"Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending." Hagakure
Kaizen is a Japanese word that literally translates to "improvement" or "change for the better." But Kaizen is more than just a word. It is a lifestyle philosophy incorporating a focused effort to strive for constant and continual improvement in all areas of life. In modern Japanese culture, it is most often applied in the business setting – the never-ending pursuit of improving the productivity and efficiency of your business.
It could be said that the principle of Kaizen was at the very core of samurai philosophy. Warriors aimed at perfection in all areas of combat, from the appearance of their armor and how they carried themselves, to the mental preparation, physical preparation, strategy, defensive tactics, striking skill, and killing efficiency used in battle. Warriors trained day-in and day-out to attain perfection in their technique and mastery of their skills.
Movements can take a single day to learn, but a lifetime to truly master. With this in mind, samurai warriors would often practice just a single sword strike thousands of times a day. This approach to training made for superior skills, and a formidable opponent on the battlefield.
T Nation readers have been introduced to the Kaizen Principle before in the writings of Charles Poliquin. He frequently talks about this concept in its relation to progressive overload. He discusses how the idea of constant and continual improvement can effectively be applied to protocols designed specifically for increasing strength.
The application is simple. With each successive training session, the lifter should attempt to add one more rep to the set or a little more weight to the bar. This ensures constant improvement.
Charles specifically talks about adding the smallest plates in the gym (2.5lbs) to the bar each time you train. This sounds like nothing, but small increases made consistently over time add up to big improvements. In a twelve week training cycle, a weekly increase of 5 pounds total on the bar nets a 60 pound increase in your lifting total. Not bad, especially for an advanced lifter.
This mentality should not stop with just progressive overload. The Kaizen principle can extend out to all aspects of the Iron Game, and can bring you closer to your true potential as an athlete. Here are some practical examples:
• Lifting Technique: For powerlifters, better technique can improve leverage factors and mechanical advantage, especially for your specific body type: limb length, muscle insertion points, etc. This can lead to huge increases in lifting totals. Better technique can also leave you less susceptible to traumatic injury, reduced wear and tear on the joints, and chronic pain. Can you look for ways to perfect your technique?
• Lifting Technique II: For bodybuilders, better technique can reduce rebound, momentum, cheating, or using other, unintended muscle groups to complete a lift. This maximizes tension on the target muscle, which of course leads to optimal overload and development. Can you slightly improve your exercise form in some way?
• Nutrition: If you eat 5 meals a day, that totals 35 meals in a week. How many of those meals are bringing you closer to your strength and/or physique goals? How many of those meals are taking you further away from your goals? Can you improve on that ratio? If you are eating good 85% of the time, focus on increasing that to 90%.
• Alignment/Muscle Balance: Are tight muscles inhibiting your range of motion or causing chronic pain? Are lengthened, weakened muscles making your posture or performance suffer? Can you look for ways to improve muscle imbalances or lifting discrepancies?
• Recovery: Are you living more like an athlete or more like a rock star? If you are going out partying every night, drinking, doing recreational drugs, etc., you are not providing the best environment for your body to develop or get stronger. Can you find ways to focus more on your athletic goals?
• Sleep: This is one of the most overlooked components of development. Proper sleep can help reduce cortisol levels, increase growth hormone levels, recharge the nervous system, increase cellular repair, etc., all leading to better development and strength. Can you skip watching The Voice to get an extra hour of sleep?
• Hydration: Virtually every cellular process in our body requires water. Can you improve your hydration levels? Can you make your piss look more like water or lemonade than iced tea?
• Coaching Skills: Many of us are coaches. You may have the greatest knowledge base in the world, but are you effective at teaching it to other people? Can you find more effective ways of motivating people and getting your messages across?
There are always ways in which we can improve – as athletes, as coaches, and as people. The summary of the Kaizen Principle, then, is to never be satisfied with your current level of skill or development. Always try to improve, in every aspect of your life.
There is always someone out there who is bigger, stronger, or more skilled than you are. And even if you happen to be at the top of the mountain now, kings fall, and heroes rise to take their place.