Disclaimer: This is something that Leah and I have been working on in her training and it started with trying to be as efficient as possible with her time. In the past, we would get great workouts in, but each session was treated as clocking in and clocking out. This brought on the conversation of practice and here we are… hope this is helpful.

We dedicate an hour of our day towards exercise. Everyone does it for a different reason. Regardless of the reason, I believe there is value in knowing the different ways to approach each hour of CrossFit. There is a book called “Peak,” and I will be the first to tell you that I often start books and fail to finish. I’m what you call a constant fidgeter, not sure if that’s a word, but this man cannot sit still. Usually, when I read it begins with some intent focus and then… Squirrel… I’m off to the next thing. However, this is a book that captured my attention for long enough to almost finish. I’m still not done with the entire book, but its very close.

The book was written in an attempt to describe what separates the experts in their field from everyone else. The author, Eric Anders, spent years analyzing experts such as world-class gymnasts, musicians, London cab drivers, spelling bee champions and chess legends. His goal was simple and it sparked the question, “why do some reach a higher level than others and do they all have something in common with experts in other fields?” Through research, he found that no matter what field you partake in, music, sports, chess, etc. the most effective practice techniques work in essentially the same way.

Everyone practices something. For this specific blog, I will describe to you the three different types of practice so that you can identify which type you spend the majority of your sessions doing. Each practice will be defined, and I will have some common beliefs that attach themselves to the practice type. Holy smokes, that was a lot of “practice” used in that paragraph… bear with me.

The 3 types:

Naive Practice is essentially doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve ones’ performance. By practicing in this manner, you will see initial improvement because you are simply doing something new. Training without purpose or awareness creates the opportunity for injury, stagnation, and a guaranteed gradual decline in performance. If we sit with a rounded back, stand with a rounded back, lift with a rounded back, and then asked to perform a lift by maintaining a braced position, we will not be able to recognize what that looks or feels like. By training this way, we develop a standard that we view as acceptable. Once that standard is obtained, we rarely get out of our comfort zone in an attempt to reach new goals.

Purposeful Practice requires you to get out of your comfort zone, have clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. The term “comfort zone” is important because there is a fine line of “more” and “too much”. Not every day needs to be spent increasing weight and reps. Through communication and developing a plan with a coach, we will know when to push the intensity and when to focus on developing the skill. Crossfit was built on technique first, consistency second (able to perform the movement for multiple reps or across a broad time domain), and intensity last. Often times we need to revisit technique and not let the focus be on the intensity every day. This sounds like a great way to train and will yield much better results than Naive Practice. However, there is still a better way to train. Purposeful practice is limited in that getting out of your comfort zone, having a goal, and pushing yourself to the limits isn’t enough. You can do better and its just understanding how.

Deliberate Practice is believed to separate the good from the great. It is what separates Micheal Jordan, Tom Brady (Yes… even after last night), or Matt Fraser from the rest of the athletes. Now, I know this is long but hang with me because this is where it gets fun. In order for you to utilize Deliberate Practice, you have to be in a field that has three things.

  1. Fields have objective ways to measure performance. If there is no standard, then you won’t know how or when to improve.
  2. Fields competitive enough that performers have a strong incentive to practice and improve.
  3. Fields are generally well established. There are athletes or performers who serve as coaches and who over time have developed increasingly sets of training techniques that make it possible for steadily increasing skill level. A big thing with this is that as coaches we should be looking to improve and grow as well.

Ways to implement Deliberate Practice:

  1. Train with a purpose. Have a well-defined goal.
    1. Make it something specific that is beyond your current ability
  2. Break your task down into parts and make a plan.
    1. Meet with a coach to develop this plan. Ask questions.
    2. Video yourself.
  3. Give each part your full attention. Deliberate Practice is deliberate, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. It’s not enough to just listen to a coach. You need to be able to eventually recognize your own faults so you can also make the adjustments.
    1. Don’t skip steps. Don’t rush the process. Enjoy the struggle so you can remember what it takes.
    2. Focus on doing it right. Kelly Starret quotes, “Again, we need to move away from the practice-makes-perfect paradigm and realize that practice makes permanent.” (Excerpt From Kelly Starrett. “Becoming a Supple Leopard 2nd Edition) The patterns that we do in CrossFit, whether its a squat, pull, press, or push, if done with the mindset of moving to perfection then we will be able to transfer to a more advanced progression. If we move aimlessly from exercise to exercise with no awareness of how our body is moving, we are creating bad habits that will lead to injury or a gradual decline. This will require us to revisit the foundational movements and have to go backwards before being able to advance. April wrote about this in her blog… check it out.
  4. Get Feedback
    1. Our job is to Coach. Use us. We are fortunate to be able to do this for a living and we challenge all our coaches to continually grow. CrossFit continues to evolve and it’s fun to be able to advance and learn new movements as they are introduced. We can get you to where you want to be, we just need to know where that is.
  5. Stray out of your comfort zone
    1. Whether it’s lifting “Heavy”, showing up on a “Cardio Day”, or performing a movement that you are too embarrassed to do because of the fear of failing, you can get out of our comfort zone daily. By doing so, we are slowly but surely getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. We have to try things that are just beyond our current abilities, which is generally not enjoyable, but eventually, we get there, and then we repeat the process.
  6. Maintain Motivation
    1. The goal and the small accomplishments that happen in the process serve as great motivation. One thing is certain, it takes discipline to maintain motivation and Santee wrote about that in a blog two weeks ago… check it out.

I am by no means an expert. I did, however, find some valuable tools that I have applied to my personal goals as they relate to owning a gym, my quest to be able to perform all movements in CrossFit and complete an ultra-marathon. The biggest change has been looking into “why” and gaining an understanding of everything that we do. With coaching, it’s going back and analyzing the programming, videoing a class, having weekly meetings with the coaches, and learning from those who are at the top of the field. It’s realizing that I don’t know enough and strive to gain more knowledge that can be shared with others. With my movement, it’s seeing where my weaknesses are, and putting a plan in place that gives me time to work on my weaknesses. It’s filming the movements and creating mental representations that give me a standard to reach. It’s taking what I practice in the gym and translating that into everyday life.

Coach Lee Irons