Some of you know me as a video director, speaker, and violinist. But my sport is weight-training. (Not bodybuilding, fyi.) I’ve been a lifter for 20 years, and it’s changed how I think about a lot of things, including my creative work.
First, a little bit about how we build muscle. It’s a multi-part process.
Pushing yourself to new levels
To get started, you have to load the muscle. This means applying more weight than what the muscles are used to. Which is why we train by lifting progressively heavier weights. If you just stick to the same program, you won’t be doing your body any favors. And you’ll get pretty bored, too.
Once the muscle gets loaded, you get sore, which tells you the inflammatory molecules and your immune system are activated. Muscle glycogen helps to swell the muscle and connective tissues grow, too.
The muscle literally has to break down to rebuild, stronger.
Lesson 1 from lifting: Getting out of your comfort zone, literally, is part of the process.
While this is happening, you have to rest the muscle. This is why we lifters rotate “back days” or “leg days”. Rest is key to success!
Lifting Lesson 2: You can’t always be in “building” mode. We all need regular breaks in order to stay creative.
Failure leads to success
Another element of weight training is “training to failure”. This means repeating an exercise (such as squats or bench press) to the point of momentary muscular failure, i.e. the point where the neuromuscular system can no longer produce adequate force to overcome that weight workload.
Lesson 3 from lifting: Failure is part of the growing process.
To successfully train to failure, you have to pick a weight that’s heavy enough to make you struggle to complete your last rep. But you have to know what you’re doing with this technique. You can lose form and then hurt yourself, if you aren’t training properly. Thus the need for spotting, which you will see a lot with bench press and squats.
Lesson 4 from lifting: Often, you need help to get to the next level.
If you do know what you’re doing, then working to failure can help you break through a plateau—get past a barrier that in some ways is in your mind, not only your body.
Being in the moment
One of the things I love about lifting is how it forces me to be in the moment. My work already feels like a series of marathons with various finish lines up ahead. But with lifting, there’s just this moment. This one lift, right now. That forces me to focus. To make the most of the lift. And to ignore all the other looming deadlines and projects.
Lesson 5 (and super hard for me as a go-go person): There is value in simply being present in the moment.
What you put in matters
Lifting definitely helps me focus on the foods I need to eat. Your body needs both carbs and proteins to build muscle. You need a sufficient supply of amino acids. Your body doesn’t produce leucine, isoleucine, and valine, so I add them to my workout mix (you’ll hear the term BCAA’s–branch chain amino acids–from lifters, and everyone tinkers around with their perfect workout mix). BCAA’s are the body’s essential tools to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue, and a lot of lifters think they also reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
So Lesson 6 is that creative muscle-building requires “input”–going to museums, concerts, plays, films, installations, as well as simply time to think about these things–in order to create more interesting “output”.
By now you’ve figured out that my point here isn’t about weightlifting. It’s about creative work and life.
I’ve learned that it’s important to push myself and my team to try new things. And a trainer often helps me do that–find a new creative way to exercise the same muscle group. Or try hitting an entirely different muscle.
In my work, team members and sometimes coaches help support my creative reaches. It would be easy to just phone in the work and repeat the process for each new video, workshop or speaking engagement. But instead, I’m often trying a challenge I’ve never taken on before. And in turn, pushing my team to do the same. This helps us learn and grow. And ultimately do better work.
We sometimes try and fail. And that’s okay. (And that’s where my producer backup planning comes into play—often the client isn’t even aware we tried something and ended up going a different route.)
We often need help–creative work is a team sport. As with lifting, we need spotters and trainers to support an inspire us.
We also need breaks. Last year, our team really pushed ourselves because we had so many new and exciting projects and clients. But we also got really fatigued. So I shut down our virtual office for 11 days to recharge our creative selves before starting in on work for the New Year. And I plan to bake in plenty of vacation time in between creative workouts this year, to be sure I’m coming at them with full energy.
We also need time to focus on the moment, and not worry so much about what’s coming. And we need positive input. As a creative, I love going to museums, concerts, plays, long walks–anything that gives me the visual and auditory version of those branch chain aminos.
Whatever your sport or passion, I hope you are building in time for trying new things. Don’t be afraid to ask for a spotter or a trainer. Try and fail, and try again. And set aside time to regroup and recharge.
Here’s to building some new muscles in 2023!