First, Fix Faults

23Mar11

My observations tell me that the key to a great and lasting performance improvement is not in trying harder but in removing obstacles. In other words, fixing faults pays more than overcoming them. Therefore, when asked to advise people how to improve their performance, my guiding principle is “Usun usterki,” or in English, “First, fix faults.”

Take posture: Good posture is such that all muscles (and therefore the nervous system) exert a minimal effort to maintain it—with all working in a balanced way, with none fatiguing to the point of forcing its load on other muscles. Bad posture is such that some muscles carry most of the load, until they give up and others must compensate. The muscles forced to compensate are not in the best position to do this (“it’s not their job”) and so they get too tense and too short, while those opposing them get lax and too long. The compensations cascade, affecting more and more muscles and causing tension pains, weaknesses, poor stability of joints, and eventually an injury.

Another way to put it: Good posture puts minimum stress on the muscles and joints of the body. Bad or faulty posture puts more stress on the muscles and joints than the good posture. Faults of posture can be compensated for by strong muscles, but that comes at a cost of extra energy, extra neural activity, and thus diverted attention. Here is an example from an international-level competition.

I visit a gym where international-level taekwondo players train. I stand off the mat with the chief instructor. As the players go through their drills, the coach comments to me on each player. One young player has very poor posture—a very obvious upper crossed syndrome and lower crossed syndrome—from the side his spine looks like a question mark. The coach tells me that this fellow has a spark but his performance is uneven. For example, recently this player fought a world-championship runner-up. The match was going well for the young fighter. Towards the end of the match the young fighter was one point ahead. He looked at the clock—three seconds remained to the end. He turned and walked off the fighting area, counting on the referee to overlook this breach of rules or at the most deduct a half-point from his score. The referee deducted one whole point for unsporting behavior, so the match was at a draw and an overtime round was ordered. In the overtime round, the more experienced world-championship runner-up won.

I said, “The mind that has to compensate for the poor posture, while facing a really good opponent, is tired and can’t focus completely on the fight. It has to dedicate more resources to moving than if the posture were good. It can’t wait for the fight to be over. It looks for the way out, may even look for an excuse to lose, to end the misery.” The coach concurred, and then we talked about the causes of this player’s poor posture and of his reluctance to do what it takes to fix it—but that is a whole other story.

And here is another example, not from an international-level competition. The man in this example is more unhealthy than the young taekwondo player, but he wants to get better. Here is what he wrote:

I am overweight (also diabetic and flat footed) and am trying to lose weight while taking martial arts classes. The lack of flexibility in my muscles and joints as well as my weight are great hindrances. Moreover, many of the exercises feel brutal since I am far from fit and have begun to feel joint pain in my left ankle, especially from kicks.

Committed to losing weight and being active, I nevertheless feel that I am straining my body because I don’t think I am standing correctly, finding my center of gravity, [and I am] overstretching or straining my muscles. I am in need of someone (kinesiotherapist?) who can look at my body, my posture, and walk me through an exercise and stretching regimen while knowing when not to push beyond a certain limit so I can participate in these activities without damaging myself or giving up.

Below is my reply to him.

Here are addresses of sites where you may find a specialist to treat you:

www.muscleactivation.com/find-a-specialist/ (my preferred method of treatment)

www.icakusa.com/find-a-doctor

www.instituteofphysicalart.com/index.php/ipa-information/fmt.html

www.activerelease.com

www.acbsp.com/directory.htm

Note that excellent physical therapists and sports physicians are trained in more than one of the above methods.

You may also read the following articles on injuries and on posture posted at stadion.com.

www.stadion.com/injuries-two-models-of-treating-sports-injuries/

www.stadion.com/injuries-best-advice-on-sports-injuries/

www.stadion.com/injuries-sports-training-and-posture-part-1/

www.stadion.com/injuries-sports-training-and-posture-part-3/

By the way, I think that this principle of fixing faults first applies to all aspects of health and fitness. For example, ceasing to eat bad stuff (sweets, bread and most grain products, too many carbs, too much protein, wrong fats, medicated meat, eggs from abused hens, artificial additives) helps more than eating any supplements could. It helps more than any medicine, too.

Unbreakable Umbrella vs. Watermelon

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10 Responses to “First, Fix Faults”

  1. 1 Oliver

    Wow, as always, very infomative and thought provoking! Thanks a lot for this great blog, Mr. Kurz!
    You description of a good posture reminds me of the typical qigong posture, do you have any experience with Zhanzhuang (standing post) training? Does the qigong posture really fit those criteria in your opinion?

    All the best,
    Oliver

  2. Tom, Thanks! Another great post.

    I can offer another good example emphasizing your remarks: Back in the 1990’s I was invited by a colleague to guest lecture as a visiting scholar at San Diego State University on Kinesiology. Because of Title IX SDSU had to drop their men’s Track & Field team and emphasize women’s Track. After giving a lecture on posture and athletic performance, a large student approached me to further discuss my lecture. He said he had been a weight field events athlete and had returned from training at the Olympic Training Center and wanted to compete in the upcoming Olympic trials and interested if I could offer any help. After some discussion we went out to the field with his discus. He made a few throws after warming up while I evaluated his posture and throwing form making a few suggestions. Then we went into the training room where I worked on balancing out his structure and muscle balance as well as having him do a few exercises. Then we went back out on the field. He warmed up again and took a few more throws bettering his personal best record by just over 6 feet. He couldn’t believe the results.

    I have to point out that was only a temporary correction at that point because his body would want to return back to how it was and it would take more work over time to make the corrections last. However, it certainly demonstrated your point that by “First, Fixing the Faults” you can make some real improvements in your performance.

    Richard J. Vahl, MSc, DC, Ph.D.

  3. Hi Oliver,

    I do not practice the standing post, yet (I practice Liangong set as a cool-down). As for using qigong to correct posture, I think that it would be best to first do simple corrective exercises of physical therapy, and then, with at least an awareness of one’s posture faults, practice qigong.

  4. Dr. Vahl,

    Thank you for a great example of benefits of “First, Fixing the Faults.”

  5. Tom,

    Thanks for this. Conventional wisdom points to adding to improve. Not too many people recognize that removing is far more potent.

    Your quote, however, was perhaps the most interesting to me.
    “The mind that has to compensate for the poor posture, while facing a really good opponent, is tired and can’t focus completely on the fight. It has to dedicate more resources to moving than if the posture were good.* It can’t wait for the fight to be over. It looks for the way out, may even look for an excuse to lose, to end the misery.”
    This is a powerful concept. I have never heard of anything like this before. My limits of knowledge only went so far as mental fatgue in athletes due to physical fatigue (e.g., winded and then give up) but what you purport is an entirely new dimension. Very insightful.

    Thanks again,

    Vergil

  6. I am curious: Did the discus thrower continue such corrections prior to his workouts from then on, or just returned to the old way of doing things?

  7. There are many kinds of fatigue, and “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” (General George S. Patton). Lighten the load to be braver.

  8. Tom,

    I worked with him until the end of the semester. He did go to the Olympic trials but missed making the team. Since SDSU dropped Men’s track due to Titile IX (which was nutz because I cannot think of a better area for a Track & Field team and we have the Olympic Training Center for Track & Field right here) he transferred to a University in the SF Bay area. I did recommend a colleague to him up in that area but lost contact after that.

    As a Fellow in Biomechanics, one more very important comment reinforcing your thoughts on energy used in this post Tom. Aberrant and/or poor posture and aberrant biomechanical motion (technique) uses up more of the athletes/martial artists energy. That is wasted energy which in lost in normal activity, training and during competition. In my practice in Ft. Myers, FL. I worked with the MINNESOTA TWINS and BOSTON RED SOX and their batting coaches and discoverd that a “miss swing” uses up several times more energy than a “swing and hit.” I emphasized that same principle when I was helping to train MMA fighters in Iowa and elsewhere. Wasted kicks and punches use up the athletes energy in the octagon where it is really needed or in other martial art competitions.

    Dr. Richard J. Vahl

  9. “Thank you once again Tom!”

    However, I should apologize for forgetting to mention something extremely important in my last post and something you and I Tom have discussed many times over the years. And some of your help has been so very valuable to me being a Sports Medicine/Injury and Chiropractic doctor. That is that to “First, Fix Faults!” you not only can IMPROVE PERFORMANCE but PREVENT INJURIES! Both things are so very important to the athlete and martial artists.

    The fact is that many injuries actually occur from faulty or poor training and technique. One example that involves Tom’s help had to do with a young female National Judo competitor who kept having knee problems. Since the female knee is not as stable as the male knee (something I first presented at a sports medicine conference back in the 70’s and was really ridiculed by the female M.D. doctors in attendance but now it is widely accepted) coupled with the fact knee problems ran in the young lady’s family, I had first assumed weak knees and knees and knee problems in her family might have been the culprit.

    However, when I happened to consult with Tom, he suggested that the problem might also be due to how she was being trained and her foot and knee placement throwing technique-wise and made some further suggestions to help. So, in addition to treatment, rehabilitation and some knee strengthening exercises we also observed her training and technique and made some suggestions. That was a few years ago and she hasn’t had another knee problem of any consequence since.

    I chose that example because it involved Tom’s help but I have seen hundreds of others in practice over the years. Therefore, no matter whether the athlete is in little league or the major league’s and especially in a recreational league, FIRST, FIX FAULTS becomes a cardinal rule in athletic and martial art PERFORMANCE and INJURY PREVENTION!

    THANKS TOM!

    Dr. Richard J. Vahl, M.Sc., D.C., Ph.D.
    http://www.vahlchiropractic.com

  10. Hi Coach,
    another great article. I see this all the time with compensations being developed around a sport or through lifestyle- mobile phone texting, car driving, desk working, laptop working and so on. At some point this causes either inefficient actions in their sport, or some muscles over working and being used. This then leads to more injury.

    This is especially true once the young athlete has passed their growth spurt and their body is weak and uncoordinated- that is a time to be even more vigilant.



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