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05 Apr 2018 208
Improving Physical Ability

'Less is More' Approach to Physical Activity

UK Coaching’s Development Lead for Physical Activity considers how coaches can apply this model for the benefit of participants

I have heard many clever one-liners in my time and I recently heard a speaker explain the Inactive – Active concept/model using the paradox ‘less is more’. Surely not! Now, I must admit that I missed the opening to the keynote, so I may have the wrong context, but nevertheless the phrase made me curious and got me thinking.

‘Less is more’, is in fact a 19th century proverbial phrase. It is first found in Robert Browning's poem 'Andrea del Sarto', published in 1855.

Who strive – you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia

'Less is more' in sport and physical activity?

Now, the phrase is normally heard in relation to arts or design, the notion that simplicity and clarity lead to good design. Very IKEA. Yet in the context of sport and physical activity, how can less lead to more?  

The guidelines for physical activity in adults actually suggests the opposite to ’less is more’, recommending that we should aim to achieve an average of 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, if we are to see benefits to our health.

Moderate activity is that which raises your heart rate. It makes you feel warmer, but you’re still able to sustain conversation.

Further to this ‘more is more’ approach, is the latest understanding that (in the context of an individual starting out) you can always do more for greater benefit.

Vigorous activity is that which makes your heart beat rapidly, you feel warmer still and you are only able to talk in short phases. Vigorous activity can lead to the same health benefits in less time - recommendations suggest to aim for 75 minutes.

Added to the length of time in which you sustain physical activity of any level, it is suggested that we also include strength and balance activities too. Challenging your balance and building strength helps to reduce the likelihood of trip or falls, particularly as we age.

‘Less is more’ coaching

So in the context of becoming active, does ‘less is more’ make any sense? Considering the notion that simplicity can lead to good design, perhaps the point being raised is that although the technical information we are provided as coaches can vary greatly, and seem at times to be in great depth and detail, the real impact we can have is through a simple approach.

If this was the point, then I agree. The role of a coach is to act as a filter for our participants.

Coaches can create the illusion that ‘more is less’, by, for example, breaking larger goals down into manageable chunks or breaking down complex skills into components.

Perhaps what I missed at the beginning of the keynote speech was the message that an effective coach has the ability to filter and only give out the essential information our participants need, in order to stay motivated and remain physically active.

Then in essence, less is more.

'Less is more' in practice

Coaching UK’s Coaching Children Lead, David Turner, read this blog for me before release and has his own slant on when less is more, specifically when coaching children.  

David is a big fan of the research from Cardiff Met University that suggests children should be spending more time on Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) and bodyweight strength exercise than on time-consuming cardiovascular and endurance specific training.

Endurance is highly trainable into adulthood, whereas an undue focus on endurance training in childhood to the detriment of FMS and appropriate and supervised strength training can lead to greater risk of injury. David is also keen to stress that strength and FMS training will also develop activity benefits for the health of your heart, and insists if you don’t believe him, you should try 30 press ups after reading this and see if you’re out of breath or not!

Related Resources

  • Reducing Physical Inactivity in Adults

  • Coaching's Role in Lifting the Nation out of its Inactivity Depression

  • Encourage All Clients to Try Strength and Conditioning


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