The 1% Solution for Better Movement

To hone a skill, break it down and make small improvements over time.

This article is for anyone who wants to get better at anything. I’ve applied the concept I’ll explain to pretty much everything, from Brazilian jiu jitsu, to bouldering, to crawling. The basic idea is to dissect the skill you want to improve, break it down into individual components, and try to improve each part by one percent. It sounds obvious, and like most good lessons, it is, but only in hindsight.

The one percent is an arbitrary number, so don’t get hung up on that. The important point is to try to make some small improvement in a given skill over a period of time, rather than trying to make big jumps in one or two areas, which is not a bad strategy, just a different one.

Train for Marginal Gains

A few years ago I read an article from Dave Brailsford, the manager for British Cycling Team Sky, about his concept of marginal gains. He proposed that if cyclists could improve everything about their approach to training by one percent, the trees won’t look much different in the short term, but in the long run, the forest will be significantly bigger and heartier. In other words, the little gains add up.

In Brailsford’s case, the team was looking for elite performance in cycling, so they sought to improve everything, big and small, from the method they used to clean each bike part to the pillows the athletes slept on. I know little about cycling, as evidenced by my ride (a hideous old Raleigh), but the concept is easy to apply outside of the world of elite cycling. Let’s take a tree climbing sequence I learned in MovNat as an example:

My Super Slop segment is a hot mess. I bounce too hard onto the branch, sway my legs too much during the pop up, and my exhausted collapse on the branch is a joke. I staged this video and am exaggerating, but there is plenty to fix.

In each segment after this, I show a little bit of improvement during different parts of the jump, hang, pop up, tripod position, and landing roll sequence. This video lets you see how a little improvement here and there can take you from being really sucky to being less sucky.

Dissect Your Movement

Here’s how to test out this advice for yourself:

  1. Choose a Movement: Pick an activity you want to improve. Try something easy so you can clearly see whether or not you make progress. A lot of the MovNat skills are great starting points. Running, jumping, climbing, crawling, and lifting are all easy to quantify.
  2. Break It Down: Break the activity down into measurable parts. The parts slated for improvement can be technical, but they don’t have to be. You could also work on improving physical changes (maybe improved skin toughness on your hands during tree climbing), mental aspects (confidence or calmness during scary movements), tempo (better speed regulation or timing of movements), improved mobility of certain joints, or quality/duration of your rest and recovery time.
  3. Get a Little Better: Keep things simple and improve each segment by at least one percent (just a little bit) over the course of a month. You could break it down into two or three improved parts per week to make it manageable, if you like. This is a good way to dissect a particularly complicated activity. Some parts may need to be worked on separately via isolated training, whereas other parts can be improved simply by working on the larger movement. Others will fall somewhere in the middle.

One Step at a Time

Some movements and skills are easier to tighten up than others. This may be because you don’t have the tools you need to develop more challenging areas. A lack of strength or technical knowledge, or simply a lack of time, can all be limiting factors. Improve what you can with the resources you have, but also note your limitations so you have areas to research later.

By the end of the month, using whatever metrics you use to measure progress, evaluate how you’ve progressed. You will see some decent overall results simply by working to improve the individual parts of your art one percent at a time.

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Photo courtesy of MovNat.