that can’t automatically make you a better writer.
After all, writing can be an art: intuitive, subconscious and emotional, right?
Well, writing isn’t only thinking. It’s also an act. It’s a thing that you do. There’s an outcome. To write, you must produce. And whether you’re writing policy or poetry, lifting will offer emotional benefits that will help you be productive.
Positivity, optimism and humor facilitate productivity.
Happy employees have been shown to be as much as twice as productive as their unhappy colleagues.
And lifting just so happens to have a stronger positive impact on mood than cardio and mobility exercise.
Increasing your heart rate triggers norepinephrine which helps conquer stress. Sustained exercise causes the release of endorphins which reduce pain and drive positivity. If you have an annoying friend who tells you about their runners high, I’m sorry to say they’re not lying.
Lifting, however, takes it even further: Just 30 minutes of lifting produces a serotonin high.
Lift throughout the week and your sleep/wake cycle will stabilize and you’ll accrue more energy to burn throughout the day.
So if you want to improve your mood, sleep better and be more productive, lift heavy.
Okay so cognitive benefits, check.
Emotional benefits, check.
But there’s another broader category of benefit lifting leads us to. A state of mental readiness. And it’s from there that we’ll do our best, most consistent work. Because we’ll be sharp, stable and prepared to execute.
Mental readiness, according to the US Army Field Manual, is a soldier’s ability to think, feel and act in a manner that optimizes performance in a demanding environment.
Not all writers are soldiers, but if you change a few of those words around the point still stands.
So if you’re lucky enough to have an hour of writing time, are you prepared to get the most out of it?
Will you be cognitively sharp, emotionally positive and mentally ready to deliver optimized performance in the time that you have?
If you lift, you’re more likely to be.
Sharp, Positive and Ready
In this state, you’ll know that you’ve been alert and observant in your waking life. Your cognition will be sharp so you can solve problems before and as they arise. Your understanding of your objectives will be clearer. You’ll be fired up and positioned to surprise yourself.
And here’s the best part, you may hit temporary plateaus, but you’ll never hit an absolute limit. You’ll fight through setbacks. You’ll get into a rhythm of fighting for your next breakthrough, over and over again. And isn’t that perfect distillation of the writer’s pursuit?
I can’t promise that lifting leads to enlightenment, but it does lead to a healthier, happier, readier brain and that guarantees better writing.