Using Toyota Kata to Improve Workout Goals

Over the past 10 years, I had been hearing more and more about the improvement approach called Toyota Kata. Think about it as the missing piece in understanding how to implement Lean in an organization. There is too much focus on the tools and methods (as these are very interesting and powerful to learn), but little was understood about the way in which problems were solved, and how coaching was conducted to experiment towards improvement while developing people. Toyota Kata provides a 4-step process to apply and practice scientific thinking.

There are two main elements:

  • Improvement Kata – How the learner improves
  • Coaching Kata – How the coach guides the learner

I had read the Toyota Kata book from Mike Rother, and watched many webinars on the topic, but I wasn’t as experienced and knowledgeable as I wanted to be.

Thanks to my friend Maria Grzanka, I was invited to join the Kata School Cascadia Learners and Coaches calls held weekly, starting in July 2021. The group is hosted virtually by Toyota Kata coaches Tracy Defoe, Mark Rosenthal and the late Hal Frohreich (among many other experts). They take questions from learners, and give advice and ask thought-provoking questions to help them develop their kata skills.

After a few months, Maria mentioned that Sam Morgan (a mutual friend) was looking to get more practice with the Coaching Kata, and was looking for a student. I thought this was a great opportunity for me to get the hands-on experience I needed. He found a coach to help him develop his skills, Hugh Alley. I had interviewed Hugh in a previous podcast about his work with Kata in a nonprofit setting. I felt great knowing both people that I’d be working with!

Getting Started

I wasn’t sure how much time it would take to go through the 2 months of coaching with Sam. It was estimated at about 30 minutes per day, 4-5 days per week. For 8 weeks, that’s about 20 estimated hours of time for meetings. If you add in another 30-60 minutes of work after the call, it would be an investment of 40+ hours. Not insignificant, but I thought about it as equivalent to one week in a training class, and that seemed like a good investment of my time (plus the practical benefits I would likely achieve). I committed to investing the time into this project, and we were ready to get started!

After a few sessions, I was able to clearly define my challenge statement:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I am more satisfied with my chest, improving from a 6 to a 8 weekly average satisfaction score and increase in chest size from 43.5″ to 45″ by Jan 31st so I am more confident taking off my shirt”

We chose this challenge to work on because it was under my control, something I could work on (without involving others), important to me (something I’ve wanted to improve), and something we could evaluate daily or multiple times per week. It took a while for us to figure out the metrics for success, so that we would know if experiments were working, and if I was able to remove obstacles in the way of improving my chest workouts.

After each call, I had to complete my “next steps” and predict what I thought would happen. The next steps often resulted in online research, reading the Toyota Kata Practice Guide book, or some small experiment to test out with my workout.

Call Logistics

Starting on Dec 6, 2021, we met 4-6 times per week for about 2 months, with the last session on Jan 31, 2022. The calls lasted about 30-45 minutes in length.

The first few sessions were focused on figuring out what to improve and how to measure it. Next, we defined the current condition and set goals for where we wanted to be in 1-2 weeks, called the target condition. We identified obstacles to achieving the target condition, and wrote out detailed wording of how I would experiment or research how to clear the obstacles. When I achieved the target condition, we would reflect on what we learned, and set a new current and target condition. This moved us closer to achieving the overall challenge for the end of the project. We were able to set the final target condition to match my challenge statement, and I nearly achieved everything I set out to accomplish!


At the end of the two months, I increased my total push ups from 145 per session to 220 per session (52% increase) without adding more sets or taking longer rest between sets. My actual chest size (once we figured out a consistent way to measure it) increased from 43.5″ to almost 46″, and my personal satisfaction score (still somewhat subjective) increased from a 6 to a 7 due to the physical changes I was seeing in the mirror. I was very happy with the results I achieved, and have been continuing my workouts and making progress on my long term fitness goals.

My final current condition at the end of all the sessions

However, the best part of the experience was the learning I got from my coach, Sam and his coach, Hugh. They helped me really understand the Coaching and Improvement Kata approach through our calls and feedback, something I could have never learned on my own. Better yet, I obtained two lifelong friendships that I will cherish!

They also did this all for free, can you believe it! They also met with each other outside of our meetings, so Sam may have spent as much time on my project as I did. Hopefully he found the investment in time worthwhile and helpful to his development.

The people I’ve met in the Toyota Kata and Continuous Improvement communities are so wonderful in the investment in time and willingness to give to one another, all while expecting nothing in return.

Next steps

For my continued development, I plan to practice the Improvement Kata on some of my other improvement projects, such as reducing email response time to clients, and increasing certification success rates with students. Although, it’s been 2 months now, and I’ve been slow to get started.

After getting more experience with Improvement Kata, a future step would be to practice the Coaching Kata as a coach with one of my clients or students.

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about Toyota Kata.