Training vs Practice: How To Optimally Improve Weaknesses

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 - 19:47
In our pursuit of greater fitness, whether it be for a specific sport or you’re a generalist in CrossFit, it is important to understand what your weaknesses are and how best to improve them.


Not all weaknesses are the same. In strength & conditioning/fitness/sport there is a continuum of adaptations. On one end we have physical adaptation (“organic”) and the opposing end is mind-body (“neural”). Training is what we do to induce physiological change. Practice is what we do to induce neurological change. Given this stipulation, everything we do falls along the continuum. Rarely is something purely organic or neural, rather a blend of both. Some movements or adaptations lean more towards organic, e.g. strength, stamina, cardio vascular endurance. Other adaptations are considered mostly neural, e.g. agility, balance, coordination and accuracy.


The most effective way to achieve organic adaptations is to TRAIN – this implies working hard to achieve the stimulus required for the intended adaptation. If we seek strength, then the intensity (load + volume in this case) needs to be maximised. Intensity directly correlates to improvement in these organic areas. You won’t get the results without it. One of my favourite quotes from CrossFit creator Greg Glassman rings true here: “Impress me with intensity, not volume”. Work output, time, loading, volume, rest periods, etc vary depending on the intended adaptation thus it is important to follow the coach's instruction each time you line up to train. As intensity is the required factor in efficiently achieving results we must ensure that recovery practices compliment the hard work. Under-recovery is the short cut to lower intensity; lower intensity leads to poor results or none at all.


The most efficient way to cause neural adaptations is PRACTICE. This implies working skills, timing and movement patterns. Fine motor control, motor patterning, etc is best learnt at lower intensity (removing the pressure of either being out of breath or using heavy loads). Due to the nature of practice we can engage in much more volume than in training. “Elite” athletes have the base to practice for 4+ hours a day without incurring overuse injuries or neural fatigue. Also understand that what might be “practice” for an elite athlete would be considered “training” for us mere mortals.


Practice is where we gain efficiency in movements. For CrossFit and S&C we improve via constant skill progressions of Olympic lifts and gymnastics movements. Typically these neural improvements lead to a greater expression of organic adaptations made in training. For example, improvements in strength from TRAINING (squats & deadlifts) + improvements in technique from PRACTICE (clean skills & light higher volume practice with your coach) = likely improvement in front squats, deadlifts, max clean weight, and increased efficiency in cleans during conditioning (work capacity across varying domains).


Using a specific sport as an example is much easier to highlight the difference. In a sport, such as football, we seperate training from practice regularly without question. To build the ability to cover the ground the athletes will do plenty of specific training to achieve a higher level of cardiovascular endurance. To improve accuracy (field passing or on-goal), the athletes will practice kicking for hours on end. They review their mechanics and/or technique with their coach and constantly seek improvement via feedback and more technical drills. At times there is a combination of both training and practice (game simulation) but the intensity will be steered towards organic adaptation or neural adaptation.


At GW Performance we structure our programmes and individual sessions to have the right balance of training and practice. We have dedicated time for both every day. Adherence to the program plus seeking out a coach to maximise skill work or help with intensity will put you on the fast track to success.