Practice vs Training: the key to unlimited gains in strength and fitness

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Would you like to know my exact system for ensuring I make consistent and unlimited gains in strength and fitness? It’s pretty simple, but definitely different from the norm. The term “unconventional” strikes a cord when I think about my approach to training programs versus the many others out there. While my methods may be outlandish in today’s age, I base all of my training on timeless principles that have been proven to work again and again.

Here is a video about the difference between practice and training which can be applied to every physical skill.

Practice vs Training by John Sifferman

So, let’s go over the process of transitioning from practice into training.

You must start all new movement training off from the premise of improving technique (form). Focus on maximizing your efficiency, and moving with as little effort as possible. At the same time, you must ensure that you are not moving in a way that causes you pain. A little bit of discomfort is acceptable, but moving into pain is dangerous and not recommended. Once you can maintain very good technique without any significant discomfort (pain), then you can increase your effort in that particular exercise.

This is when you may transition out of practicing a skill, and begin training with the new skill you have acquired. I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised with the training benefits you receive from practicing skill instead of training skill.

Final Words

I have been taught and will continue to teach that strength is a skill before it is an attribute. Sure, we have “tests” that measure one man’s strength to the next. Who can bench press more? Who can squat more? While these tests fulfill their purpose, they fail to quantify whether strength can be applied across a wide range of activities. Strength is a quite broad concept, certainly not limited to how much raw weight one can lift.

If you put two athletes who both have identical strength test results on the field or in the ring (let’s say they both squat and deadlift the same exact amount of weight), how do you determine who is the stronger athlete? I say the simple answer is performance. We can break down traits of movement quality and determine who moves with more efficiency and is effective in their movement, but this is hard to quantify and subjective in nature.

In every activity in real life, strength is just a part of a larger whole – the entire person, the entire athlete. The more we can do to take a global perspective on practice and training, the better we will function in daily life and physical activity.

Your Question of the Day: What skills have you been training lately, and do you think it would help to take a step back and start practicing?

To your health and success,

4 Responses

  1. John- nice article. The difference between training and practice is often missed. Endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, for example) need to produce high power for long times. Studies have measured increased performance in athletes that go beyond what can be explained by changes in physiological variables like VO2max. What’s that mean? Their power went up a little from training, but their performance went up even more, often much more. Why? Because they got better at their sport- more efficient, better able to use their power and strength towards achieving their sport.

    I’m inclined to believe that when you focus on good form, you are also focusing on developing good muscle patterns (using groups of muscles). That means, aside from performance, you are protecting yourself from injury. In some cases, bad muscle patterns grossly impair performance, e.g., squatting with hamstrings rather than glutes.

    Great article! I’m looking forward to exploring more of your site.


  2. You’re absolutely right, Ed. Getting better at any activity is seldom the result of attribute improvements (ie strength increases) alone. This is something that so many strength and conditioning coaches miss. You can’t solely focus on strength and endurance and expect guaranteed improved performance. It just doesn’t work like that. Many athletes develop in spite of their training, not because of it.

    There is a vast array of factors involved in improved performance and they ultimately lead to moving more efficiently and translating that new efficiency into effective performance. Thus, becoming efficiently effective in your given activity.

    You bring up an interesting point regarding using ‘good form’ and it’s protective nature against injury.

    By definition, form is just an expression of one’s movement. One person’s form is completely different from another person’s. It’s impossible to mimic form exactly – we can only create our own expression of any movement = our form. So, the question must be asked, is there such a thing as good or bad form?

    Every movement we make should be made with the intention to fortify our health and protect our body from injury. So, if we participate in an activity that requires repeated efforts, then we MUST compensate for those movements to counter-act the over-specialized conditioning they create. Endurance sports are an excellent example of this.

    Being adept at lifting extremely heavy weights is great, but it will affect the integrity of your joints and it will always lead to injury if not compensated for.

    Being adept at dancing, which sometimes requires extreme flexibility is great, but it will also lead to injury if not properly compensated for.

    Being adept at cycling long distances is great, but will lead to overuse injury if not compensated for.

    Every activity has movements that are emphasized and create very specific conditioning in the body. Sometimes, getting too conditioned for one activity will result in injury, which is why we must pay attention to the movements we do the most (even if it’s just sitting down), and setup a specific plan to decompress our joints, release chains of tension, and strengthen opposing movement patterns, among other things. Is it any wonder that baseball pitchers are notorious for shoulder injuries?

    When we get really deep into this discussion, the importance of performance improvement versus training career longevity come into competition. For some people, better performance is more important than health and longevity, or vice versa.

    I say that you get the best of both worlds if you put your health first, and prioritize longevity in your training program with every single repetition.

    To your health and success,

    John Sifferman

  3. Hi John, interesting ideas you are talking about here. My preferred type of training is bodybuilding. In your opinion/knowledge, what are the best compensation techniques for that?

    • Hi Alex,

      Sorry I missed this comment. I recommend you look into Bikram yoga for compensating for your sport.

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