TRAINING: Just practice ONE THING

The great Ido Portal, one of the world's leading movement teachers today, recently wrote a short blog about his experience training in China and commented on the incredibly training ethics they possess over there. One thing stood out to me as particularly relevant to runners - sometimes the Chinese athlete would spend eight hours practicing in which up to 2 hours at a time would be spend perfecting a single movement.

This seems almost unthinkably boring to us 'Westerners' with our generally low attention spans and high stimulus requirements (i.e. a lot of us need to see a little red button against a blue backdrop at least every hour - you know what I am talking about it). Now the good and the bad news: the good news is that it doesn't have to be insufferable boring just because the training is hyper-focused. The bad news: Sometimes you have turn off all distractions and focus for an extended period of time on simple, fundamental and yes, BORING, practice.

Runners - masters of repetition?


In a way we runners already love repetition: so many among us like to just go out and 'put one foot in front of the other' with very little variation in training types, distances, intensities or even terrain. Some among us even come to believe that this is the very essence of 'endurance' - 'just keep doing it' (until you can't). And there is some truth in that.

But sometimes, we have issues or we need to look at our own strengths and weaknesses a bit more closely. We may be able to go out for 2 hours but afterwards we hurt or we take forever to recover. This is where it pays to remember some advice from Lee Saxby, the running coach from VivoBarefoot - i.e. "running is a macro-skill made up of micro-skills'. In layman's terms: your running is made up of many smaller movements that you learned as child, many of which were 'modified' (or perverted), later. A simple example: one-legged jumping is related to running but its basically a simpler movement with less components. It is a part of running. If you take jumping apart you could look simply at 'landing'. What's the difference? Well, landing doesn't include the take-off. could you take that apart? Yes you could practice only the landing position - i.e. just hold the position you intend to land in and familiarise yourself with it.


My day to day practice


This approach guides my day to day practice now. In the latter part of 2014 I decided to really go back and do a root-and-branch review of my own fundamental abilities. Think of it like this: you've just built a nice big engine and it seems to be working fine. But you have a hunch: there's something going to blow up? So what do you do? Like the airplane engineer you strip that sucker down to every component - you twist and turn it and check that it is perfect. That's pretty much my training at the moment.

To give you an example. After reading the article by Ido Portal on Chinese training practices, I said to myself 'tonight, I'll spend 60 minutes, no more and no less, practicing only landing and basic take-off'. And that's what I did. I began in front of low step just holding the position i wanted to land in - learning it and checking in the mirror that it looked as I wanted it to. Then I began jumping and landing on two legs from a low step. Then one-legged landings. Then the same thing but this time with an overhead bar. Then the same thing but with a higher step. Then I added in a take-off and did the same routine again. Then I tried to do the take-off and touch the ceiling of my living room. Then I added in landing 'onto an object' and kept going like this until I felt like I had taken the little part of 'my machine' called 'landing' and twisted and turned and polished it from many angles.


Still a Westerner


Had I been Chinese perhaps I would have done just the very one move and repeated it for not 1 hour - but 2 hours. But bear with me - I'm still a Westerner and this level of focus was all my brain could bear. Can you bear more?

The big take-away: training weaknesses can be simple - pick something you think is dodgy (such as landing or balancing) and repeat, repeat and repeat again. Then go back another day and repeat again. We runners know how to do it already - we celebrate endurance. It doesn't matter whether its one of the old 1920ies 'dance-outs', playing piano for hours under the watchful eyes of a stern teacher or running for 48 hours around the same track. It is just a matter of picking something to focus on and doing it over and over again until you're happy it's better. Then you can put the engine back together again and head off for your big drive.

What's your one thing?

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