Stretch Yourself: First, Fix Faults, Part I

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.
In the next column I will give two more examples of fixing faults to improve performance.

Thomas Kurz is an athlete, a physical education teacher, and a judo instructor and coach. He studied at the University School of Physical Education in Warsaw, Poland (Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego). He is the author of Stretching Scientifically, Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance, Secrets of Stretching, and Basic Instincts of Self-Defense. He also writes self-defense tips posted at If you have any questions on training, you can post them at Stadion's Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum at
AUG. 22. 2011. TaeKwonDoTimes.