The J.R.R. Tolkien Guide to Fitness

Tolkien was the man.

Author of some of the the most amazing works in literary fiction history (The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy), this man pretty much pioneered the Fantasy genre that we’ve all come to know and love.

He created entire races and species with thousands of years of history, invented languages that people have actually taken the time to learn, and paved the way for every fantasy writer that has followed him.

On top of all of that, did you know he also wrote one hell of a inspirational fitness poem?

My favorite poem of all time

Sure it might not look like it, but Tolkien’s All That is Gold Does Not Glitter is actually a giant metaphor for leveling up your life. Okay, maybe it wasn’t intended that way, but this is Nerd Fitness, and I pride myself on the ability to find inspiration in anything and everything. In case you’ve never read this poem before, here it is in its entirety.

(Nerd cred: I typed this from memory – that’s how much I love it.)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

So what does this poem have to do with getting in shape?

Allow me to explain it to you, line by line.

All that is gold does not glitter

Whether it’s been melted, molded, and polished shiny or it’s sitting around in a giant block in a vault somewhere, gold is incredibly rare and incredibly valuable.

When it comes to becoming “gold” with your personal health, take a tip from Mark Twight, trainer of the actors from the movie 300 – “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

Don’t waste your time working the “glitter” muscles with bicep curls, forearm curls, and endless crunches. Put your time into building a foundation of solid gold (see what I did there) with exercises like push ups, pull ups, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. When you focus on those exercises you’ll create a solid level of fitness for yourself; as an added side effect you’ll also look damn good too 🙂

You can still be gold without the glitter: strong, compact, functional muscle is far more helpful functional for a long life of awesome compared to big puffy muscles just built for show.

Not all those who wander are lost

When was the last time you just went for a walk?

In today’s society full of modern conveniences and technology, it’s so easy to hop in a car, call a taxi, hop on the subway, or even order takeout to avoid having to do something we’re genetically designed to do: walk.

I challenge you to go wandering around your city/town. I spent six hours last week wandering around Singapore and had an absolute blast: I didn’t have a map, didn’t ask anybody for directions, just walked one way until I hit a street corner, picked the most interesting direction, and headed that way. Six hours later, my legs were tired, I was happy, and most of Singapore had been explored.

Take in the scenery, contemplate your life, plan out your next week, or simply block out all thoughts.

Pick a direction and go.

The old that is strong does not wither

We can interpret this one literally – you’re only as old as you feel. I’ve referenced this great Men’s Journal article “Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie” before (here); it highlights the importance and benefits of strength training, no matter your age. I’ve seen people who are 60 years old move, look, and act like they’re 30; I’ve also seen people who are 40 that move, look, and act like they’re 70.

What the difference?

Strength training and fitness.

As you get older, your muscles start to deteriorate and basic movements that used to be routine suddenly start to get more challenging. Fortunately, you can avoid this “withering” by getting strong and staying strong. Like this powerlifting grandmother. Who rules.

Start incorporating strength training into your life (even a basic body weight routine) and you’ll reap the benefits until you’re as old as Gandalf.

Deep roots are not reached by the frost

The roots of an old tree can ride out a any winter frost – they go deep enough that the elements do not affect them.

We deal with frost as humans all the time. Sometimes the frost is shallow (late night at work and delivery pizza) and sometimes the frost reaches deep (week long vacation, all you can eat buffets, busy business trip).

Other times, we get the storm of the century. Sh** happens.

By establishing a solid (gold) foundation of fitness with deep roots, you can make sure these different types of frost don’t derail you from staying healthy. Easy to say, harder to put into practice: rather than going on a crash diet or ing fad workout plan, work on establishing good habits that you can live with permanently. If you can maintain a high level of fitness on a regular basis throughout the year, then the frost from a few bad days/weeks won’t be enough to kill ya.

Dig deep!

From the ashes a fire shall be woken

Whenever I see somebody that’s overweight and out of shape, I see untapped potential.

Personally, I believe it’s our responsibility as humans to do our best to live up to our genetic potential; anything less is wasting a gift and squandering an opportunity to be great.

However, I know that for each person that hasn’t yet turned the corner, there will come a life-altering moment: the birth of a first child, an eye-opening checkup at the doctor, or simply a look in the mirror one morning that says “enough is enough.” I can’t give you motivation and inspiration – that fire has to be woken within you.

If you haven’t found the motivation yet to turn your life around, do whatever you can to continue trying new activities, reading different blogs, watching inspirational movies.

There’s a better version of you waiting for you – and a fire that needs to be lit.

A light from the shadows shall spring

If you’re in a rough low point in your life, it’s easy to only see the worst in everything – your wife left you, you lost your job, you’re overweight, you live in your parents basement, whatever.

During these hard times, it’s up to you to find one beam of light hidden in your world of shadow. When sh** happens, it’s the people who can find the positive in each situation and move onwards that succeed. As we’ve learned from Batman, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” It will be your job to find the positive in the negative, to suck it up, and move on.

When creating your own epic destiny, the worse off you are at the beginning of your story the more epic your conclusion will be – just ask King Arthur/Cinderella/Harry Potter/whoever – the more of a nobody you are, the more of an underdog you are, the more people are going to want to hear about your success.

Remember that nothing is ever as bad as it seems. Decide today that THIS is the low point – tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.

Renewed shall be blade that was broken

If you currently have a desk job/kids/a life and you’re above the age of thirty, you’ve probably said this before: “Man, I used to be in great shape back in high school when I played _____________ or ran cross country or rowed crew. Then I got a job, got married, had kids, and just didn’t have the time. Too bad I can’t get back to that.”

You can. And you will.

Just because you used to be in great shape doesn’t mean you can’t get back into great shape. There are people doing it every day, writing on the Nerd Fitness message boards, talking about how they’re at their lowest weight since high school/college. Remember, the “old that is strong does not wither” and age is only a number.

If you truly believe that the best days of your life are ahead of you, that “renewed shall be blade that was broken,” then it will be so. I firmly believe that the best days of my life are not behind me, but ahead of me down the road.

The crownless again shall be king

If you’re a nerd, you probably know what its like to get the short end of the stick sometimes – picked last in dodgeball, turned down for a date by the cute girl in your class, pushed around on the basketball court, whatever. We’re expected to hide in the background or in our cubicles, high on intelligence but low on confidence, while weakly continuing our meek existence.

That day is done, my friend.

There’s a rebellion spreading to the four corners of the world, from the great plains of Australia to the streets of New York City, from the Northern lights of Canada to to the mountains of Argentina – nerds and “average joes” are finally starting to realize that it’s okay to be both really smart and really strong, that strength of body helps build strength of mind, that building strength also builds confidence and respect.

As Henry Rollins so eloquently put it: “I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect.”

I want to fight alongside you, both in person and online, as we let the world know that it’s okay to be wickedly smart and incredibly strong. I urge you to accept your destiny that a better version of you hides within – find fire in the ash, discover light in the shadow, renew the blade that was broken, and grab the crown that is rightfully yours.

Take control of your life, and make Tolkien proud.



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