A few days ago I posted a video on social media outlining what I feel is the number one consideration for any strength and conditioning program, particularly for non-strength sports like BJJ. Surprisingly to many, that was technical practice – time spent working on perfecting form in exercises you’ve already learned and maybe even done many times. Technical practice is the key to making sure not only that you’re minimizing the risk of injury, but also maximizing the benefits of those exercises. Below are three simple approaches to technical practice that can be implemented immediately:
If you’ve been to an Agatsu course, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”. Essentially that means that in order for practice to be beneficial, a key ingredient is required – focus. Focus makes the difference between ‘working out’ and ‘training’, between ‘improving’ and ‘optimizing’. It also makes the biggest difference in the risk of injury. If I were to count up all the injuries I’ve seen, heard of and treated, I would be shocked if half or more of them didn’t happen during warm-ups before the ‘workout’ even started. That may come as a surprise to many since that’s when the intensity is the lowest, but it’s also when your body is at its most vulnerable. The muscles are cold, the nervous system isn’t excited and the joints aren’t well lubricated, but above all that’s when focus tends to be lowest and without focus, any weight can hurt you.
You’re going to do the warm-ups anyway, so use them as an opportunity to pay very close attention to the subtleties of the technique that are harder to correct on the fly when the weight is heavy or you’re fatigued. Remember:
Every rep teaches the body a lesson.
Think of your muscles and nervous system like children. Children pay close attention to the adults around them and constantly learn lessons, both good and bad from what they see. You can’t cherry-pick what information they’re going to store, so it’s important to make sure that you’re focusing on consistently setting a good example. The more consistently you set a good example for your muscles and nervous system, the more likely it will perform well when you add intensity. If you’re lazy with your warm-ups just because the weight is light, you set a poor tone for the training and confuse the system.
While practicing technique, I recommend doing many sets of 1-3 repetitions, regardless of the rep range you’re going to be working with in the training. This is for a few reasons. As we know, the crucial ingredient for beneficial practice is focus and quite simply it’s much easier to focus for three reps than ten. If the exercise is one you just learned, even three reps may be a difficult mental workload. Even with a fairly basic movement there can be a lot to remember, especially if there are specific errors you’re trying to correct. If you’ve got your mind set on doing ten reps but you’re only able to focus hard and keep it together for the first three, you may recognize that there’s something wrong with the fourth rep but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make corrections on the fly before you finish the set. Going back to the children analogy, you’ve now taught three good lessons quickly followed by seven bad ones.
The other reason I like more sets and less reps is it gives you a chance to work your set-ups. The set-up of the first rep sets the tone for the set. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a world record bench press done with a bad lift-off, or a 48kg kettlebell press off a bad clean. The barbell squat is an excellent example. The process of placing the bar, getting tight, lifting off and walking out is almost as technical as the squat itself. It takes practice to be able to get into position for a strong squat without having to shuffle your feet around or look down too much. If one athlete does three sets of ten and another does ten sets of three, the second athlete’s set-up will be much better and most likely have a better squat too. That’s just how it is.
This isn’t always easy, especially if you train at a public gym. Sometimes it’s against their policies, sometimes it’s hard to find a good place for the phone and sometimes you just don’t want people to look at you and think you’re “that person”. However, there’s a reason why professional sports teams spend hours watching tape of themselves in previous games. Taping yourself is extremely beneficial for a few reasons but the main one goes back to what we’ve been talking about the whole time – focus. I’ve studied this extensively from a coaching perspective – people process and use information in many different ways but when it comes to learning physical activities most can be broken down into three groups:
Visual – People who learn by watching
Auditorial – People who learn by listening
Kinesthetic – People who learn by doing and feeling
This is why when teaching a group I usually demonstrate a new movement once without talking or having them do it, describe it without doing it myself or having them do it, then let them try it without demonstrating or talking. That way all three types of learners will have had an opportunity to process the information their way. Very rarely can I have an athlete trying something themselves while watching me and also listening to me talk and have something good come of it. You’ll likely run into the same issue with self-correction – it’s very difficult to watch yourself doing something, scrutinizing your technique and simultaneously try to correct your movement. It’s much easier if you compartmentalize the process by performing the movement with high focus, watching the tape afterward, then go back and try just doing it again. You’ll be able to feel more while doing, and see more while watching if you separate the two.
Hopefully you find these tips helpful in your approach to technical practice. Thank you very much for reading and if you have any questions please contact me through ‘Agatsu West’ on Facebook or @agatsuwest on Instagram.
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