Thursday, 9 November 2017

Practise makes...

We all know that in order to get better at something you need to replicate it over and over again. Some experts have even put a number of it and refer to 'the 1000 rep rule' when discussing skill mastery.

I don't know whether the 1000 rep rule is in any way accurate at all. I have neither counted nor have any intention of doing so, but I suppose it demonstrates the point well enough. Doing anything 1000 times is probably long enough to begin to engrain  the basic motor or cognitive skills necessary to repeat the same task over and over again reliably.

Think back to a skill that you learned as a child. A good example is riding a bike. You will have certainly fallen off a few times (hopefully not 1000) before managing to get to grips with the balance required to successfully stay upright for a meaningful amount of time.

The real problem is making sure you're practising the right thing in the first place.

On one sunny afternoon during a PE lesson in secondary school, I was told something that would make me look at learning in a whole new light. The school had drafted in a chap who was in his late eighties to coach us through an athletics session. Now, this would be absurd if it wasn't for the fact that this particular octogenarian was a record breaking senior sprinter! I've since heard the same teaching point thrown around a few times but it never ceases to make me stop and think.

'Practise makes permanent'

It seems so simple a concept but is something that I feel that we often overlook. When translated into a gym setting, these wise words ring true in that the physical results that we achieve are a direct product of what we practise.

Practise doesn't make perfect as we are never going to achieve perfection. What we can be sure of is that whatever we practise will become easily replicated and eventually a default setting. This is exactly what we need if every rep of every set that we perform is executed precisely. However, if we practise with the wrong technique I'm afraid that we'll just get very good at doing things wrong.

Take a set of barbell squats, for example. Most of us know by now that achieving full depth in the squat is essential in maximising the benefits of the exercise, employing the musculature of the lower body and back in a strong, balanced fashion. But what happens during the end of most people's squat sets? Depth often becomes compromised and the last few repetitions may hit 70% depth instead of the 100% for the preceding repetitions. Do this for long enough and your body will be physically unable to perform anything deeper than 70% depth for those last few reps because it hasn’t been trained to do so.

Worse still is when a skill is performed technically wrong, leading to faulty movement patterns that could increase the incidence of injury. Again, the barbell squat can be used as an example. Perhaps you've been squatting with incorrect foot position, breath timing or barbell placement for a sustained period of time. You may have clocked up tens of thousands of reps doing things this way. How easy do you think that would be to rectify once you were made aware of the error of your ways? Well, you'll be happy to hear that the boffins have come up with a number for that too. Apparently you can expect to have to perform any given skill 3000 times to remove a faulty technique.

The moral of the story here is to save yourself time and just do things right from the very start!


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