Book and Street Smarts

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  But trust me, it’s nothing as profound as the Governator’s recent admission that he fathered a love child with a household staff member more than ten years ago.   Oh man, I did not see that coming.  Although, when you think about it, now we know why he was always smoking cigars; each one could have been celebrating the birth of another secret child.  HA!  Get it?

Anyways, where was I?  Oh yeah, my little secret.  So, uh, yeah here it is:….I was never an avid reader growing up.  See?  I told you it wasn’t anything to write home about.

When I was younger, “reading” to me was anxiously awaiting my Sports Illustrated to arrive in the mail every week, or reading the back of a cereal box as I ate breakfast every morning before school.   That was about the extent of it.

I remember my 11th grade English teacher, Ms. Hurst, making us read Macbeth for a month, and it was absolute torture.   Fast forward to college, in my first semester, I had to take an Introduction to Novels class, and the first book on the list was Madame Bovary.  I never wanted to fall on a chainsaw so much in my life.  How I made it through that class – with a B no less  – was a miracle.

Admittedly, once I started taking courses that were more relevant to my chosen profession, I didn’t consider reading as much of a chore.  Call me crazy, but for a meathead such as myself, reading about the differences between type I and type II muscle fibers was a heckuva lot more entertaining than George Orwell’s 1984.

All the same, it wasn’t until 2003 that I started reading for enjoyment.  Without getting into the particulars (a certain girl essentially took my heart, poured gasoline on it, set it on fire, then proceeded to stab it repeatedly with a steak knife.  I’m over it, though), by happenstance I came across the Modern Library’s list of The Top 100 Novels, and I decided right then and there that I was going to spend my summer putting a dent into it.

And a Nerd is Born

From there, I was hooked.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I must have read 15-20 novels that year alone.  Vonnegut, Hemmingway, Steinbeck, you name a classic, I probably read it.   I read in my apartment, on random benches throughout my hometown, and I’d even spend my Sunday afternoons at the local Borders reading, oftentimes finishing entire books without paying for them.  You could say I was sticking it to the man.

To this day, I’m still working my way through that same list.  As it stands right now, I’m reading The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (# 19 on the list – I’m not reading them in order).  And by now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with anything related to fitness.

Well, the other day my good friend, Bret Contreras, wrote something on his blog asking the question:  “Why are so many fitness professionals reading books on motivation?”

These days all sorts of coaches are reading motivational and inspirational books. I’m more interested in reading books and journal articles on Strength & Conditioning or Physical Therapy. Don’t trainers and coaches realize how much knowledge is out there and how little the average person knows? Are we so unmotivated that we have to constantly read books to keep us focused?

To his credit, Bret did go on to say that it’s important to be reading two books at once:  one that’s scientific and related to your field (in this case, strength and conditioning), and one that’s for pleasure or personal growth.   And I agree 100%.

Thing is, though, many fitness professionals (especially those just entering the field) miss the boat entirely, and tend to fall into one extreme or the other.

On one hand, you have those who read anything and everything related to strength and conditioning, physical therapy, corrective exercise, nutrition, so on and so forth.  And that’s it.  They read blogs (hopefully this one), articles, watch webinars, and consider Science and Practice of Strength Training their holy bible.

That is all well and good – and I applaud that.  But at the same time, if you have the personality and communication skills of a water heater, and aren’t able to articulate those skills to quantifiable results with a real, live person then what good does it do?  And this isn’t even scratching the surface as far the pyschology of training.  That is, motivating someone to do what you want them to do.

Conversely, there are plenty of internet gurus out there who couldn’t tell you the difference between external and internal impingement of the shoulder; yet, can sell ice to an Eskimo.  Sadly, many coming into the field are far too concerned with making a quick buck than actually putting out quality information, or actually making an effort of knowing what the hell they’re talking about.

And, while it really has nothing to do with the conversation at hand:  I’m always fascinated by these trainers who look like they couldn’t punch their way through a wet paper towel, trying to sell their latest e-book on how to get jacked and swole.

It’s analogous to the health teacher whom you catch lighting up a cigarette in their car, or the accountant who files for bankruptcy.  Integrity has it’s worth.

Anyways, I guess all I’m really trying to say is that 1) I was a complete tool back in 2003, and 2) you need to find a balance of both book smarts and street smarts to be successful in this industry.  For every book you read by Gray Cook or Mike Boyle, pick up another one by Dan Ariely or Malcolm Gladwell

In today’s day and age, learning how to market one’s self is – for better or worse  – a growing requirement in the field.  Learning how to “sell” yourself and attract (and maintain) clients is an integral part of success in today’s digital world.

By the same token, it’s kind of important to know what the hell you’re talking about, too.  And, it probably wouldn’t hurt to read a classic here and there as well.  Just sayin…..

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • R Smith

    Might not be especially fair, but I want to know the person training me or offering me training advice is a bright person overall. I suspect there are others who feel the same way.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Derek

    Being well-rounded as a person is much more of an accomplishment than being well-rounded as a movement therapist. And no how matter how good you are, no client wants a robot for a trainer. Work to the street Tony!

    May 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brock

    Good call Tony. I was actually thinking about it the other day and I think I realized the reason I didn't read a ton when I was younger (other than the Goosebumps series - which I devoured), is because I simply don't really enjoy fiction. I still don't to this day. The majority of what I read is training or business-related, and my "enjoyment" reading is generally either history or biographies.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • manuel

    how is proust not on the modern library top 100 list?!?!

    May 18, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jeff

    My teacher in 11th grade had us read Julius Caesar as a class. Each person read a different page. It was unbearable. I couldn't follow the story at all because the reader would change mid-dialog. I've been thinking about what you mentioned the last few months just having put it into words. I think everyone should have a major strength but not at the cost of a major weakness. It's good to be relatively balanced.

    May 19, 2011 at 3:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • Rozin Abbas

    @Manuel: Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky didn't even make it, and they've both made arguably some of the most important literature known to man, more important (I think) than "In Search of Lost Time."

    May 19, 2011 at 4:48 am | Reply to this comment

  • matt

    Tony, Fantastic text. I really recommend doing research on the texts that you are dealing with ( it makes them come to life) and maybe now that you are older you will be more able to appreciate Shakespeare. I think a cool post would be to make a list of your top 20 fitness related reads that you think everyone ( layman and professional) should read.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:38 am | Reply to this comment

  • pete

    To be a good coach, you need to be able to communicate.

    May 21, 2011 at 10:06 am | Reply to this comment

  • hooch turner

    You're pushing a great message here. It's not just fitness coaches who would benefit from exposure to some of the mind-expanding novels in that list, but pretty much everyone. Especially those who watch 2 and a half men.

    May 23, 2011 at 9:02 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jonathan Goodman

    It's amazing how much reading does for the soul. Since my mind seems to never shut off I find great fiction (or even trash fiction / crime novels) allows me to relax at the end of the night and get to sleep better.

    May 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply to this comment

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