Or “Stop Doing What You Do If You Want To Do It Better”
PILATES NINJA SERIES #1
I have been teaching the Pilates Method for almost 20 years, instructing weight training for 10 years before that. Yet despite a long history of experience and training, I would occasionally get drawn in by the attraction of a concept that many of us fall for: Invest your time doing the thing you are trying to improve and you will ultimately get better at it.
But it’s a lie, an attractive fantasy and a big waste of your valuable time.
We all agree with the importance of putting time into improving a skill by getting “down ‘n dirty” and doing that skill. Sprint training on your cycle, laps in the pool, kilometres on the road: They all lead to improvements in your fitness by increasing muscle strength and cardio function. But they don’t necessarily lead to the improvements in efficiency that come from better skeletal alignment, optimising muscle sequencing, or improving the levels of excitation and economy that show in the ease of movement during a performance and ultimately greater speed and endurance.
More Isn’t Better
My good friend and colleague, Dr. Shona Erskine (Dance Psychologist) explains this very clearly to her students:
I don’t touch type. I have to look at the keyboard and then hammer away with three or four fingers. Terrible habit. Gives me a sore neck, aching forearms and makes for a twingey RSI-like feeling in my wrist.
I have been typing almost everyday for 15 years. Behind me is postgraduate study including a PhD and all laid down with my inadequate typing skill’s.
As someone who works in performance I know what I need to do. Stop and reprogram. But I don’t, and everyday I am reminded that one does not get better at an action just by doing it.
The moment movement begins you cannot change it. So when I sit down to answer emails I automatically revert to old habits. Once in the action it is too late to change my technique. And if I try to touch type when I have outcomes to achieve I am only adding more information for my brain to manage resulting in cross motivation – get these emails done quickly, don’t look at the keyboard, be accurate, find the delete button. And so frustration rises.
To neurologically re-pattern I have to go back to the moment I begin. To the thoughts I have before I begin. It is in this moment I will change my technique. That I will lay my fingers on the keys, slow down, and be mindful of action and intention.
3 Phases For Functional Change
The idea is to find time to carve some time out of your habitual patterns (ie usual training schedule) and practice thoughtful movement, movement that challenges you on a mental as well as physical plane. The change will come in three phases:
- Become aware of your current patterns of movement – Your hard-earned strategies may or may not serve you best but until you know what they are, you’ll never be able to improve them. This will always be done initially with someone that acts as a ‘mirror’ to help you discover these things you aren’t aware of. The body can only change the things it is aware of and is only aware of where it is by moving it, so guided movement will be part of the formula (I’ll tell you the science later).
- Practice alternate ways of accomplishing a task – It might be a different “choreography”, a change in your body’s relationship to gravity (ie stand on your head), or even thinking about it differently.
- As you master new, more economical patterns, bring this new awareness and skill set to your chosen performance platform – This is where you go back to your cycling, swimming, running and see if you can begin translating these new ideas in a functional way.
It’s a sad fact that most of us spend little time with these simple concepts or we skip Phases 1 and 2 and jump right to Phase 3.
The great thing is that there are HEAPS of ways for you to achieve this increased awareness and improved patterning, and it doesn’t demand much time from your schedule. One to two hours per week dedicated to this idea of repatterning will reap major benefits.
So where do you go? Here are just a few methods available to you: The Pilates Method (my chosen career), yoga, the Feldenkrais Method, Body-Mind Centring, dance, Olympic Lifting…these are just a few of the opportunities out there. If done properly, they all share two things in common:
- They work to improve the performance of a human through economy of movement, and emphasising the importance of form to achieve strength.
- They demand a high degree of awareness to achieve mastery.
In future articles, I’ll try to give you more practical details on how this concept works and how you can use it to improve your sports or everyday performance. In the meantime, send me a message here and let me know what YOU think about this and your experiences. I hope this starts a useful conversation.