Tips For Becoming a Better Fitness Writer
Note from TG: Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Cressey Sports Performance’s most recent hire, strength coach Tony Bonvechio. Otherwise known as “the other Tony.”
A former collegiate baseball player, current competitive powerlifter, amazing coach, and prolific writer himself (he holds a degree in Journalism and has had his work featured on sites like T-Nation and Stack), we’re very lucky to have had Tony join our staff.
Today he offers some insight on what it takes to become a better fitness writer (or writer in general). I know many people who read this site aspire to write to some capacity, and this post would be an excellent starting point in helping you develop your “voice.”
Coaching is communication. If you’re not a good verbal communicator, you won’t be a good strength coach or personal trainer. As it turns out, written communication has become a vital skill in the fitness profession too. Writing articles, blogs and e-books enables coaches to reach thousands of people with their ideas and products.
Unfortunately, if you can’t write worth a lick, you’re missing out on a chance to spread your message.
Today, I’ll share some insight from the journalism industry that can help aspiring fitness writers craft better articles and build a bigger readership.
About the “Other” Tony
Long before I was a coach, I was a writer. I started writing for my local daily newspaper when I was 16 years old, covering high school sporting events. As I planned for college, I decided I wanted to major in journalism. I got mixed responses when I told people of my potential career path. I felt like David Spade on Saturday Night Live, getting lectured by Matt Foley for my utterly unheroic aspirations.
Long story short, I got my degree in journalism but fell in love with strength and conditioning in the process.
Between getting my Master’s degree in exercise science and eventually completing an internship at Cressey Sports Performance, I worked for three newspapers and three college media departments, including an Ivy League University. My professional writing experience helped me stay engaged with the fitness community while building my coaching skills.
Along the way, I’ve read lots of great writing by great coaches, and lots of not-so-great writing from great coaches whose ideas perhaps got overlooked because of a lack of writing chops. If you’re a repeat visitor to this site, it’s because Tony G consistently provides quality content and intriguing writing.
Note from TG: and because of my uncannily witty awesomeness, deadlifting tips, movie and book recommendations, and because favorite color is blue. But mostly for my uncannily witty awesomeness….;o)
In this post, I’ll share a few tactics that good writers use to keep readers coming back for more.
Write How You Talk
No one’s invented smell-o-vision for the internet yet, but you don’t need it to smell a bullshitter – especially when the topic is fitness.
The sheer virality of the “Do You Even Lift?” meme tells us that exercise enthusiasts want substance, not smoke and mirrors. The fastest way to sift yourself through the fog of posers is to write how you talk.
Writing how you talk brings out your most authentic voice. Nobody does this better than Tony G. He can talk shop with intellectual coaches all day, but he doesn’t do that while coaching.
Between concise and effective coaching cues, he’s joking about LOLcats, rapping along to Wu Tang or geeking out about Lord of the Rings. That’s literally how he writes too – plenty of laughs and pop culture references, but full of no-frills, actionable content.
If you’re not much of a comedian, don’t write a dozen jokes per article. If you don’t have a PhD in nutrition, don’t give a dissertation on protein metabolism. Write how you talk and people will gravitate toward your authentic voice.
Stay Within Your Scope of Knowledge
This piggybacks off the last point, but it’s impossible to overemphasize – avoid topics on which you are not qualified to give advice. If you must, acknowledge that you’re still exploring the topic and point readers toward more information.
The internet is a scary place to try to establish yourself as a knowledgable authority. Droves of keyboard warriors are constantly at the ready to cut you down and point out your inaccuracies, especially when it comes to exercise. If you can’t back up your statements with a combination of scientific research and experience, you’ll quickly be tarred and feathered by the masses.
If you cover topics beyond your expertise, give credit where credit is due. Pick up a newspaper and you’ll notice that everything is attributed – meaning the writer notes who said what or where the information came from. No crime is reported without quoting a police officer. No medical breakthrough is announced without citing a lead researcher. Adopt the same practice and quote (or at least mention) your sources.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t voice an opinion or think out loud about an interesting topic. Just stay in your lane.
Don’t try to create an illusion of false authority. I’m not going to try to out-write Eric Cressey about shoulder anatomy or Tony G about Star Wars trivia. Powerlifting, yes. Facial hair management, maybe. But I’ll leave these other topics to the experts.
Learn to Cite Research
Perhaps the most valuable skill I developed in grad school was reading and interpreting research studies. No singular study is going to change strength and conditioning, but collectively they should drive our methods, so you need to know how to read, report and cite your findings.
Learning to read research deserves a separate article, so I’ll just touch on citations.
Note from TG: I’ve never shied away from stating that I hate reading research studies. If it came down to picking between swallowing a live grenade or reading a research study, I’d seriously contemplate the former.
This DOES NOT insinuate that I don’t do it, nor ignore the importance of the practice. It just insinuates I have a sick sense of humor…;o) That said, I have a lot of smart friends in the industry who like to geek out and read PubMed on a Friday night.
Some of my “go to” sources include:
Strength & Conditioning Research – Bret Contreras and Chris Beardsley
And I’d also direct people to THIS article written by Jonathan Fass on how to really read (and interpret) fitness research.
Proper citation separates you from the abstract-skimming phonies. First, always cite within your article, not just at the end. There’s nothing worse than a sentence that reads, “Studies show…” with no indication of which study your referencing. And just listing a bunch of references at the end doesn’t count. Instead, try this:
“A 2014 study [link to full study so readers can view] by Reardon [author’s name] published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine suggests that the cross sectional area of the quad muscles effects an athlete’s ability to realize the power benefits of post-activation potentiation.”
In fact, ditch your post-article reference section all together. No one’s gonna read that stuff, and more references doesn’t mean a better article. I’ve literally read a 500-word article with over 30 references before, and the article sucked. Word count doesn’t equal worth.
Be Firm, Not Ambiguous
After talking about research, it might sound contradictory to speak in absolutes, but there’s no faster way to destroy your authoritative stance than to always be on the fence. If you never take a stand on important topics, your readers won’t trust you. And then they won’t pay you for your services.
I’m not telling you to make outrageous claims like, “deadlifts will solve world hunger.” I’m telling you to avoid overusing wishy-washy terms like “maybe,” “sometimes,” “it depends,” and phrases like…
“Research suggests that deadlifting may induce hypertrophy of the glutes and hamstrings, which has been linked to improved sprint speeds.”
This is all well and good for a research journal, but your readers want a leader, not a politician. Instead, tell it like it is:
“Deadlifts can make you sprint faster.”
If you’re a coach, which phrase is going to get your clients motivated to deadlift?
Be firm in your beliefs, but realize that you might not believe everything you write forever, so be willing to evolve.
Putting Pen to Paper
As I’ve heard Tony G tell many aspiring bloggers, the first step is simply to start writing. But keeps these tips in mind along the way. You’ll find your own authentic voice while maintaining integrity and providing some entertainment along the way.
Tony Bonvechio is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read his blog HERE or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.