How Using Less Effort Can Improve The Way You Move
What a rush! I'm having the time of my life. From the outside though - it probably doesn't look that way. I'm lying on my back, pelvis lifted in the air and slowly lowering my spine down to the floor, vertebrae by vertebrae as though they were links of a chain. But from the inside - I'm having a spinal-gasm (you heard it here first folks). I am so deeply absorbed into the sensations of my body that it feels like my brain is melting. In a deliciously-sweet-buttery kinda way.
What's going on here?
Well clearly I'm having fun. But more to the point, I'm in a powerful learning state. I'm using the principle of less effort to supercharge the rate at which I improve my movement.
I'm doing less but getting more.
Practicing in this way is not common for most people (yet). But it's a powerful tool which anyone can use to improve their learning in movement and in life.
Read on to discover how...
This goes completely against our exercise culture
The fitness industry is all about pushing more.
- "No pain. No gain"
- "Don't stop til you drop"
- "Feel sore tomorrow or sorry tomorrow"
When I step inside a gym, I see a lot of this pushing, forcing and efforting. It appears people are following the motto's nicely. The grunting sounds are impressive, but it doesn't necessarily get people very far.
It reminds me of the effort and achievement grades on school report cards. A+ for effort. D for achievement. (Not mine...I promise!)
Somewhere along the way, people have gotten mixed up. We've equated effort with results.
It just isn't true.
In fact, a lot of the time, the opposite is true. Have you ever noticed how elite athletes make their chosen movements look almost effortless? It's because they sort of are.
The reason is that they have developed coordination. They no longer fight themselves with parasitic movements. All of the force that they expend is used for achieving their intention. Their movements are precise and appropriate.
Compare this to your average gym-goer though. He uses effort to disguise the fact that his movement is not coordinated. He forces his way through the parts of the movement which are not well known. He's literally fighting himself and he's not even aware of it.
Short term he "achieves the thing". Long term, he gets pain and damage to muscles, ligaments, joints etc.
The guy back squatting 100kg with his knee's buckling inwards (without awareness of the fact) gets it done...but at what cost?
Now don't get me wrong. There is value in putting force through your body. There is value in training with increasingly difficult weights/challenges. But without awareness and coordination, it's destructive and counterproductive.
I don't know about you. But one of my intentions in life is to be a healthy human. On all levels. Physically. Energetically. Spiritually. Mentally. My aim is to keep improving my whole life long.
To have any hope at this, I need a smarter approach than just pure effort.
So here's what I'm proposing.
We use our (highly intelligent) nervous systems to improve our movement. Through this we build coordination, intelligence and awareness. Then movement will feel effortless and we'll actually get better results.
Effort D. Achievement A+
Getting better at stuff relies on the ability to sense
When learning new movements, people always suck. Over time, with practice and attention, we get more refined control. We strip out the unnecessary effort and increase our awareness of what we're doing. It's a natural progression which happens if we embrace it.
When I first started learning to balance on a slack line, it felt clumsy and difficult. My legs were tense, my breathing was restricted and I would overcorrect when I felt myself falling to the side. I fell off repeatedly!
After practicing for roughly an hour I was able to walk across the slackline without falling. An hour of playing, experimenting and most importantly, paying attention. I was focussing strongly on HOW I was balancing.
If I had ignored my breathing, there's no way I could have softened it. If I hadn't listened to the contact of my feet on the slackline, I would have kept the weight in my heels instead of more fully spread across my foot.
My ability to improve here was based on how well I could sense myself.
This relationship between sensing and improving can be seen in other ways too. If you've ever heard deaf people pronounce their words you'll know what I'm talking about. They don't have the ability to hear their own voices, so they can't tell whether their words sound "correct". There is no feedback!
Sensory feedback is required to make improvements.
You can improve your sensory feedback by using less effort
Imagine you're looking into a pond and you can see goldfish swimming around. Lets say that there are 500 goldfish mingling around in there. If one extra goldfish who had been asleep in the reeds suddenly woke up and joined the rest of his friends, it's likely you wouldn't even notice.
But if the pond only had 3 goldfish swimming around and then all of a sudden, another one joined, it would be quite obvious.
This illustrates how your visual sense detects changes. The underlying principle is this...
Your ability to sense differences depends on the overall level of sensory input.
This principle holds true for any of your senses. Vision. Hearing. Smell. Touch. Taste. Etc.
If you're at a rock concert and your friend yells your name, you might not even hear it. But if you're in a quiet living room and they did the same thing, you'll wonder why they're so loud.
If you're lifting 100kg and someone adds 1kg to it, you probably won't notice. If you are only lifting 4kg, then it's really obvious.
In terms of practicing movement, if you reduce your effort down to minute levels, it increases your sensitivity to a change in effort.
Why is that important? Because then you can make comparisons. You can find out if doing a movement one way makes it easier than another way. You can systematically weed out the unnecessary effort and improve the parts which are uncoordinated.
If you never reduce your overall effort then you cut yourself off from useful feedback which would help you change and grow. You become blind to what you're doing and have no chance of improving the coordination.
How to use this principle to improve your movement
Take something simple for example:- Lying on your back and learning to lift your head off the floor with the help of your hands.
Let's run an experiment. Ask the question: Is it easier to lift your head while breathing in, or while breathing out?
Move slowly and with as little effort as possible. This will help you to feel what's true for you. Try several times while breathing in and then several times while breathing out. Still can't feel? Go slower, lift less high, reduce the effort.
Did you get an answer?
If not, that's okay. Noticing subtle sensations like these is a process which deepens over time with practice. Just by searching, you've already started honing your ability to feel and improve your movement.
If you did get an answer, that's great. By feeling the difference for yourself, your coordination would have already improved.
This is the type of stuff we do in my Awareness Through Movement ® classes.
In this way, using the power of your nervous system, you can build up your body-awareness. Over time, this will help you develop coordination and prevent self-inflicted mystery (where did that come from?) pain.
I'm telling you, that's the smart way to do things. "No pain, no gain" has gone the way of the dinosaur. Less effort is the way of the future my friend.
I'll meet you in liquid land.