Movement as a Skill – Part 1: Perfect Practice

Hi everyone! The blog is finally up and running (but you probably already guessed that), and I have many thrilling topics all cooked-up to help you improve your training. The Manual of Primal Movement is a guide for training your body to move, getting the most out of your training, and helping you  reach your athletic potential.

Our first topic kind of lays the foundation for a bunch of other things I want to discuss, and that is the concept of movement being a skill. The unfortunate amount of neglect this idea suffers in our mainstream fitness culture has led many a hapless exerciser to the physiotherapist, and is a constant generator of wasted hours in the gym.

Movement is a skill that we can (and definitely should) cultivate. However you choose to exercise, you are reinforcing that pattern of movement in your brain and it is going to become second nature to you, for better or for worse. If you move in a natural way and pay attention to your exercise quality and technique, not only will you get a lot more out of your time spent in the gym, but you will feel as awesome as you look. This is important whether you train for sports, health, physique, pleasure, or any combination of those things.

Early on in a strength training program, most of your gains come from neural adaptations. This results in fairly rapid increases in strength without much of an increase in muscle size. A big part of that strength improvement comes from improvements in efficiency of motor unit firing, because you are using the same neural pathways over and over again. Consistency in your technique is going to help reinforce that more quickly.

Check out this little diagram for a visual. Pretend each circle represents a set of an exercise. On the left, you can see that the three sets have some technique in common, but our athlete wasn’t especially consistent for one reason or another. On the right, the athlete executed the movement with more reliable technique, so the circles have a much greater overlap. That overlap represents the elements of the skill that are being reinforced set-to-set. Consistent technique during practice improves your skill retention, which will improve your results.

Note: it is still important to have variety in your workouts, and consistency of an exercise should not be mistaken for stagnation of a program.

Now before you go play with heavy things, consistency alone is not enough. You have to consider that your body is meant to move in specific ways. When you line up all the pieces, it moves better. This is where natural movement comes in. Learning a simple detail like stacking your wrists above your elbows during a bench press, for example, can help you get a lot more out of your push and prevent you from burning out your triceps too quickly or engaging the biceps.

When you combine the concepts of consistency and natural movement, it seems clear that to get the most out of your training it is important to first learn how to move and then do it over and over again until you couldn’t do it poorly if you tried. This is something that’s typically dealt with early on in a fitness program, before you start working with the heavy stuff, but it’s never too late to take a step back and improve your technique. This will ensure you actually get the results you want, and be less likely to pick up an injury along the way.

Most of you have probably heard that Vince Lombardi quote at some point in your lives. You know, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect”? Well, that applies to exercise too. Take the time to learn what exercises are appropriate for you and how to do them perfectly, and you will do yourself a huge service. A little focus in your training will go a long way towards your results.

Stay tuned! In Part 2 we’ll talk about natural athletes and levels of skill. Woo!

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4 thoughts on “Movement as a Skill – Part 1: Perfect Practice

  1. Grace says:

    This is great, Mitch! Now I can say that I have a reason for checking myself out in the mirror the whole time I’m in the weight room! It really is all about checking your form consistently. Not to be obsessive – but mindful and careful with technique.

    • mitchtate says:

      Absolutely. But learn to gauge your technique by feel, because those mirrors won’t always be there, and many exercises don’t afford you the luxury of looking anyways. Mirrors are especially useful when you’re learning a movement, and don’t have anyone to bark cues at you. 😛

  2. Yves Bourgoin says:

    Hey pal nice blog look forward to following it!!

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog

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