What Toyota Can Teach You About Strength Training

In his book “Scrum” Jeff Sutherland talks about how to do things more efficiently.  He teaches people a way of applying the agile methodology, and he’s talks about where it came from.  One of the key influences upon something that appears to be an incredible system, was “The Toyota Way”. 

The Toyota way is a system that comprises 14 principles that prioritise long term success over short term success (but that, funnily enough, often lead to swift successes…).  A key principle, and the focus of this article, is about efficiency or “evenness” in this instance.

There are three things that Toyota targets with this in mind - muda, muri, and mura (all words that my autocorrect hates…).

Muda

The first of these is muda.  Muda focuses upon minimising waste.  It’s super hard to minimise waste if you don’t know what you are heading towards. 

Waste means different things with different goals, and not everything that doesn’t directly help your goal is waste.  For someone who wants to get crazily strong, Original Strength’s breathing regression may not seem like it will help them with their strength gains as much as a heavy squat, but it’s not wasted time, because it prevents long injury layoffs by improving movement quality and muscle sequencing. 

However, if you only have an hour, and you spend 45 minutes of it breathing and only short session that doesn’t allow you time to strengthen the muscles you had planned, we have some waste.

In other words, muda functions a lot like Occam’s razor.  You want to figure out what you can do that allows you to accomplish your goal, and cut everything else away.  This might mean a Power to the People approach where you do a couple of movements that tick all the boxes you need and you can be in and out in under 20 minutes.  It might mean that you stretch, reset, or do some other complementary movement during your rest period in order to maximise your efficiency and get more value out of your time in the gym.  It could even mean doing things with a friend, a group of friends or a personal trainer so that your emotional energy isn’t burnt trying to force yourself to go to the gym (this is a huge issue for a lot of people - most people don’t mind training once they are started, but man it can be tough to get yourself there sometimes…).

Figure out what your goal is, and then figure out what you need to do in order to get there (or if you don’t know where to start, hire someone who can help you). Then make a plan to maximise the value of your gym time, and to minimise the amount of effort involved so that you can spend your time and energy efficient elsewhere.

Mura

The second thing that Toyota seeks to remove is mura.  Mura is imbalance.  This is most commonly seen in a gym setting when you see men with massive upper bodies and no legs (figuratively), or men with gargantuan chests that are dragging their posture into all sorts of weird contortions, or in women, who spend so much time on treadmills and never lift any weight so that they look like bent over skeletons (skinny, poor posture, no real shape to speak of).

There are three places that I would encourage people to seek balance with in their training.



  1. Muscular strength

    It’s important that both the front and the back of your body are strong.  A weak front side of the body can lead to people chicken necking (shoving their head forward and away from their body) and can have some pretty negative lower back implications later on.  A weak back side of the body often results in poor shoulder range, can also create some pretty terrible posture, and also, leads to pretty negative lower back implications.

    Ultimately, you want your body to be balanced and to be in a good posture when it’s relaxed.  If you are ultra strong on one half of your body and ultra weak on the other, that’s a real issue - whether it’s left side vs right side, top vs bottom, or front versus back.
  2. Strength and Range of motion

    Pavel Tsatsouline talks about the fact that strength and flexibility are opposite sides of the same coin.  Anything other than enough strength and enough range of motion for your chosen activity will result in injury, and either skill if practised to the exclusion of the other will increase the likelihood that you’ll push the other beyond its range. 

    At QKB we utilise movements that focus upon improving reflexive stability to ensure that people are able to perform the movements they do with adequate range of motion.   If your body is reflexively strong then the muscles will automatically either inhibit your range of motion to ensure that you stay within the range that you can handle, or else it will fire the muscles it needs to in order to facilitate your movement. 

    Whether you choose to use something like Original Strength or something like Tai Chi or yoga to ensure that you can move well, you want to ensure that you are doing things that both increase your strength and your range of motion to the point that you can do anything that life chooses to throw at you without your body injuring you or embarrassing you.
  3. Strength and Cardiovascular Work

    We want our entire body to function well.  Strength accomplishes a lot of things and gives us a greater reserve from which to draw in order to do most activities, but it is important to spend time doing other things aside from lifting weights.  I don’t enjoy cardiovascular training generally, but I love to play sport.  So for me, the way that I choose to elevate my heart rate tends to be focused upon games that I can play or activities that I can do where I can focus upon a skill rather than monotonous activities like walking or jogging.  However, I know a number of people who love to jog, and that’s great.

    If you only jog or only lift weights though, chances are you’re not only going to be worse at both, but your body will develop a deficiency that will expose itself as injury or illness.  We need our systems to be taxed in a variety of ways for optimal function, so I’d encourage you to not only lift weights but to find another movement hobby you love as well so that your body can be stimulated in a variety of interesting and exciting ways.

Muri

The final thing that is focused upon is muri.  Muri is overburden.   Overburden creates unnecessary stress that makes the process of doing anything more problematic and more likely to break down.  The gym implications of this are obvious.  If you lift too much weight, or you push yourself beyond the limits of what your body can handle, you will quickly reach your breaking point.

 

You always want to have space in the tank to do more.

Zatsiorsky sums it up with his saying, “the general idea in planning strength training sessions is to have the athlete do as much work as possible while being as fresh as possible”.  Try and get the right load, at the right intensity, and do it without losing the integrity of the movement that you’re doing.

Any time you overburden yourself, bad things happen, whether you’ve run too far, lifted too much, or pushed yourself too hard, there are almost always only negative things that come from this.  According to Bompa, you can get almost all the benefits of pushing yourself to the limit or near the limit, by operating within a 60 percent to a 90 percent range (with the long term adaptations actually being stimulated at the lower range).

Conclusion

There’s a lot more to the Toyota philosophy than eliminating waste, but if you take these three simple principles and apply them to your training, it will help you to create great things.  Here’s a final quick summary of what you might like to consider this week, with the section it relates to alongside it:

Muda (waste) - Pick a goal, figure out (with help if you need it), what the straight line path is that will get you there most efficiently (chances are it doesn’t involve 7 hours a week in the gym).

Mira (imbalance) - Ensure that you aren’t just doing the things that you like to do, but ensure that you are doing the things that you’ll need in order to help you to progress smoothly towards your target. Stretching for 4 hours a week on one day isn’t going to get you the same outcome as doing restorative movement on a regular basis throughout the week.

Mari (overburden) - Listen to your body.  Stop before you break.  Trust the plan you created in order to eliminate waste, and ensure that you are doing what you need to do at a rate you can handle, at an intensity that you can handle.

Thanks for reading!

Move Well.  Be Strong.