How to Learn New Manipulative Skills Quickly

learning manipulative skills Jun 14, 2024


Learning a new manipulative skill can seem daunting and difficult and of course it can be. It can feel like it is taking a long time to master, which can lead to frustration and you may be tempted to skip the necessary steps required to reach that level of mastery.

As humans, we want to learn new things as quickly as possible and in order to do that it helps to understand the stages of learning you’ll need to work through in order to acquire new skills.

Everyone works through stages of skill acquisition whether they are learning to ride a bike, tie their shoelaces, ski, play tennis or perform manual manipulation. These are all motor skills and they all follow the same process of motor learning.

The still widely accepted model today, proposed by Fitts and Posner in 1967 comprises of 3 stages.

The cognitive stage, the associative stage and the autonomous stage.

These are sequential stages and must be progressed through in order so that mastery can be achieved.


This learning process will take time, perhaps even a lifetime, but can be accelerated when different learning strategies are employed. Accelerated Learning is not a new concept and has been used in education for decades.

Accelerated learning engages the use of the whole brain in the learning process, is multi-sensory and more activity based than some traditional more passive methods of education, empowering the student to be creative and involved in their own learning.


This approach has many similarities with the training methods of top sports people and performers. ‘Deliberate Practice’ is a well-known approach that is used to maximise the potential skill of elite athletes. (Ericsson, 2016)

We can then employ the same principles and strategies of educators and athletes to the learning of manipulative skills so that you can perform manipulative skills in a shorter time, more enjoyably, safely and with finesse. This ultimately can have a positive impact on your ability to fulfil your purpose and help your patients sooner and more effectively.


Key strategies to learning manipulative skills twice as fast

  1.  Learn with your mind and your body

There are a few points to consider here:

  •  Learning is not all in your head. You will learn quicker and retain what you’ve learnt if you use your whole brain in the process, engage your emotions, involve your senses and move your body, all essential for stimulating our brain’s neural network.
  •  On the flip side of this, mindless activity is your enemy if your aim is to master manipulative skills. Whilst it is physical in nature and you use your body, if you are not present and intentional in your practice then you run the risk of consolidating bad habits and making no improvement in your skills.
  • Visualising the skill you are learning, without moving a muscle, is a powerful way to enhance your physical performance and a strategy many top athletes use to train and prepare for how they want their performance to be executed. 90% of Olympic athletes use MENTAL REHEARSAL…and even more impressively, 97% of them believe it helps their performance (Murphy,, 1990).

Swimming legend Michael Phelps won a Gold Medal by

“seeing” himself swim with his goggles full of water!

  1.  Be curious

Make your learning meaningful to you and have fun with it. Problem solve and ask ‘What if..?’ questions so you avoid the old fashioned learning by rote or just by copying. Take your skill and be creative with it. How would you adapt it if a patient couldn’t lie on their back? What if you had no couch or stool? How would you modify your approach if your patient was resisting?

Applying your learning to real life contexts will require you to step out of your comfort zone, think out of the box and the repeat your skill but under slightly different conditions, broadening your understanding and ability.


  1.  Collaborate

Collaboration amongst learners enhances learning and brings with it a network of support. We are social beings and a community of like-minded individuals where we can learn safely and openly is a better learning tool than learning in isolation.


  1.  Use different learning styles

Using multiple ways to learn something uses more regions of your brain, which helps to interconnect and embed skills and knowledge. Even if you believe you are a visual learner for example, you can accelerate this learning by reading about the same topic, listening to a podcast on the subject, discuss it with a colleague, do it practically as well as looking at pictures and watching videos.


  1.  Get quality feedback

Feedback is a topic on its own, so for the purposes of this article, we’ll keep it brief. There are many types of feedback and it is essential at each stage of learning. External feedback from an expert or coach will allow improvements in manipulative skills to be made quickly, seeing change from one repetition to the next. Internal feedback or self-reflection helps you remain conscious in your learning, avoid developing bad habits and continue to refine your performance. It’s a great habit to journal your reflections down as this encourages you to think deeper about your learning, gain clarity over your skill and record your progress.


  1.  Train in and out of your practice

You will only learn to swim by swimming, play tennis by playing tennis. You have to manipulate in order to learn to manipulate. Learning in real-life contexts is an important aspect to accelerate your learning as it provides the environment to take your learning from abstract to concrete, giving it meaning and purpose and making it longer lasting.  However, there is slight difference, your practice in a real-life situation will affect another person, who is most likely in pain or discomfort. Therefore, training outside of your practice is vital; just as a swimmer will train in and out of the pool, a sprinter will train on and off the track, you can practice your manipulative skills away from your patients and increase your ability to perform new manipulations on your patients quicker and with more confidence.


  1.  Practice little and often

In order to maximise your skill acquisition, you need to make a commitment to that end. Focus on learning one skill at a time or at least one or two skills that focus on one area of the body that are similar and avoid the misconception that multitasking is productive. You’ll end up making mistakes and becoming mentally fatigued from context switching, slow your progress and demotivate yourself. Instead, remove other distractions, decide which skill to focus on and practice little and often. Practice in small chunks with regular breaks and good sleep in between to allow your brain to reinforce and embed the neural pathways needed to perform the skill consistently with ease.


  1.  Break the skill down

Manipulative skills require balance, agility and co-ordination, different speed and force and need to be performed with different patient needs in mind. This is complex and therefore an essential strategy to employ is to break the skill down, practice parts of the skill separately, practice them slowly, then gradually piece them together, add in more speed if required and do this again and again. Each time you refine your skill or want to focus on improving a different element, perhaps following feedback, break the skill down, practice parts in isolation before combining all the elements and performing the skill as a whole.

Imagine the pole vaulter, he/she will do exactly this, practice different elements of the skill separately, slowly, at speed and then piece them together.


All these strategies are incorporated into our own accelerated training approach ‘The Osteopathic Athlete’, which we employ with our members and through our delivery of courses.

Take one to start with and implement it into your practice and see what happens to your ability to acquire a new manipulative skill.


Gila Archer


Torrance (2019) Accelerated Learning Unlocked

Ericsson (2016) Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things

Wymbs, et al (2016) Motor Skills Are Strengthened through Reconsolidation

Murphy, et al (1990) Psychophysical Transformations through Meditation and Sport

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