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How and When To Apply Motor Skills Variables To An Exercise Programme [plus an 80+ Exercise Ideas FR

To learn a new movement or exercise will take a high level of concentration and clients will tire easily. Movements need to be broken down into their individual components and mastered before any element of motor skill progression is incorporated.

Motor skills include balance, reaction time, agility, co-ordination, speed, and power.

Too often we see individuals trying to tackle exercises like kettlebell swings (coordination), box jumps (power), and single leg exercises (balance and coordination) before they have learnt AND MASTERED the basic movement components such as the hip hinge and bodyweight squat techniques, for example.

Following repetition and practice a movement pattern can be perfected and only then will the client be able to perform it without conscious control - ie, autonomously. If a skill such as a kettlebell swing is learnt incorrectly initially, it is also very hard to modify that movement without breaking it back down to it's individual components again, in order to re-learn the movement pattern!

To avoid unnecessary re-learning and potential injuries, motor skill variables should not be applied to a clients programme until the related movement(s) have been perfected. Another key consideration for trainers and instructors is that each client will progress at their own pace. Care should be taken so that the difficulty of a skill is not increased until the starting level movement has been mastered. A trainer should be observant and patient!



Balance is the ability of the body to evenly distribute weight in order to maintain a centre of gravity that lies on a vertical line within it's base of support. Through feedback from vision, joint and muscle proprioceptors and semi-circular canals in the ears, balance can be achieved.

You can apply the skills of balance in the following ways:

  • Reducing base of support

  • Using an unstable surface

  • Closing the eyes


Reaction time is the ability to respond quickly to a stimulus and then to initiate the appropriate response. Stimuli can include:

  • Visual

  • Auditory

  • Kinaesthetic


Agility is the ability of a client to change direction as quickly as possible, while still maintaining control of the body. It is closely related to reaction time and the ability to maintain balance.


Co-ordination refers to the ability of the nervous system to recruit muscles in the correct order and at the correct force and speed to achieve a smooth and efficient movement.


Speed is simply the ability to cover the most distance in the shortest time. This can be forward, lateral, backwards or vertical movement - or of course a combination of all of those. Speed is therefore linked very closely with reaction time and agility and can be also used when referring to the movement of a limb.


Power is a combination of strength and speed.

Power = force x speed.

Power training involves moving a resistance at speed. This is a contrast to regular resistance training which should be slow and controlled. Resistances for power training are recommended anywhere between 30% to 80% of 1RM.

Plyometrics (stretch-shortening cycle) is a type of power training that involves an eccentric (lengthening) phase followed immediately by a concentric (shortening) phase. For example, squatting down and then jumping explosively into the air. Doing this, pre-stretches the muscles which then enables them to create a greater contractive force than without the pre-stretch.

The aim is to capitalise on the stored elastic energy from the pre-stretch as much as possible. In order to do this, it is crucial to limit the amortisation phase, which is a very brief static contraction between concentric and eccentric phases. If the amortisation phase is too long this will cause the elastic energy to be lost in the form of heat instead of being used to propel the muscles.

When to incorporate motor skills into a training session...

Motor skills are best trained when the mind and body is prepared but the nervous system is fresh. Therefore, skill training should ideally come immediately following the warm-up. It should not follow on from any strength, power, endurance or cardiovascular training.

To expand on this article, we've created for you a detailed DOWNLOAD giving you a library of 80+ motor skills progressions for five key movement patterns, including the Deadlift, Squat, Lunge, Chest Press, Lat Pull Down, and Shoulder Press. Remember, the advanced progressions in this guide should not be prescribed for clients until basic movement patterns and techniques have been mastered!


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