"Strength training is more than a hobby. It is an essential component to my life that makes me a more complete person and a much better poet."
To be great at anything, you must consistently practice the craft. I don't think I need to elaborate on the connection between frequent practice and improvement. Rather, I want to discuss two things:
First, I want to evaluate a common pitfall of aspiring artists: relying on inspiration as opposed to discipline. Second, I will share how setting goals in an area other than my art has helped me become a more disciplined poet, and why I think artists can benefit from doing the same.
"Strength training has taught me that 'a good day at the gym' is equivalent to a 'flood of inspiration.'"
Dogs Will Always Eat Your Sandwich
Let's start with inspiration. Inspiration is as close to meaningless as it gets. It's unhelpful. It's a bucket that rusts so much overnight that a thick blade of grass will punch a hole in the bottom. Trusting inspiration to help you produce better art is like trusting a dog to not eat your sandwich. If you aren't actively making it cooperate, you will have to revise your plans for lunch.
Personally, I've written some of my very best poems during long inspiration droughts. These are times, often lasting months, where I just didn't feel like writing. I had no unique ideas. Nothing made me feel immense or cozy or like trudging through wilting dandelions. I, like a lot of life, was bland and boring. However, I made myself write and revise a minimum of five days every week, and in doing so crafted pieces such as "Aliens Keep Hummingbirds as Pets," and "Space Dragons." My audience frequently claim these as favorites in my portfolio.
Over the years, I've spoken to baskets of people with ambitions to be great writers, painters, songwriters, etc. One of their most common statements is that they only create when they are "inspired." They speak to having a "flood of inspiration" overtake them, spawning a frantic penning or cutting or gluing or stroking. They stay up all night or work relentlessly on a single project for several days fueled by canned caffeine and packaged cookies. And then it's gone.
Strength training has taught me that "a good day at the gym" is equivalent to a "flood of inspiration." You should be grateful for it, but never rely on it to achieve your goals. While training for strongman, my strength, conditioning, energy levels and performance fluctuate week-to-week. This is natural. To increase strength, though, the body requires constant stimulus, meaning you have to put weight on the bar and do the reps. While the way you feel can influence the plan for the day (how much weight, number of sets, etc.) if you let feeling sluggish dictate whether or not you go to the gym at all, you'll probably end up taking days and weeks off at a time. Do that several times in a sixteen-week training block and you've ruined your progress.
Art works the same way. It just does. No matter how much we idolize the "tortured artist," "the mess," "the slob," "the genius who doesn't have to work at it," no one gets around this fact: YOU HAVE TO PUT IN THE REPS. If an artist relies on inspiration to produce, they will have years of working on their craft only one or two times. They'll eventually give it up.
"Practicing discipline through strongman training builds the fortitude and focus to be disciplined as a poet."
Discipline & Goal Setting
Consistency requires discipline, and discipline is both a transferrable skill and a habit. I fervently believe that building discipline in one area of life, particularly in a physical activity, primes our minds and bodies to be disciplined in every area of life. Living a holistically with a diverse array of goals, some of those being physical goals, improves each individual area.
Strength training taught me the value of consistency in a very clear way. If you do the work every week, you get stronger. In my experience, practicing discipline through strongman training has built the fortitude and focus to be disciplined as a poet.
On the other side of it, when I fall out of a training routine, which happens often after competing or due to injury, inevitably my writing suffers. I skip whole days, push deadlines, make fewer revision drafts, etc. It happens every single time. It's as though a switch trips in my brain, and production slows.
I'm sure there's a more elaborate reason that could explain this phenomenon. But there are plenty of people writing about sport science, mental health, physical psychology, etc. My goal is to share why strength training is more than a hobby. It is an essential component to my life that makes me a more complete person and a much better poet.
If you are an artist, I encourage you to set a new goal! Sign up for a 5k, learn to squat, play pickle ball, signup for a jiu-jitsu class, commit to walk a half mile every day for a year, or train to do the splits! Set yourself a physical goal that requires consistency, and watch what it does for your art!