Deep Practice--And Why It's So Powerful
We've trained hundreds of athletes in functional strength here at Pursuit Athletic Performance. How do we know when an athlete is in a place where they are really building strength? We see them becoming BORED with a series of exercises. That's right, B-O-R-E-D! They begin to wonder, "What's next? Should I start a new program?" At that point, it's natural to think this is the perfect time to change it up, keep things fresh, right?
In fact, this is the exact moment when you are NOT quite ready to progress to different or harder levels. This is the place where you are actually STARTING to improve. What is required here is to move to a new level of DEEP PRACTICE. Let's examine the powerful idea of deep practice through the lens of strength training, although it applies to all aspects of your training and skill building.
Athletes who have a high level of success train to seek mastery. Rather than going on to the next best thing, they have a different "relationship" with practice. Rather than hurrying to a more advanced level of a particular exercise such as a dead-lift or split-leg squat, they look for weak links or mistakes in their current execution. I call it "targeted, mistake-focused practice." What do the master athletes do that is different than most of the rank and file? The masters slow it down.
- They stop, correct, and "groove the groove" (thank you, Pavel Tsatsouline!) and repeat with attentive repetition.
- They are willing to take baby steps.
- They are engaged in the PROCESS vs. being focused on a potential outcome.
- They push themselves deeply to the sweet spot at the edge of their capabilities.
- They create vivid mental images in their minds of what they want to achieve.
RE-SCRIPT THE NARRATIVE IN YOUR HEAD
If you find yourself thinking about "what's next" in your training, consider re-scripting that narrative, and going to the place of deep practice. Think about the following instead:
- How can I execute these moves with higher degree of precision: perfect technique?
- Am I being mindful? Am I fully present in every aspect of this training move?
- What part of this movement am I not doing as well as I can?
- Am I pushing to the edge of my capabilities?
- How can I dig deeper and refine my form?
WHAT'S THE PAYBACK?
If you think about these questions and make them part of what comprises your practice, what's the payback? Now here's an answer we know you're not expecting.... The payback is the creation of MYELIN. Yes, you will get stronger. Yes, proper functional strength will translate to faster, more enduring performance in your sport. But underneath all that, it is the creation of MYELIN that makes it all possible.
Daniel Coyle in his outstanding book The Talent Code (which is quite a good read BTW), deeply explores the role of myelin in master performers of all kinds, and says, "Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons - a circuit of nerve fibers." Gray Cook, the founder of the Functional Movement Screen, and one of the world's leading movement experts, adds, "A pattern is born to our perceptive brain as well as our behavioral brain, and recognizable situations and responses are linked. The more we observe and use the linked patterns, the more the chain of circuits fire, and the more padding we dedicate to insulating the frequently used circuits. Speed develops as the insulation of the cables connecting our favored circuits gets thicker. This insulation is called myelin, and we make it according to the perceptions and behaviors we practice most or least." In short, says Coyle...
Deep Practice + Time + Myelin = Talent
So when you think you are ready to move on to more challenging training or sense there is a short-cut to success, think about going into a deeper level of PRACTICE instead. Do the hard work of refining your movement and that's when you will start to make real progress. That's when you truly begin to get stronger and better in a way that will have the most profound impact on your sport performance.
A NEW WAY OF THINKING
We know this might be a new way of thinking for many of you. How many of us have been handed the typical gym prescription--"when you can do 15 reps, go up in weight, or add another plate"? Instead, embrace the idea of following the example of the top elite athletes--the true masters. They know that in order to become GREAT, to be able to unleash full potential, requires ongoing, perfect, deep practice over time. It is the very definition of being RELENTLESS. They live in the place where true strength and performance is built. And so can you.