Growing up, many of us heard from our parents or teachers say things like, “you can be whatever you want to be!” When we were little we believed it, but as we grow older many of us become cynical, jaded and we stop believing that we are capable of doing something out of the ordinary and often wind up settling for good enough. We point fingers at successful athletes, businesspeople, or musicians and chalk their success up to natural talent. This makes us feel better about settling for the status quo.
Well what if I said, that younger you, is actually right! Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool spent years studying cases of natural talent to come up with the conclusion that beyond height and bone structure, natural talent does not exist! Yup! That means you no longer have any excuses as to why you are incapable of accomplishing all of your seemingly outstanding goals!
In this article I want to share with you Ericsson and Pool’s concept of dedicated and purposeful practice as explained in their book Peak. I think you will find them applicable to your fitness journey, hobbies, career, or any other skills you are looking to improve.
"In this new world it no longer makes sense to think of people as born with fixed reserves of potential; instead potential is an expandable vessel shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives. Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it. We create our own potential." - Ericsson & Pool
So what is purposeful and deliberate practice. This kind of practice puts a high emphasis on mental awareness. Therefore, it is not enough to just work really hard at something; we need to think about what we are doing to make improvements.
For deliberate practice, we must:
1. Continuously push beyond our comfort zones in a focused manner
2. Create goals that keep us pushing to be just a little bit better
3. Have a way in which to monitor or measure progress
4. Find different ways to keep up motivation
To make these concepts more tangible, let’s take an example of a basic movement most of us do in the gym: a squat. Let’s say you have a basic knowledge of what a squat should look like. You spend 4 days a week doing squats trying to increase the weight that you are using. You will probably see some gains initially but eventually reach a plateau or maybe even a decrease in progress. Now let’s use the idea of deliberate practice in setting up a plan for improving squats.
1. Push beyond comfort zones:
Change up the type of squat- Goblet squat, KB Front squat, Barbell front squat, Barbell back squat etc.
Increase the weight
Change up the set/rep scheme
Increase depth of squat - from high box to low box to no box
Change the tempo - slow tempo, squat jumps, explosive squats, pause squats
Change the stance - wide stance, narrow stance, hip dominant, knee dominant
2. Create goals:
- Create process goals- workout a certain number of times a week
- Create outcome goals- Squat specific weight, increase weight 5lb. every week
- Form goals- Improve posture, increase squat depth
- Performance goals- Participate in Power lifting meet
3. Ways to monitor or measure progress:
- Amount of weight lifted
- Improved squat depth- going from squatting to a high box to below parallel without a box
- Improved form- video documentation
- Use a coach to give feedback (we really like this one! Wink, Wink)
- To feel stronger
- To feel more confident
- To look better
- To fit in clothes better
- For your family
- 100 kablaminey jillion other reasons!
I am going to add on 1 more really important step that applies specifically to fitness. Secret step number
5. Think about what you are doing while you are doing it!
So often people try to “zone out” during their workouts and just go through the motions. This is understandable as workouts serve as a great stress reliever. But you can be mindful while still working on relieving your stress. This is where it is super helpful to have a coach; everyone’s mind operates in a unique way and one person’s squat goals and restrictions may be just slightly different from the person next to you. It is helpful to have a coach who can help you figure out how to manage your inner monologue. Below I have a few examples of what someone might be thinking about while doing a barbell front squat.
Think about what you’re doing:
- Grip the floor with your feet
- Stay upright
- Keep elbows high and chest up
- Push knees out
Ericsson & Pool explain how people who participate in seemingly mindless activities like lifting and running can improve their skill greatly by being more mentally present in what they are doing. Amateur runners often daydream or zone out, but high level elite runners will stay present in order to make adjustments in pace and pay attention to the needs of their bodies.
Staying present in sport is extremely important as well! Ericsson & Pool told a story about a high school boy practicing his golf game when his coach walked by and asked him what he was doing. The boy replied, “practicing my golf game”, and his coach replied, “no you’re not, you’re just hitting balls”. After this discussion the boy became more mindful of his practice and created a routine for himself. Everything was a conscious action towards a specific goal - not just random swing after random swing - and this resulted in a vastly better golf game!
Ericsson & Pool state that in order to improve a skill, “it helps to have 3 Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can repeatedly do and analyze effectively determine your weakness and figure out how to address it.”
What I want to leave you all with is the feeling that if you have a goal, whether it be to learn to sing, to run a marathon, to learn a new language, to lift heavy weights, to paint, or whatever else it may be, you should go out and do it! Do not let this idea of not having the natural talent ever stop you from pursuing something you have a genuine interest in trying. If you apply these same concepts you will get there! So, if you ever find yourself in the gym thinking that you could never be that fit, or that strong, or that coordinated because you were never an athlete or trained in a gym before, stop! And remember that you can actually do anything!
“There is no reason to not follow your dreams. Deliberate practice can open the door to a world of possibilities that you may have been convinced were out of reach. Open that door!” - Ericsson & Pool