The Kaizen Way: Small Daily Improvements

A little farther on your broad jump. A bit faster on your climb-up. Slightly smoother with your lazy vault.

While it’s a cool feeling to walk away from your first double kong, parkour gains need not always focus on going full beast mode. In fact, incremental improvements with basic skills is a much more important a goal.

The Japanese term “kaizen” relates to this phenomenon of continuous improvements achieved through small changes.

When you are always shooting to land a new skill or prove yourself on a monster obstacle, you are setting yourself up for burnout and potential injury. Striving for big performance bursts in a short period isn’t sustainable in any athletic discipline, and can (paradoxically) cause you to plateau sooner than necessary.

If you can implement kaizen into your training, your parkour career will last a lifetime. Disregard it, and, well, you do so at your own peril.

So, what does continuous improvement look like?

It means that you stay focused on the small details that make up your training.

What happens if you rotate your shoulders so your elbows don’t chicken-wing during your top out? Does how you point your toes during a muscle-up impact your ability to generate whole-body tension? What’s the best distance to take off for a dash vault? Will the position of your head at take-off alter your jumping ability?

By paying attention to nuances you begin to eliminate the habits and body mechanics that have been holding your back. Trial and error coupled with massive repetition cleaves away the faults that slow your progress.

Keep it up and continuous improvement is certain.

How do you know it’s working?

First, consider the subjective component. You feel more confident in your abilities. You have less fear with certain skills. You trust that your body can achieve what you aim to accomplish. Basically, you feel stronger and more competent. Maybe you even start to feel smoother, as if flowing over obstacles is becoming second nature.

Second, use objective measures to provide the hard data:

  • Record yourself on video to observe for major faults in your technique. Does anything obvious scream for remedy? Sloppy posture? Heavy foot strikes? Watch, listen, and scan for biomechanics that need improvement.
  • Use a stopwatch to time yourself for a given skill or specific run. Have you shaved a few seconds off your ability to ascend a given wall? Can you complete a set obstacle course in less time than last week?
  • Pull out a measuring tape to quantify if your precision jumps are actually getting farther apart. Likewise, see if you are gaining height on the highest obstacle you can pop vault.
  • Keep a small journal to record your best times, distances, heights, et cetera. Let Pearson’s Law be your new motto:

“That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.”

When you train methodically, continually improving your technique, and drilling better and better mechanics, you progress is guaranteed. Remember this concept whenever you are feeling stuck or discouraged.

Small changes accumulated over time yield big results. That’s the kaizen way.

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