Coach Caleb’s Corner
Practice makes… Results!
When you hit the gym, do you “work out” or do you “practice?” The truth is, just doing sets and reps at a challenging pace is not enough; if we’re trying to truly improve and break through plateaus, then we have to become well versed in the art of “practice”. Knowing how to practice is a highly underrated skill, but it is one of the most valuable skills one can acquire. It’s not just what we do, but how we do it that will bring results.
For some reason it’s much easier for us to relate to the concept of proper practice when it comes to something like learning music instead of working out. When I was a kid, I liked to play the piano. I did not like to “practice” the piano, however. I liked making up little songs and trying to play by ear. Every week I would take a private lesson with my long suffering piano teacher (poor Wayne!), and would pull out my music and stare at it like I had not seen it for a week… because I actually had not seen it for a week! The crazy thing was that I had, in fact, “played” the piano every day that week – I just hadn’t done any actual “practice.”
After a few years of continuing in this fashion (with the associated lack of progress), I began to feel guilty about wasting my teacher’s time and my parents’ money. Without seeing my skills improve, my desire to play the piano dropped off almost entirely. I went from playing almost every day, to not playing at all. My teacher noticed that I had regressed from not looking familiar with my music to not even looking familiar with the instrument. After years together, why was this the case? I had to admit that I wasn’t playing at all between lessons. When he asked why, I realized in that moment that it was because I really didn’t know how to practice.
Fortunately my teacher immediately had a strategy in mind to help me out. The first step was to find some music I was inspired to play. I admitted that I liked movie soundtracks, and the sheet music for the Star Wars theme suddenly appeared and I saw a ray of hope. He then suggested I not worry too much about setting aside an hour or even a half an hour to practice, just to find 10 minutes or more here and there to pull out the music and play a few bars. That week I went back to practicing… somewhat… and was actually looking forward to our next lesson. Next, he suggested that we work on some ear training drills to help me learn this music I already knew so well, but wasn’t yet that good at reading. After that we began practicing sight reading drills to get better at the reading part. My practices at home took on more structure, with an objective for each brief session. At first I just tried to play a small section for a predetermined number of times with one hand at a time, then I added two-handed work, and before I knew it I was playing the piece all the way through. In short order I had become a much better musician than I had ever been! It was because I had learned how to practice.
When it comes to physical training, it’s easy to get caught in a similar trap. We think we know what we need to do but just can’t seem to do it. It’s hard to accept, but getting results from your fitness routine is not just about doing “workouts.” It’s possible to go to the gym and play around with the weights, do some cardio and even think it’s “training.” But are you progressing your skills? Are you getting results?
If we’re going to invest our time in doing some training, then it’s worth doing right. For example, let’s say you include squats in your workout. You could perform your squats with a focus on making sure you pry in the hips, keep the knees tracking the ankles, pull yourself down with control into full range of motion with the hips below the knees, and contract the muscles into a nice lockout at the top. Or you could perform half-squats as quickly as you can to get them over with, without regard for body alignment and proper tension. Which method do you think leads to better squat skill, and gets better results from your training?
Practicing with a periodized program and exercises that we enjoy working on provide a good start. A mindful practice that includes clear objectives and drills to improve movement skills and technique will deliver big results. In a training session, there’s a big difference between “doing the moves” and “practicing our skills.” By focusing on using training time to improve our skills in getting muscles tighter, moving with maximum explosiveness, breathing correctly… there’s just so much to work on… then the practice becomes a pleasure and we get results in record time! Being good at practice can help us get good at almost anything.
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