by Edward Yu
How Helpful is “Expert” Advice?
Why is it that even after heeding expert advice we rarely improve? Is it because we don’t know how to follow directions? Do we simply lack the willpower to maintain a strict training regimen? …or is there a problem with the advice?
Most experts overlook the fact that real improvement occurs through learning — that is, making full use of the brain and nervous system. Unfortunately, following their advice tends to make little use of either, and instead treats the advisee more like a machine than a living, breathing organism whose muscles are attached to a brain.
Between the professional runners of the world and the rest of us remains an enormous gap of learning that we can only bridge if we begin to make use of our gray matter. As elucidated below, mechanically following common directives such as “Lift your knees higher” does not generally help because it has little if anything to do with learning. Ironically, such instructions tend to make running more difficult while circumventing the most crucial fundament of learning: kinesthetic awareness — that is, the feeling of how different parts of your body relate to each other and the environment.
Does Improvement Come With More Effort…
The major difference between the average runner and the professional is that the former has not learned to use his body efficiently to propel himself forward. Instead of working in unison, he unconsciously works against himself by enacting unnecessary muscular contractions that pull him every direction but the one desired. Thus, while attempting to move forward, his divided self simultaneously pulls sideways, downward, upward, and even backward. Rather than enhancing his performance, much of his effort, therefore, goes toward sabotaging it — as if he were piling weights on his own shoulders. Not only does he work harder in the process, but he causes undue stress to his joints, which may eventually lead to pain and injury.
Unfortunately, expert advice does not take into account the parasitic contractions that in fact, prevent the average runner from obeying without having to waste even more energy. While it is true that our average “Joe” may indeed run faster if he heeds the advice, it will be at the cost of quickly exhausting himself and possibly overstraining certain muscles in the process. If he perseveres, he will quickly associate improvement with its main saboteurs: excessive effort(read, strain) and willpower.
It is an obvious reality that all of us can run faster if we try harder. But how long can we sustain the effort? What experts tend to ignore are the strict limitations on how fast, far and injury-free we can run while simultaneously contradicting ourselves. Moreover, they are unaware that trying harder comes at the expense “trying smarter” — that is, learning how to run with more power while using less effort.
Unlike the average runner, the professional does not contradict herself but instead coordinates every part of her body to propel herself forward. Because she possesses more awareness of how different parts of herself can work together, she does not enact unnecessary movements that so burden her average counterpart. As a result, her stride is smooth, graceful and powerful, requiring much less effort for an even greater amount of propulsion. Looking at running this way, we could say that improvement is a result of learning how to stop contradicting ourselves, or in other words, how to let go of unnecessary tension. Improvement from this perspective requires less effort, not more.
RTR involves a systematic and methodical exploration of movement rooted in Taichi, Bagua and the Feldenkrais Method. In short, RTR focuses on the feeling of how parts of your body relate to each other and the environment. In this manner, you cue your brain and nervous system to sift out the parasitic contractions that have been pulling you in unwanted directions. At the same time, you learn to use parts of yourself that are essential to efficient running but may have been neglected for years. As a result, you begin to run with more power, grace, and speed than you ever imagined — all while using less effort!
Edward Yu is a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner offering classes and seminars on: RTRunning; RTFitness; Taichi, Bagua and Martial Arts; Back and Neck Revitalization; Pain and Stress Reduction. He is the author of The Art of Slowing Down.