Incorporate Deliberate Practice Into Your Fitness Training Program

“Most insidiously, in our own lives, we will try something new and, finding that it isn’t easy for us, conclude that we have no talent for it, and so we never pursue it.” –Geoff Colvin

There is no such thing as being gifted.

There, I said it.  I know this may sound controversial, but more and more research supports this claim.  The other day, my mom showed me a book she is currently reading called Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.  The premise of this book is that the characteristic that separates good performers from exceptional performers isn’t necessarily talent, genius, or hard work.  It is a concept called deliberate practice. The neat thing is that you can apply deliberate practice to virtually anything, including your fitness training program.  I’m no motivational speaker, but this subject is very important, so bear with me if this post sounds a little Tony Robbins.

Jerry Rice achieved greatness through deliberate practice.

What is deliberate practice?

According to Colvin: “Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining.  It is actively designed to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavy physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.”  To me, the element that stood out is that it’s highly demanding mentally.  This means that the barrier that separates the good from the great is often a mental one, even when it comes to physical activities such as weightlifting.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense.  Take two dudes working out in a gym, for example.  One jumps on the bench press, pumps out his normal three sets of ten reps, and moves on to a new random exercise while checking himself out in the mirror in between sets.  The other has a focused goal in mind about what he wants to get out of his workout.  Perhaps he is trying to build more density in his upper chest, so he sets the bench at an incline, performs a lower number of reps with heavier than normal weight while paying close attention to form, and then moves onto his next predetermined exercise.

This is a good read.

Over time, the little intricacies will add up to greatness.

The difference is the mental aspect. Both dudes may appear the same to the casual observer, but I guarantee the second dude is getting a much more effective workout.  And I’m not just talking about lifting.  If you compare a guy who is ripped to a guy with an average build, the ripped guy is most likely no more physically gifted than the average guy.  But he has probably made it a point to habitually tailor his lifestyle (diet, workouts, daily routine) to achieving an exceptional physique (or achieving another goal that is inherently accompanied by an exceptional physique, such as excelling at a sport).

Two athletes that Colvin references in his book are Jerry Rice and Tiger Woods.

One interesting point Colvin makes about Jerry Rice is that he was nothing spectacular in high school.  He wasn’t recruited by a big name college.  He wasn’t even a top ten NFL draft pick.  Despite all this, he was arguably the greatest football player of all time.  Amazingly, he spent less than 1% of the work he put in actually playing in games.  What he did spend his time on were grueling off-season workouts that his trainer wouldn’t even disclose to other players who inquired for fear that they would injure themselves even trying to replicate them.  Pretty much everyone around Rice attributed his success to the fact that he trained harder on his own than any other player.  In other words, the effects of his deliberate practice compounded over time.

As for Tiger Woods, the guy was swinging a golf club before he could walk… or talk.  His father was instrumental in making him a great player, enforcing deliberate practice habits into Tiger at a very young age.  Colvin writes, “neither Tiger nor his father suggested that Tiger came into this world with a gift for golf… Asked to explain Tiger’s phenomenal success, father and son always gave the same reason: hard work.”  Tiger’s success story is simple.  When you take a guy who’s put in more deliberate practice before he even begins his career than many other pros will put in during their lifetime, he will probably become the world’s greatest.

Who wouldn’t want to take this exit?

What can we take away from a health and fitness standpoint?

Health and fitness are no different from anything else.  The more deliberate practice you put in, the better off you will be.  What I have found throughout my fitness journey is that the more mentally engaged you are in achieving your desired level of fitness, the faster you will get there.  I must admit, I have been working out for about eight years now, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I became borderline obsessed with looking lean and toned.  In that time, I have made more progress than I had in the seven years before that.  Like Colvin mentions, the work isn’t always enjoyable.  I don’t always like eating healthy, fasting, or doing high intensity interval training, but if it were easy, then everyone would have a six pack.  If you really want to see results, incorporate the elements of deliberate practice into your fitness training program and prepare for greatness.

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About Alykhan Gulamali

I'm an introvert, number nerd, food junkie, personal finance enthusiast, and fitness blogger. I specialize in fat loss and stress-free fitness for busy people.

Comments

  1. Sorry to say it cause I’m biased but sounds Zen to me! Being aware and not just going thru the motions!
    Lifting weights with thoughtfulness and linking your mind to the act and to the muscle?
    Yeah talent only goes so far… I found in the younger playing ages as you get older the talent wears thin and mindful practice with specific goals allow you to achieve more.
    Maybe a little desperation helps. A hungry lion is more dangerous than a well feed one!
    Nice post
    Raymond
    Raymond-ZenMyFitness´s last blog post ..Cabbage Soup Diet- Crazy Celebrity Diet I Had To Try

  2. I absolutely agree with you. I am always telling people, do not work out, train!
    Josh- Home Made Fitness´s last blog post ..UFC 119 Predictions- Preview- and Odds

  3. @ Raymond,

    The mindset is very similar to Zen. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tiger Woods has been referred to as “Zen like” or a “Zen master of golf.”

    @ Josh,

    I prefer to call it “training” rather than “working out” as well because what you are really doing is training your muscles to perform.

  4. I fully agree, I was very skinny and wasn’t gifted when I started “training” ;) I just trained everything, I had no real clue what I was doing. But I got more and more focused on what I needed to do in order to get the result I wanted and, like you, I made huge progress in a short amount of time once I had set a goal in mind to aim for. Practice makes perfect…or “talented”. Great post!
    David Gowing – Advanced Health & Fitness´s last blog post ..Are You Active Enough

  5. @ David,

    When I first started training, I also had no idea what I was doing. Now that I have read quite a bit of material on health and fitness and applied this knowledge to my routine, results have followed. Setting a goal is the first step. After that comes deliberate practice.

  6. Speaking of practice, Alykhan, have you read/listened to the book Outliers? getting good by practicing (10k hours to be exact) is the central subject of the book. A enjoyable read…

    Cheers man,
    Yavor
    Yavor´s last blog post ..Muscle-up Training Tutorial- The Missing Workout Manual for Your First Muscle-up

  7. @ Yavor,

    I haven’t read Outliers, but I am familiar with Gladwell’s 10,000 hours principle. I’m not sure how long it will take me to hit 10,000 hours of fitness blogging, but I’m hoping if I do make it that far, it will pay off big time!

  8. Alykhan:

    This reminds me of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow,” which is often known as “the zone” in physical activities. Having a natural skill is one thing, but it only becomes successful in the long-term if you are constantly challenging yourself to get better. Forget about what other people are doing and just work on getting better every day. That’s the key!
    Darrin – Lean, Mean, Virile Machine´s last blog post ..The Low-Down on the New Army PT Test

  9. @ Darrin,

    I agree. If you do what most other people do, you will achieve the results of an average person. The people who achieve exceptional results do so because they develop the correct mindset and constantly strive to improve.

  10. Excellent points…you can’t say enough about hard work. The problem is that most people don’t have that drive to succeed. Work hard enough and long enough and you will see results.

  11. @ Dave,

    Having the drive is definitely the first step. Without that, there won’t be enough motivation to put in the hard work required to see results.

  12. You’re absolutely right about this, in fact when I first joined a gym I spent 9 months doing random exercises and finally got a trainer to set a routine and in those 2 months following that routine I gained as much as I did the 9 previous. following guidelines is more important then just exercising. This is where yoga has helped me a lot as it helps me with focus and objectively following form before reps.

    Great post!
    Alejandro “The Fittest Vegan”´s last blog post ..The Best Vegan Supplements!

  13. So true, man. I have found that putting in just 1-2 soccer-specific workouts every week helped prepare me better for matches than simply going to the gym and getting in better shape. Once I combined the two, the results were outstanding.

    -Drew
    FitXcel´s last blog post ..Are You Eating Healthy- But Not Losing Weight

  14. @ Alejandro,

    I think when a person starts working out for the first time, it can be beneficial to have a trainer (or just someone who knows what they are doing) to help guide you. After a while, you may not need this because you will have the knowledge to put together your own routine. But it does help provide some initial direction and save you from working out aimlessly. I also think it’s interesting that even the best golfers and tennis players in the world have individual coaches working with them regularly.

    @ Drew,

    I’ve played soccer most of my life, so I know how important soccer-specific workouts can be in preparation for matches. Even at the top clubs in Europe, they still spend a significant amount of time during training practicing basic technical skills so that in the game, everything comes naturally.

  15. When I first started going to gym I was lucky because my big brother, who was going to the gym for 13 months already, came with me and we worked out together… You don’t necessarily need a trainer, you just need someone who is willing to invest time in your training… and who knows what they are doing, of course.
    JohnBrady´s last blog post ..kelly carlson

  16. @ John,

    Thanks for stopping by! I was in a similar situation when I first started working out in college. I had a group of friends who got me into going to the gym. They weren’t personal trainers or anything, but they did have some experience and it helped get me started.

  17. Interesting article you’ve got here… luckily I stumbled across this while looking for something else. Will be adding this site to the list of regulars

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