Part 2 - Deep Practice Implementation
In part 1 of this series, we discussed what deep practice is and defined some of its tenets. Now we want to take the time to try to apply these lessons to actual skill sessions to make the process more transparent, giving you the tools you need to improve your skill of ‘getting better’, regardless of the discipline.
Double under skill - Remember the standard approach? Head over to a quiet corner of the gym and whip yourself in the shins for 10-15 min before calling it a day, simultaneously trying to figure out how you’re going to explain said whip marks to your co-workers tomorrow. There’s often a number of physical errors and associated cues that can help a struggling athlete (hands down, fast wrists, controlled jumps), but the probability of success is still small until they build a base understanding of the movement. Attempting the skill at full speed overwhelms them because there is too much to think about and they are unable to separate the pieces that make up the whole.
I’ve found that the most important breakthrough comes when an athlete builds a better feel for the rope and where it is at in space relative to where it should be. Using a speed rope for the first time ever is often a strange experience, and it helps immensely to modulate the time scale so that the athlete can develop a feeling of control with the rope, before then mapping that over to the actual skill.
The session might be structured like
A1 - 10 sec single unders @ 1.5 reps/sec, rest 20 sec (goal of 15
A2 - 10 sec single unders @ 2 reps/sec, rest 20 sec (goal of 20 controlled reps)
A3 - 10 sec single unders @ 2.5 reps/sec (goal of 25 controlled reps),
rest 60 sec x 6 sets
B - (rest of training session)
Now they have structure that allows them to get quality practice time in that will challenge their control of the movement on different time scales, requiring different jump heights, wrist speed, body control, etc. They have immediate feedback by comparing their rep counts to the goal number so they know how to adjust for next time. They have built in rest throughout, and since this is the first movement in their session they are fresh and able to give it their full focus. Combine this with some homework of analyzing some proficient jump ropers perform the skill, in real time and slow motion, and we’ve checked all the boxes for a deep practice session. We might also include other supplementary drills designed to increase their overall understanding of the movement, like heavier ropes, single leg jumps, reverse single unders, etc. Everything programmed with a similar focus of strengthening the connection between the athlete and the rope, so that they are able to make all the minute adjustments required during a set of double unders instead of closing their eyes and hoping for the best.
Snatch skill - PR attempts (and makes) are sexy, plain and simple. They make for great social media sharing and ego boosting, but they make for horribly inefficient practice time. Continually attempting loads that are too heavy to lift with good form is almost exactly opposite what we are trying to achieve in skill development, as each time we do that we are reinforcing the flawed movement pattern. If we train like this, we will always default back to this way when things get heavy because it’s the only thing we know. Let’s take a step back and think about how to break the skill down into it’s components to improve the quality of our training.
Again, we are faced with a movement that could have any number of technical issues, either in isolation or combination, that must be addressed before we can expect to perform the full skill at any sort of intensity. We can tackle this as one full session, or break it into multiple sessions over the course of a training week. For the snatch, I like drilling the pieces and then following up with the full movement at appropriate loads in the same session. This enables our athlete to dial in their focus on certain components when needed, but to also get regular exposure to the full skill in a low-intensity environment so that their comfort and confidence can build along with their skill.
An example session might look like this
A - EMOM x 15 (filming session on tape delay for review between each set)
Mins 1-3 - 3 Snatch grip halting deadlifts, 2 sec pause below kneecaps
with shins vertical and tension in lats
Mins 4-6 - 3 Snatch grip deadlifts, 2 sec pause in power position with
knees slightly flexed and weight in heels
Mins 7-9 - 3 Snatch pulls, dragging shirt up past belly button by
leading the way with the elbows
Mins 10-12 - 3 Muscle snatches, hitting all prior positions and adding
in an aggressive turnover at the top
Mins 13-15 - 3 Power snatches - hitting all prior positions,
aggressively turning over, and adding in footwork
B - (rest of training session)
You can see the general structure here and how easily things might be adjusted to address an athlete’s specific needs in the lift. But the important principles that we learned about deep practice sessions are all intact. The structure allows for focused skill work in the components, with specific cues for them to focus on for each piece that they can easily pick out themselves if working without a coach. The intensity of the session is easily modulated to ensure its appropriate (could do this whole series with a PVC and get a great session in). We’ve set them up to get immediate feedback and allowed for enough rest time between the sets so that they can see what the did wrong and put the fix into effect on the next set. The session moves along at a steady pace to keep them focused and dialed into the task. And again, combining this with some homework of watching Ilya Ilyin or Lü Xiaojun in some slow motion HookGrip videos gives some great visual feedback for how the movement should look when performed at a high level.
Muscle Up skill - A muscle up is another example of a complex skill that is a sum of many different parts - strength, control, timing. With our knowledge of deep practice and some experience with implementing its principles, we can tackle the structure to enable the athlete to accumulate effective training time, instead of flailing around on the rings hoping their shoulders stay in place. Given all the pieces that go into training for a muscle up, let’s utilize multiple training sessions to address them thoroughly.
Monday (pulling strength and false grip training)
A - Supine ring rows @ 31X1 x 3-4, start a set every 2 min x 5 sets
(adjust angle as needed to ensure you’re getting full ROM and contact
with rings at top)
B - False grip lockoffs ALAP, rest 2 min x 4 (assist if needed to
accumulate > 15 sec of tension per set)
C - (rest of training session)
Wednesday (body control and timing of kip)
A1 - Small beat swings on rings x 10 sec (hollow/arch positions, tight
control), rest 0 sec
A2 - Big beat swings on rings x 10 sec (driving movement through
abs/butt/hips, keep body long and feet together), rest 0 sec
A3 - 1 pull to hips (keep body long, drive upward momentum with hips
and finish with arms), rest 2 min x 6 sets
B - Hollow/arch rolls on floor x 20, rest 90 sec x 3 (tight, long body
throughout, tension in belly/butt)
C - (rest of training session)
Friday (transition practice and strength in support)
A - 1 assisted MU transition every 45 sec x 15 (utilize RingThing,
banded assistance, feet on ground, or partner, focus is on rings tight
to body and quick turnover)
B - Ring support hold 15 sec + ring dip negative on 4 count, start a
set every 2 min x 5
C - 5 GHD situps EMOM x 6 (shoot elbows behind you and head through as
you flex hips to the top to practice speed/aggression of turnover)
D - (rest of training session)
So, we’ve effectively broken the skill down into its components so that we can tackle each in isolation with more attention to detail. Obviously we could personalize this more with more knowledge on which area is limiting that athlete and would benefit from more training time. We’ve set this example up to allow for complete focus on each component while fresh, versus trying to cram it all into 1 session and compromising the athlete’s ability to stay dialed in. We’ve provided cues throughout for them to focus on and ensure they are getting the proper stimulus and feedback from their results. And we encourage them to regularly watch in person or on video people performing the movement at high levels so they can visualize the proper execution.
Hopefully now you’ve got a better appreciation for how to structure an effective training session to get the most out of that time. In future posts in this series, I’ll discuss how strength can be viewed as a ‘skill’, and when enhancing skill efficiency might be a better approach towards improvements in sport specific testers than a focus on improving work capacity.
Follow up reading
The Talent Code - Daniel Coyle
Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg
The Practicing Mind - Thomas Sterner
‘Training history, deliberate practice and elite sports performance: an analysis in response to Tucker and Collins review—what makes champions?’ - K Anders Ericsson