Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Early Success is a Terrible Teacher

A well-oiled machine, as the saying goes is a good thing.  Over-oiling the machine is not.  From fitness to shooting, there has to be a balance between our practice and our rest.  For most of us, the concept of boredom takes care of any potential issues we would otherwise have by over working something at the mental level and for the physical, we have burnout, which usually occurs during lactic acid production.  When lactic acid is produced, it splits into a lactate ion and a hydrogen ion.  The hydrogen ion is the acid and it gets involved in your muscles by interfering with electrical signals, slowing energy reactions and impairs muscle contractions.  The burn is that hydrogen ion.  Paying attention to the burn is important.  Fight through it and you could cramp or injure yourself.  Despite the body’s attempt to make us stop, quite a few of us are stubborn to the point of pushing things too far and this leads to injuries that could have very easily been prevented by just admitting that there is always another day.  We won’t see gains every time we step in the gym; it’s just not going to happen.  Sure, we could break things down to weight increments in the gram/ounce level or speeds into the hundredths of the second and see some improvement each and every time but I don’t know too many people who do that (or where you can buy some 1 ounce plates.)  No, as much as we hyped ourselves up all week to deadlift another 10 pounds or finally step up to that 45 Lbs kettle bell, today may not be that day and that’s okay.  It needs to be okay because like it or not, our body is telling us something and we should listen.  Next week, next leg day, next WOD, next attempt we have another chance.  We can prepare for that next chance.  Sometimes the preparation is needed; knowing how to prepare is always needed.

“Early success is a terrible teacher. You're essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can't do it. You don't know how.”
― Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Here’s something interesting.  In shooting, it’s really no different.  

Of course I know that lactic acid isn’t as much of (or any) issue, we don’t generally exert ourselves in isolated skills practice to the point of muscle fatigue; but the mental fatigue and strain on our senses is very real and can prevent us from achieving a goal we set for ourselves and this is a good thing.  When I step on the range with an unrealistic expectation and I succeed, I am setting myself up for a future failure.  It may have been nothing but chance that allowed me to perform to a level I may have had no business performing at and that false confidence is more harm than help.  All the fundamentals combined and executed properly should give me the result I want; at least in the static sense.  Shooting a bullseye from a standing and relaxed position under no stress from 10 feet is objectively easier than doing the same from a supine position with a time requirement.  The fundamentals must be obeyed for success, but they have to be adapted as experience is gained.  We are the sum of all our mistakes and those mistakes have to be made in order to be the best prepared.
What’s more, the fatigue we experience from repetition keeps us from making needless mistakes and helps to prevent false confidence in early success.  It takes time and proper practice to build motor skills and make them work in concert with our senses.  In Motor Learning, Dr. Schmidt established that it takes approximately 300-500 repetitions to establish a new motor skill, 3000-5000 to correct a bad motor skill.  Now there are a lot of caveats and conditions that can alter either number because learning does not occur in a vacuum but of the two numbers, which one is preferable?  300-500 is a much shorter distance to travel.  If I fatigue, get sloppy or try to get ahead of myself, I’m likely to slide much further back when I hit a performance wall and need to put in much more time to fix past mistakes.  I can be the fastest and most accurate shooter in the world at 5 feet; that doesn’t mean that performance carries back to 10 feet or 50 feet.  I can have perfect deadlift form pulling 145 lbs, that doesn’t mean I can jump right to 300lbs even if I am physically strong enough to do it.  Everything has to be fine-tuned over time and setbacks are going to occur.  We are going to hit performance walls we don’t think we can get over.  We may have to dwell at a certain skill level for days, weeks or months before our foundation is strong enough to support getting over that wall but once we do, sliding backwards is unlikely.

The foundation of skill is built on proper repetition; shortcuts to genuine skill don’t exist.  True strength, true skill is the ability to perform any required task under any conditions.  We get there one day at a time.

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