Getting Into Shape is Like Writing a Novel

Ten years ago, I was probably close to the best shape of my life. I’d been working with a personal training, learning the right way to exercise, and eat healthy. I posted my workouts regularly back then, and I did so ten years ago today–which also happened to be an election day (mid-term election).

Over the course of the last year, I’ve felt increasingly out-of-shape. It is amazing how much can change in ten years. I was always a skinny kid, and until I turned 40, a relatively skinny adult. Since turning 40 my weight has steadily climbed, and more than that, I’ve felt out-of-shape. I see other people in their mid-40s who seem to be in good shape, and envy them. And so I finally took action, and started working out again.

I’ve done it just twice so far, Sunday and Monday, and I’m starting out easy. 30 minutes of cardio, some crunches, and some very light weights. This time around, I noticed something funny about trying to get into shape: the process is remarkably similar to writing a novel.

  1. You start at the beginning, from scratch, with nothing but an idea of what you want to be or achieve. This isn’t much different from starting a novel, facing the blank page, and knowing that the thing won’t be done until hundreds of those blank pages have been filled, edited, proofread, revised.
  2. It is a cumulative process. Any single day doesn’t make much of a difference. I got off of the elliptical machine on Sunday, and was not in shape. One workout did nothing. It’s like a single writing session in the course of a long novel. You write page, five pages, ten pages. But on that first day, all of you have is a small fraction of what you need to get there.
  3. Each day makes a huge difference in that it is part of a cumulative effort. I know this seems to contradict the previous point, but in my experience, the main reason novels (or short stories, for that matter) don’t get written is because they are never started. The significance of that first day on the elliptical was as important as the first day writing a novel. I actually got started. I got off my butt and took action. It’s just one day, but there will be a second, and a third.
  4. Results creep in over the long haul. Write a little bit every day, as I’ve learned, an before long, you have half a novel, and then a full novel draft. The same is true with getting into shape. The first workout seems almost ineffectual. But it is an important part of the long haul. The long haul is made of individual efforts.

I’ve been so spoiled by the instant gratification of Amazon, iTunes, and similar services, that I’ve come to expect it with everything. But there are some things that you have to work hard for to see results. Like writing a novel, or starting from scratch in your mid-40s to try to get back into shape.

I look at some of the workouts I used to do, like this one, and wonder if I’ll ever get back there:

Group 1                1st Set      2nd Set      3rd Set
-------                -------      -------      -------
Chest press              7/160       11/120       12/120
Kickbacks              12/30LR      15/30LR      15/30LR
Crunches                    30           30           35

Group 2                1st Set      2nd Set      3rd Set
-------                -------      -------      -------
Lat pull                 12/90        12/90        12/90
Seated row               12/90        12/90        12/90
Jumping jacks               30           30           30

I just keep telling myself that it is a cumulative effort, just like working on the novel. You get in the days work, do the best you can on it. There will be good days, and bad days, but they’ll even out over time. And that is the key. Getting back into shape will take time. I think it probably took me a year when I did it 10 years ago. I’m ten years older now, so I expect that it might take longer.