Take a look at any sport. Whether it is performance, individual, or team based, they all have one thing in common, they have a very unique understanding of the difference between training and practice. True, with sports which are skill orientated rather than purely performance based, i.e football vs. the 100m dash, there is an even greater distinction between ‘training’, and ‘practice’ due to the differentiation between the time spent ‘practicing’ the skill of their sports, and the time spent developing the physical aspects during the Strength and Conditioning ‘training’.
However, within the world of physical and athletic development the current paradigm presents us with a problem. We don’t teach our athletes to view their gym time as a time of skill acquisition and ‘practice’. Anyone who has spent time surfing the interwebs looking at training videos – you know who you are! – has probably seen some incredible feats of strength and endurance from athletes that have some horrendous technique, but they are still great athletes, but the real question is this, how long can they keep themselves that way, and how can we make them better?
Whenever the weightlifting teams at California Strength and MDUSA finish their sessions, their coaches say, ‘Good practice everyone!’. This speaks volumes to me as, while the sport of weightlifting is a special case due to its nature as a performance based sport, they are focused on making sure that the time they spend getting stronger is time spent attempting to become as technically proficient as possible the allow for the greatest carry over to their performance as athletes.
While I am aware that using these elite weightlifters as an example may not speak to the everyday athletes out there, we as coaches must seek to break that barrier. If a training methodology does not scale both up and down, from the greatest athletes to the worst, then it is a broken system and needs to be updated or repaired. Skill acquisition must be placed first. It is the foundation upon which all other physical attributes are formed. Strength is useless without the ability to move efficiently and apply that strength.
So, what we need to do as coaches is implement a shift in the way in which we teach our athletes and clients to think of the time they spend training with us, as well as the way in which they perceive their own progress. Training or practice is measured in progress, but a big bug bear of mine is the fact that we only seem to teach people progress in terms of weight on the bar, not in terms of speed, efficiency, or movement quality. While I am all for people shooting for the moon and getting as strong as they can be, this ‘balls to the wall’ style of training is not maintainable for the vast majority of everyday athletes or for that matter a smart way to go about things. It breeds the mentality that record hunting is the only way that we can measure progress and this leads to a competition mentality that causes people to sacrifice movement quality for the sake of a new PR.
The stronger you are, the greater the buffer between you and injury, but this only applies so far before you hit a point of diminishing returns. The risk vs. reward aspect of advancing before you are technically ready is always risky, and will only work for so long before injury or structural breakdown. There is a time and place for pushing your boundaries, but this must be done in the safest possible way to make sure that the buffer against injury is at its greatest.
Push for strength, push for improvement, but measure improvement as more than just load on the bar. Widen your horizons and understand that there is more to progress than the current paradigm of gym culture tells you there is.
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