The Art of Story Telling


The Art of Story Telling

A useful bit of advice I’ve heard from Ryan Orrico is that you shouldn’t [just] be teaching people, you should be telling them a story.

This resonates with me in regards to coaching. The average person doesn’t care about how many degrees of shoulder internal rotation they are supposed to have. They don’t care about why you should be doing a push up at this proper angle or why you need to activate a certain muscle during that particular movement.

When did exercise become a performance? When did it become about choreography to please an audience with aesthetically beautiful movement? When did the goal of exercise become getting good at the exercise itself?? This is perpetuated by the institutions of fitness education who score success by how well you measure up to the standardized core movements. Who set these performance standards? And why do we place individuals in a Procrustean bed just to meet them?

Here’s a question, do you remember the last 3 digits of your debit/credit card off the top of your head? Now tell me what happened at the end of Romeo and Juliet. What have you read/typed more, your card number or Shakespeare?? The point is, we forget facts but we remember stories, especially meaningful ones. Important and meaningful are two different things. We’ve lost many ancient languages and knowledge about the world but how many stories still exist? Some translated so many times we argue about the original translation!

“Force is the language of cells, and movement is what we say”- Dr. Andreo Spina

I believe that movements are stories our bodies tell.
Really, an exercise is just a demonstration of available vocabulary and our ability to communicate. Fluency and eloquence come with practice but it’s our job to provide people the letters. These stories are just a framework for the skill of creative writing, the power of self-expression.

“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor”- Jonathan Haidt

But what do we constantly see in movement coaching? Grammer Nazis. And even worse, people who hold a narrative passed down to them as a sacred text. I don’t believe you should censor people’s movements or acknowledge only one form as “correct”. Movement shaming is a real problem.

In the realm of fitness, we see an emergence of certain archetypal movements which many consider to be inherent “patterns” but since these exercises are cultural products, I like to view them more as themes. Through a variety of cultures, styles, and practices, these reoccurring themes are revealed. A story is a chance to discover these themes.

Instead of turning workouts into tests of memorization, let’s teach people how to tell a story. Now, a children’s story is going to be different than Bukowski or Hemingway but I wouldn’t consider any of them wrong. Some might suck, but that’s why we practice writing.

Here are some tools to help improve storytelling:

1) Physical Literacy- Provide them with the tools to communicate and expand usable vocabulary.
Example: Do they have the mobility required to accomplish the task? Their current capacity dictates the story they will write.

2) Plot Structure- Start with an introduction then have a clear goal for an ending. How they navigate that path is up to the individual.
Example: Let’s give the movement some context. What is the starting position of an exercise and an ending position? What is the task? And what are the rules of the game?

3) Character- What is their motivation? What’s the purpose of their journey? This is important because it gives meaning and substance to the story.
Example: What’s the intension of the exercise, an external cue they focus on, or a feeling they can connect to? What is the why?

4) Conflict- A struggle the character goes through on their path. This is what gives the plot complexity and where the character develops. It also makes the story interesting.
Example: Introduce chaos into the movement. Disturb the system. Challenge the individual. Steer them toward the edges of comfort. This is how humans learn and grow. 

It can be liberating to view movement as more of a literary practice than a mechanical one. While there is a science to movement, it is also an art. The art came long before the science and should not be forgotten. Some people may enjoy reading self-help books in hopes of fixing their problems. Some may enjoy science fiction or fantasy to explore the possibilities of imagination. I think the most valuable thing we can give people is the tools to tell their own story. So what is it you have to say?

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