You need to do more skill work. Yes, you.
It’s okay – we get it. Nobody ever wants to do skill work. If you weightlift, you don’t really want to do muscle snatches and snatch pulls—you just want to snatch. If you mountain bike, you don’t want to work on your cornering in a parking lot—you just want to fly on singletrack and rail berms. If you ski hard, you don’t want to practice pivot slips or edge rolls—you just want to bomb down the mountain.
Skills are boring. Sports are fun! But what we’re all missing in our pursuit of the perfect lift/perfect ride/perfect run is that skills are what pay the bills.
New Tricks for All Dogs
Last week, Melissa participated in a mountain bike skill clinic in Park City, UT, with professional mountain biker Erica Tingey. For two hours, they practiced vision, body position while cornering, pre-loading the fork & shock, and getting over small obstacles. They rode in a parking lot, around cones and water bottles, popping over short curbs and riding through narrow gates before hitting a beginner trail for some practical application.
As a new rider, Melissa is the perfect candidate for skill work. In just two hours, her position, technique, and confidence improved tremendously. (Gotta love that novice effect.) But what about you “veterans” in your sport? Why should you go back and start working on skills, when you’ve been lifting/biking/skiing for years and years?
We’ll give you five good reasons.
1. Skill work builds your confidence.
Skills are designed around the more technical pieces of the sport—often, the things that are the scariest. Taking tight turns might make you jam on the brakes, but if you’ve been practicing your cornering—vision, body position, weight shift—all of a sudden, that corner doesn’t look so intimidating anymore.
2. Skill work keeps you healthy.
Skill work done deliberately and carefully ingrains good form. Practicing the most technical pieces of the sport with good form means that when you’re doing the activity under duress—harder, faster, heavier, or during competition—your body is better prepared to handle the challenge, and you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself pushing for that personal best.
3. Skill work forces you to pay attention to weaknesses.
When you’re snatching, you just snatch. You get the bar up however it goes, and you don’t really pay attention to where your form is breaking down, where your technique needs improvement, or where you may run into trouble at heavier weight. Skill work breaks down the movements bit by bit, showing you exactly where you’re lacking, and forcing you to correct and improve one small piece at a time.
4. Skill work builds “muscle memory.”
Practicing the same skill over and over (with good form, remember) burns the proper neurological pathways into your brain, and your muscles. The actions for that particular skill become almost automatic—and that means that’s one less thing you have to consciously think about when you’re out there in a game, competition, or race.
5. Skill work brings the fun.
After doing all that skill work, you bet your booty you’ll be better at your sport! Attention to skill work means you can snatch more weight, corner faster, and master an even steeper slope on your next run. And being better automatically translates into having more fun.
Skills for the Win
So the next time you’re playing your sport of choice, think about whether you could be having more fun, performing better, and staying healthier by incorporating some skill work into your weekly training. (Lord knows most of us could use a low-intensity recovery day or two in our schedules, right?) If you’re playing your sport without a coach, just Google “skill drills” for your sport of choice, or reach out to your local high school or college team to see what they do during practice. Put your time in, and we guarantee your performance (and fun-factor) will increase exponentially.
Have you been doing more skill work lately, or avoiding it like the plague? (Skill-what?) Post your experience to comments.
Mountain Bike Clinics With Erica Tingey
For you Salt Lake City/Park City readers, Erica Tingey is hosting a co-ed mountain bike clinic, in partnership with Whole9, on Wednesday, August 22 in Park City. Open to all levels, this clinic is two hours of riding (skill work, plus a trail ride if time allows), followed by a Paleo meal catered by Knight’s Kitchen, and a nutrition presentation by Dallas and Melissa of Whole9.
Registration is only $47, and includes a cool swag-bag with lots of samples. To register, visit http://www.ericatingey.com/p/clinics.html, and feel free to post questions here. Space is limited, so register soon!
And to tempt you further, take a peek at the fun from last week’s women-only clinic.
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Huh. I love skill work. I didn’t realize I was in the minority on this one. Today we practiced overhead press and weighted squats. It was great!
I have recently been spending much more time on skill work, or at least, giving full technical attention to all my movements. The intensity of my workouts has dropped a bit, but as I get better at enforcing the higher standards 100% of the time, the intensity is increasing again. Pavel points out that ‘strength is a skill’ so I think as long as you look out for very high movement standards in everything you do, everything becomes skill training, and you only get as strong as you are skilled.
From experience coaching, I also felt that more people would benefit by doing 80% skill work and 20% intense exercise. It seemed that the CNS took more training than the body to perform at a higher level and since most improvements came in technique, it was just burning out the body to focus too much on loading it up. But that’s just a theory.
For my part, training barefoot in moderately dangerous terrain requires that everything I do be executed with a high degree of precision to avoid injury. Skill work is certainly not optional.
Ian Simon says
For anyone interested in reading more about honing skills, I’d strongly recommend Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0099519852/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=the247tri-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0099519852).
I tried to apply his principles to swimming and lifting, and felt I really progressed quickly – always pushing to the edges of my skill level. Mountain biking like this would make a lot of sense – bit far to come from the UK, unfortunately!
Melissa @Whole9 says
The Talent Code has been highly recommended by many people – I may have to pick it up now. Glad our skills perspective is resonating with at least a few of you! Melissa
The reasons you have given for re visiting your skills are so true. We get into bad habits and assume because we’ve been doing something for years that we are doing it right. I’ve gone back over my training and I’ve noticed areas that can be improved, thanks for the shove in the right direction :)
Lauren L. says
This must be a cross-fit thing. I have no idea what skill work means!
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