I read an article not too long ago in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Not at Home on the Range: Why Much of the Work Golfers Do to Improve Their Games Isn’t Helping Them Get Better.

Essentially, the article’s author makes the case that spending hours on the (golf) driving range does next to nothing to improve a golfer’s game.

After most sessions on the range or even lessons, golfers haven’t really learned anything, if by learning you mean making a skill usable, durable and automatic in other contexts . . . Massing (performing a given task over and over in a single session) can be useful for introducing new skills because you have to create a basis. But fairly quickly, if you want to progress and retain what you’ve learned, you need more advanced techniques-Fran Pirozzolo

During grad school Motor Learning course, we learned the same thing.  So what does that mean for us non-golfers?  Does it mean anything?  A few things come to mind.

racing

So many of my friends and patients have signed up for the upcoming Lincoln Half Marathon.  To prepare for it, most of us “just run.”  No changes of pace.  No hills (OK, Lincoln doesn’t have many hills).  Just a gradual increase of distance.  That might be sufficient the early years of a runner’s career, but not once said runner graduates from novice to experienced.

I have a friend, an excellent runner (sub-1:30 half marathon), who runs essentially the same course everyday without variation in speed or effort.  Using a broad interpretation of Dr. Piriozzolo’s massing definition, my friend is “stuck” in that pattern.

What, then, is the alternative?  To become a good runner, a runner that enjoys running more, research is pretty clear:

  • Having a different focus for each run is essential.
  • Integrating alternate exercise modes (e.g., weight training, plyometrics) is essential.
Why?  There are times during a race that requires us to speed up, go up (or down) a hill.  If we ignore these race-day requirements during training, our race results will ultimately be less than we like.

rehab

When hurt participating in a sport, injured athletes must go through a number of phases before returning to competition.  During this rehab process, if we just strengthen the weak muscle or just stretch the tight muscle, we’ll never reach our goals.  Massing a new skill to develop “a basis” is certainly important early on.  But at some point, this new skill MUST be integrated into real world applications.

Consider a soccer player following ACL reconstruction.

  • Early on, strengthening hamstrings and quads is important.
    • But forever doing so in the isolated fashion required during initial stages reaches a point of diminishing returns.
  • So, we need to begin so-called closed chain exercises.
    • But forever doing so in this fashion reaches a point of diminishing returns.
  • We then need to introduce plyometric (and plyometric-like) exercises
    • But forever doing so in this fashion reaches a point of diminishing returns.
  • Introducing sport-specific movements like kicking a ball, like crossing a ball, like juggling, etc. becomes an essential tool.
    • But forever doing so in this fashion reaches a point of diminishing returns.
  • Eventually, returning to the chaotic environment the field includes is necessary.

what else?

So massing, while important early on, cannot be considered the end goal of either the racing or rehab processes.  What other applications can you think of?  How else can we/do we/should we mass early practices before advancing to more comprehensive strategies?

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