If All the World’s a Stage, Why NOT Put Your Best Foot Forward?
It was Jacques in Shakespeare’s, As You Like It, that said “if all the world’s a stage, all the men and women are merely players…and one man in his time plays many parts.” As an 18-year-old theatre honors student studying Shakespeare I never dreamt that I would be the “man” who played “many parts” both on and off stage.
One of those parts would be going back to school at age 28 to take my Kinesiology Degree in order to become a Personal Trainer. If someone would have pulled me aside when I was an 8-year-old outfielder catching more flies than fly balls, and said I would be successful at fitness, I would have rolled my eyes.
Even as the little league coach, my father didn’t see my athletic abilities. He once tried to teach me how to pitch a fastball which only resulted in a huge goose-bump on my noggin’ and a fear of hard-balls to this day. What I did find fascinating was how easy it is to take the concepts I learned in my theater degree and apply them to being the Personal Trainer I am today. So if you too suffer from fear that you aren’t athletic enough to be training at the gym but want to keep that sought after “actors” body, I can tell you exactly how easy it will be.
How to Get that Actors Body:
1. Play the Part:
You have cast yourself in the role of Fitness Buff Extraordinaire! Now it’s time to show the world that you’re perfect for the part. It’s easy to feel insecure compared to all the gym-buffs and daunting gym-equipment, heavy weights, and cardio machines (that ask every question about your stats except maybe what you ate that day); rest assured you can do it.
Do not let the audience (or in this case, other gym members) see you falter; all eyes are not on you. You are merely one of many players on the stage (gym-floor) and you are there to play your part (of a healthier society). Even if it doesn’t “feel” like you deserve to be there you have every right to be using each piece of equipment your membership pays for (however, if you have NO weight training experience, even just a few sessions covering safe techniques with a Personal Trainer can make a world of difference).
Act confidently, perform the task you are there for (exercising) and remember how it will make a difference in your life. Also keep in mind the more you workout the better you will feel about your body; in turn your confidence will soar. This is an eternal truth. I have seen it repeatedly in my clients and in my own life.
2. Goal Setting:
In theatre, just like in other aspects of life, homework is necessary. Part of that homework is script analysis in which you figure out what your characters’ OBJECTIVES are; What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about achieving it? I would never assume that I could step onto the stage and pull off a compelling character without this information. Working-out has the same elements. You need to set your goals and objectives before you try your next “quick-fix gym routine” or “binge diet trick.” I recommend you do your fitness homework and sit down with a paper and pen and ask yourself the following hard questions:
i. Why am I doing this? Please be HONEST with yourself because this is going to fuel your workouts and motivation. Don’t use extrinsic motivation by making it about SOMEONE ELSE. It has to be intrinsic which is why YOU are doing it.
ii. What exactly do I want to achieve? Make it as specific as possible. Don’t generalize the overall goal. It may seem silly but if it helps, consider a celebrity or athlete that inspires you, and use them as a goal to have in mind.
iii. How am I going to achieve my goal? This part should have a few different answers and you should try different angles in order to get what you want. Don’t give up after only trying one avenue of fitness: Get a trainer, enlist a friend to meet you for gym sessions, seek out fitness classes you want to attend, take up a hobby that gets you up and moving. Have a backup plan and a plan to back up that backup. Whatever it is you come up with, keep variety and avoid boredom.
iv. First, set small goals that will lead up to achieving the overall big goal!!!!! Take your typical romantic comedy. The agonist’s goal is usually to “get the girl” but he doesn’t just “get her” or there wouldn’t be a movie. He starts to plot small goals first; like winning her attention, then persuading her to see the antagonist isn’t a good match for her, then revealing his sensitivity as her best friend, then rescuing her from an awkward situation with a grand gesture, then confessing his feelings when the moment is right and usually after all these small goals have been achieved she miraculously realizes HE is the one for her! Ahhhhh, happily-ever-after.
[box type="important"]Notice how all these smaller goals are ACTION words (winning, persuading, revealing, rescuing, and confessing)? Don’t go to the gym and say, “I’m going to have 6 pack abs” or “I’ll run 6 miles on the treadmill” without expecting to perform a few sit-ups or walk a few miles first.[/box]
While acting you must suspend your disbelief that everything you are seeing and experiencing is real. You must imagine and visualize things that aren’t always 100% real. You must focus; if you can’t see it then you can’t convince your audience they can see it too.
When it comes to lifting weights you should do the same thing. Don’t shy away from mirrors; use them to visualize your muscles you are activating working under your skin. Walk through your technique as you perform sets. I am giving you permission to play classic Greek role of Narcissist. Focus on what you are doing instead of looking around at other members or getting distracted by someone’s cute butt. If you can visualize every lift and see your muscles growing with every rep then soon enough “imagining” won’t be necessary.
I can’t stress enough how important this concept is to both theatre & exercise. You would never attempt to do a Shakespearean monologue on one breath or without the right pauses and you should never ever try to do a set of lifting without breathing consistently and properly. In theatre you would likely end up breathless, the audience wouldn’t be able to hear your voice resonate enough to fill the entire space, and you would get light-headed.
You would look foolish in your delivery of your monologue as you gasp for air at the wrong time. When it comes to weight lifting, the same principal’s apply and yet I constantly see clients forgetting to breathe. Yes it may be hard to finish the set but you are making your life more difficult by trying to rush through the reps on one breath.
If you hold your breath while lifting weights you will end up light-headed, dizzy and possibly get a headache. This sick feeling is due to the increased pressure inside your cranium and not from lifting too much weight. Further, forcefully exhaling against a closed airway while attempting to lift a heavy weight is a technique called the “Valsalva Maneuver” and can be dangerous.
The result is in increase in pressure in your diaphragm for more spinal support however it also causes a spike in blood pressure and restricts blood flow. When performing reps it is usually best to breathe IN on the “easy” part (eccentric contraction) and breath out on the “hard” part when you apply force (concentric contraction).
- Body Awareness: I can’t even begin to tell you how many movement classes I had to take during my theatre degree. The purpose was to train me for the physical demands of getting through a 2-hour live theatre show without exhaustion.
- Key concepts to both theatre and exercise are spatial body awareness, centre of gravity, core and stability. In the exercise science world these are technically termed proprioception & kinesthetic awareness.
- Proprioception is an automatic mechanism in the body that sends messages through the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS relays information to rest of the body about how to react and how much tension is needed. In order to sustain a two-hour theatre show or 2 hour workout session you want to be “economical” in the energy your body uses.
- On-stage, how much tension you hold in your body elicits body language affecting the character you are trying to portray. An actor needs to be constantly aware of what their body is revealing to acting partners and the audience.
- You can actually manipulate your centre of gravity to play different characters and roles. An Olympic lifter who wants to perform an overhead squat or a clean and jerk is very aware of their center or gravity and base of support before they perform the lift.
- With exercise and weight lifting it is important to be aware of your posture, core/stance, center of gravity and base of support. It could mean the difference between executing the exercise correctly or performing it incorrectly and injuring yourself. For exercise and sport purposes, as a part of your workout program, you should actually include proprioception and kinesthetic training by incorporating balance, stability, agility exercises and by doing functional movements.
- Practice Makes Perfect (Memory): Just as an actor memorizes their script prior to getting on-stage or in front of the camera, the same “memory” can be produced with your motor skills. Your body can memorize the proper execution of exercise (through motor skills) which is sometimes referred to as “muscle memory.”
- When you pick up dumbbells or try out a weight machine for the first time movement might be slow and awkward. You might feel limited in your range of motion and stiff in certain joints.
- With repeated practice the execution of the exercise, the motor task becomes smoother as it is more familiar. There is a decrease in limb stiffness smoother movement through range of motion and the muscle activity is performed without conscious effort. So get ready to practice your exercise routine because a good muscle memory is what makes a perfect performance and produces optimal results.
[box type="important"]So remember, all the world IS a stage and putting your best body forward will not only benefit you but it will increase your overall confidence no matter what role you play in life.[/box]
As a theaters honors student turned personal trainer, I’ve played many parts both on and off stage. I plan on taking all the experiences I have gained both personally and professionally and applying them to future roles I will be embarking on and playing. I look forward to the process and hope you enjoy watching me grow into it.