How to Use Efficiency To Improve Your Movement Skill, Fitness, and Conditioning
by Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder
Anyone can effectively crawl, walk, run, jump, balance, lift, and carry—to some extent at least. But can everyone perform such movements skillfully? Even if we can effectively do what is natural to us, do we always do it efficiently? The answer is in the difference between an aptitude and a skill.
An aptitude is a natural ability or tendency to do something. It is spontaneous and subconscious, but it can be really basic, rough, and not at all skillful. A skill, on the other hand, is the ability to do something well; it’s an advanced aptitude or expertise. In short, efficiency turns aptitudes into skills, whereas skills make movements efficient.
The three primary and highly desirable outcomes we can expect from efficiency are improved performance, energy conservation, and increased safety. In simple words, on top of having the ability to physically achieve more, you achieve better results by both conserving your energy and maintaining your physical integrity. Efficiency enables the minimum amount of energy to be used for a given task, which from a vital perspective of life-preservation is critical.
The importance of efficiency cannot be over-stated, and yet, the fitness industry largely ignores this vital training principle. In this article, we’ll explore why it’s so important and some ways to put it into practice.
Why Efficiency Is Necessary In Training
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” —Lou Holtz
Although we commonly associate the word “natural” with the word “spontaneous,” we can’t assume that anything that’s spontaneous is necessarily efficient.
This is true for many aspects of who we are and what we do, and it certainly applies to how we move. There’s a difference between an innate aptitude and an acquired skill, and even a movement that feels “natural” isn’t equivalent to an efficient movement.
We are certainly all born with innate Natural Movement aptitudes and an instinct to get more efficient at any of those movements we were originally meant to do consistently. For instance, adults are able to stand seemingly effortlessly, whereas for toddlers standing is at first difficult and energy-inefficient. Although Natural Movement is an innate, instinctual physical behavior, it also requires practice to make efficiency in Natural Movement second nature. We need to nurture our nature to unleash our full potential.
But there is a problem: Years (decades even) of neglect of our physical abilities because of disuse and misuse has turned us into “zoo-humans.” In the absence of physical and movement behaviors that match the behaviors of our ancestors, turning innate abilities into second-nature skills has become a real challenge.
It is easy to dismiss the necessity for having a method of learning or teaching what is natural because of the romantic idea that something that’s natural cannot be taught or learned. However, as I stated earlier, the reality is that what is natural is not necessarily efficient. For example, is there anything more natural than breathing? Still most modern people would tremendously benefit from relearning the proper breathing pattern they once used as children. If this is true for breathing, is it unreasonable to consider that we can also learn efficiency in every skill that is part of Natural Movement?
In an ideal world, there would be no need for a method or a program for relearning what should be a universal birthright of Natural Movement mastery. Unfortunately, in today’s world, the reality is that millions of people need to reclaim their universal birthright of competent, adept Natural Movement. In fact, the health predicament that modern humanity is currently facing implies that most people need an overall reform of their lifestyle. To get started, they need to begin with the most basic natural movements.
There is a common belief that efficiency only matters for the more complex movements, but it can make a significant difference in some the seemingly simplest movements, such as standing up; a lack of quality in the most basic movements will negatively impact the efficiency of the more advanced, technical movements.
Practice does not necessarily make perfect. Inefficient practice can make things worse, whereas efficient practice makes things better. Just as it requires consistency to develop greater levels of strength, power, or stamina, reaching higher levels of technique and efficiency demands consistency.
Research has shown that in most fields, elite practitioners perform several thousand hours of “deliberate”—which means “mindful”—practice; extensive practice is a condition for acquiring expert performance in a particular skill or activity. However, a high level of competency, albeit not “elite level”, can be developed in far less time, given the appropriate training.
“Patiently persistent practice, produces proper practical progression.” – Eric Brown, MovNat Team Instructor
Technique VS Strength & Conditioning
Moving more doesn’t always allow you to move better, but moving better always allows you to move more.
To augment your real-world physical capability, you must both optimize your movement competency by making your skills as efficient as possible while also progressively increasing your work capacity (your strength and/or your endurance).
To feel prepared for the demands of the real world, most people still prioritize increasing their work capacity because they think work capacity is the be-all and end-all of physical preparedness. What these people don’t realize is that strength and conditioning support motor skills, but they don’t produce any motor skills. In other words, having great power and stamina won’t prevent you from drowning if you don’t know how to swim, keep you from falling off a narrow surface if you don’t know how to balance yourself, or help you defend yourself if you don’t know how to fight.
People who focus exclusively on the measurable aspects of physical fitness, such as work capacity, are guaranteed significant deficiencies in their movement competency and therefore in their real-world physical capability. No extra amount of general strength and conditioning will ever compensate for a lack of motor-skill and movement adaptability. Although you also could say that knowledge of skills doesn’t compensate for lack of general strength and conditioning, there is a notable difference in the sense that some specific physiological adaptations—including greater strength and conditioning—take place when you practice movement skills contextually, which makes it possible to improve technique at the same time you’re getting stronger and gaining more endurance. Conversely, training for general physical preparedness generates great power and stamina, but you still need to learn all the techniques and skills that strength and stamina are supposed to support.
I’m not saying that supplemental strength and conditioning training isn’t beneficial or part of the MovNat method; I only mean that it may not be mandatory when learning the majority of the techniques and skills involved in Natural Movement. For instance, you can learn lifting techniques with quite light objects, until it becomes obvious that you need heavier loads to develop more strength and power and keep fine-tuning your skill in the process. That’s how it works for elite athletes, and it also makes sense for day-to-day fitness practitioners—that is, after they understand the priority value of movement competency.
Movement efficiency is not easy to quantify, but it is the primary level of performance you should be concerned about. We have been led to believe that only exercise that can be counted is productive, but so much of what really matters in movement performance can’t be counted or measured. Efficiency is one of those aspects that may be challenging to measure, but it matters tremendously.
“Going strong,” “training hard,” and “no pain no gain” are mindsets that emphasize the grueling side of physical training, as if you aren’t doing any “real” and valuable work without sweating, grimacing, and having “the eye of the tiger.” When the quest for volume, speed, or number of calories burned prevails, it is in most cases accompanied by an absence of consideration for good form or technique. Even when people have knowledge of proper form and technique, many people are willing to compromise their form if the result is better numbers—as if movement efficiency was not a fundamental part of performance or only an optional aspect of it.
Using complex movements for the sake of increasing work capacity can be very detrimental if you overlook efficient movement, and there are indeed important issues with such an approach. First, you might develop a false sense of physical capability because you may feel strong and ready but you may not be entirely strong and ready. For example, you may have the capacity to perform thirty Pull-Ups in a row when you’re hanging from a regular pull-up bar, but you might not be able to climb on top of a thick surface because hanging from a ledge is more challenging, you lack grip strength, and you do not know what movement techniques to employ to climb on top. Similarly, you might believe that the power in your lower body enables you to sprint fast, but you haven’t factored in that a rugged, rocky terrain could make you significantly slow down or even stumble and fall because you are not skillful at running on such terrains at high speed.
Doing countless repetitions of an inefficient pattern imprints the incorrect form in your neuromuscular memory. Mindless repetitions of mediocre movement lead only to long-term inefficiency – meaning poorer performance, greater energy costs, and higher risk of injuries or accidents.
When movement proficiency becomes secondary or even accessory in your training, you become a mindless, inefficient fitness machine, with negative repercussion on your real-world effectiveness and physical health. Technique is absolutely not the replacement of strength or conditioning. Technique is the most efficient use of strength and conditioning. In that sense, “flow” in movement is not the elimination of resistance but the skill of optimally applying force and employing energy. The path of “least resistance” is movement efficiency. Going “strong” is easy; going smart is more challenging; going strong intelligently is obviously a greater challenge. There is no opposition between quality and quantity, between competency and capacity.
“How can I do better?” is not a question that’s more important than “How can I do more?”; it’s is simply a higher priority one.
Movement Efficiency Is Just The Beginning
Efficiency is more than a principle; it is a mindset that makes us seek continuous improvement even when we are seemingly very adept at a given movement or physical task.
This is a real paradox in the mainstream fitness industry: “Globofitness” makes basic, segmental movements—such as a biceps curl—look complex, but they’re not. Efficiency makes complex, adaptable, natural movements—such as a jump over a gap—look simple, but they’re not.
We have a culturally induced belief that because we start to physically decline past a certain age, it prevents us from making progress in anything new that we want to learn, but there’s no truth in that belief. Continuously optimizing your movement performance doesn’t depend on your age, level of health, or vitality; it depends on the strength and consistency of your intention. Does the quest for efficiency ever stop? Never, even if you simply maintain the efficiency you have previously acquired.
How much efficiency should you aim for? Do you need to reach a world-class level? Of course not. If you learn and apply the principles and techniques taught in the MovNat system (and in my book), you have covered 90 percent of what you need to know to perform most of movements and techniques effectively, efficiently and safely. You will have acquired the foundation of physical competence everyone needs to perform in practical situations of the real world.
Here’s some other good news: It takes much longer to lose skills after you’ve acquired them than it takes to lose strength, and it is much faster to regain lost efficiency than it is to regain strength.
Efficiency Leads To Self-Mastery
Physically, experientially learning about movement efficiency helps you learn something about yourself. It is not the technique, the drill, the gym, the stopwatch, or the program that you are trying to master, right? You’re trying to master yourself. Movement perfection may be unattainable, but self-improvement is never out of reach.
Improving your movement efficiency, even in the most minute way, is a way of improving yourself. It can be as simple and easy as paying attention to how you stand and breathe. Learning efficient movement can help reduce physical discomfort or pain when you move—and when you don’t move. It can add elegance to your movement. It can give you a greater sense of self-control, self-confidence, and self-worth.
If you improve how you move, you improve. If you change how you move, you change.
Note: this article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.