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  • Jan Flynn

For Writers: Exercise In Your Genre

“Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.” —  Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway made it a habit to stand while writing. So did Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Soren Kierkegaard, and Stan Lee. It turns out there are many famous writers who used some form of standing desk before it was a thing. And none of them, according to the photographic record, were broad in the beam (with the notable exception of Winston Churchill).

I’ve tried it. The experiments have not gone well. For some reason the act of standing up suggests to my brain that my feet should be

moving, at least very soon. That’s not helpful for composing a novel or even an email, I have found. Given that I have neither the space nor the budget for one of those fancy treadmill work stations, if I want to get any writing done at all I must needs park my posterior in a chair.

And while it’s a fallacy that “sitting is the new smoking” (a specious assertion that I suspect has been promulgated by the odious tobacco industry — don’t get me started), spending too much time without movement is not great for the old bod.

You don’t need me to point out the benefits of exercise. If you were to print out all the articles and admonitions and studies on that topic that have been published just in the last year, you’d have a load of paper that Bartlomiej Bonk couldn’t deadlift.

Bartlomiej Bonk, Polish weightlifter, who won the Olympic bronze medal in 2012 and who holds the record for Best Weightlifter’s Name Ever.

So what is a writer, who can easily spend an entire working day seated and alone, tapping away at the keyboard while sipping coffee and nibbling biscuits — until it’s time to switch to wine and chocolate — to do? Writing time is hard enough to come by and when the words are flowing, or at least dribbling, who wants to stem the tide, pack up and drive to the gym?

My fellow scribe, that’s no excuse. The very same laptop or computer upon which you

compose your magnum opus is the portal to a nearly infinite array of workouts that require very little more than a few square feet of space and the willingness to get off your duff and move it. Best of all, if you’re still waiting for that six-figure advance: almost all of these workouts are free.

Further, with a little searching you can find the video that supports the genre in which you write. Of course, seek medical advice before beginning any exercise program or don’t come crying to me, etc, etc., but if you want to stay in your writing mindset while avoiding writer’s butt, here are some ideas:

Writing a spy thriller? You need something with intricate steps and a dose of seduction that leads to increasing, heart-pounding intensity. Try this 30 minute Zumba routine from OneHowTo. It’ll get you sweating faster than a car chase in a Robert Ludlum novel.

Historical fiction? Something classical is called for. I suggest an online session with the New York City Ballet, which will transport you into the grace and lyricism of another era while giving you six-pack abs. You can do the free YouTube vid with a cheery intro from Sarah Jessica Parker, or if you wish you can buy the whole series of DVD’s on Amazon.

Maybe hard sci-fi is your thing. I’m not sure all the moves are advisable for most of us carbon-based beings, but it turns out there are robot dance workouts available on YouTube. They’re short, but bristling with machine-like precision. Get fit. Live long and prosper.

If you write romance, here are some suggestions to raise your core temp, wink-wink, nod-nod. One is the 30 minute Sexy Cardio Dance Vixen workout from PopSugar Fitness. Or there’s Ballroom Cardio Dance from BeFIT. If those aren’t steamy enough for you, there’s online pole dancing classes from (I am not making this up) TantraTutorials. You have to pay for the full classes, but the introductory tutorials are free. Full disclosure (no pun intended): as with robot dancing, I have not personally tried these workouts because I have nosy neighbors. But a brief preview is evidence enough that they’ll get you in the mood, if not into your physical therapist’s office.

How about westerns? Take a 20 minute break from your sweeping epic and shake out the cobwebs with Autumn Calabrese leading a Country Heat dance workout vid, again from PopSugar. You’ll be quicker on the draw when you get back to your desk.

Perhaps you, with your newly minted MFA, compose exclusively literary fiction, the kind of work that gets rapt attention from book critics and nominations for the Man Booker Prize. If that’s the case, then you’ll be best served by something mindful yet grounding, challenging yet restorative, sweaty yet spiritual.

Of course, this means yoga.

I do yoga daily (no Booker prize yet, however) and have sampled a fair number of the multitude of free online yoga classes out there. Here are some of my faves:

Do Yoga With MeHundreds of classes on this site from a host of excellent teachers. Most classes are free, some are available with a very reasonable subscription ($5 per month last time I checked). Not the most elegant website in the world, but it allows you to browse classes filtering for length, level, style, and teacher.

Yoga With AdrieneWith over 4.5 million subscribers to her channel, Adriene Mishler is clearly onto something. Her approach is refreshingly light but her workouts are effective. Plus she’s an actress and a writer. What’s not to like?

SaraBeth YogaLots of themed practices on this channel, from a teacher who offers clear instruction and a reasonable pace. In my next life, I would love to look like she does in yoga pants. Unless I come back as a man.

Five Parks YogaAgain, many delicious classes to choose from on this channel, filmed in glorious locations in Costa Rica and Colorado. Shine up your chakras as you imagine yourself in a tropical paradise or get your down dog on in a mountain meadow.

And perhaps my all-time favorite, Fightmaster Yoga. Part of Lesley Fightmaster‘s appeal is her body, utterly normal-looking yet capable of asanas that I can only dream of achieving. Another part has to do with the just plain niceness that radiates from her voice and presence. But don’t be fooled: she will usher you to your edge and then some.

All genres aside, I highly recommend to you my online workout BFF, Jessica Smith of JessicaSmithTV. She’s a personal trainer whose mission is to bring workouts to us regular non-gym-rats at home, people who have kids and pets and jobs and laundry and maybe novels to write. Her workouts are realistic, well-designed, and there are gazillions of them, of all different types. Jessica and I spend part of nearly every afternoon together, not that she knows it. She’s so encouraging and personable without being treacly that even when her workouts leave me gasping, I never get tired of her. Which is saying a lot, if I can catch my breath.

No matter how hard you’re writing, your brain only uses up about 300 calories a day. That doesn’t even burn up your latte and morning bun. Also, studies have shown that movement promotes creativity. Just trust me on that.

And if none of that gets you out of your chair, the dog could use a walk.

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