Many of us are all too familiar with the saying. Learning to tie your shoe, playing high school sports, and even in our careers, we’ve heard it a million times. Practice makes perfect. It’s a cute statement and easy to remember. Something you can throw out there when your friend complains about her inability to hold a new yoga position. Something you tell your children when they complain about their piano lesson. Even something you might tell yourself during a string of snatches at a your CrossFit workout. But does practice really make perfect? I’m here to shatter this foundational idea…it’s bullshit.
As a child, I recall watching gymnastics and diving on television. I was in constant awe of their abilities. The beauty and precision of their movements fascinated and enthralled. Naturally, I aspired to gracefully bound and flip and twist like the gifted athletes competing. With nothing more than a swim suit and a scrap piece of insulation, I began my Olympic conquest. I attempted the basics including the splits, somersaults, and even handstands. As I grew more confident, I challenged myself to back walk-overs and cartwheels. My commitment assured my parents that I was ready for the big leagues, so they signed me up for a gymnastics program at the ripe age of 10. My 4-year-old sister thought I was pretty good, and I’d spent hours practicing, so it came as a shock to me when my technique was ripped to shreds at my first class. Apparently my attempts to replicate my athletic icons had come up short, despite the fact that everything felt so right.
After seeing a few images my folks snapped over the course of my first few months in training, I realized that my form was nothing like the strong and agile gymnasts on television. At my first competition, I watched a flock of girls kick my ass in every event. It was hard to understand, but then my coach told me something brilliant. She told me that for years I’d been practicing skills on my own, without the keen eye of a trained individual. Over and over and over, I’d repeated the movements and they’d become engrained in my muscle memory. I had practiced, but it hadn’t made me perfect. Now it was time to do things right. Her saying was “perfect practice makes perfect”. Over the course of the next few years, I reminded myself of this saying daily. I increased my body awareness, strength, and skill level by focusing on doing each movement the right way, every time. In college, as a diver, I applied the same tactic to training. And now, with CrossFit, I find the same methods are completely necessary to make personal improvements.
Your body will never be magically possessed by perfect form. It is not a drink you can take or an article you can read. You must commit to pairing your mind and your body to generate the results you know are required. Get your chin over the bar every time you pull-up. Touch your chest to the ground every time you push-up. Get below parallel every time you squat. Cutting a movement short not only cheats you of an accurate measurement of your abilities, but also cheats your muscles of proper training and development. You must fully extend your arms at the bottom of a pull-up. It’s harder, but it matters. Ab-mat sit-ups aren’t true ab-mat sit-ups unless they’re a full 90 degree motion beginning with your shoulders on the floor to shoulders past your hip crease. If you practice these movements without holding yourself entirely accountable, you’ll develop a bad habit of constantly doing them wrong. Your progress will be short-lived because your foundation is not fine-tuned. Fixing something that’s broken can often take more time and effort than simply starting from scratch and building it right. Don’t allow sloppy movements to drag you through a workout that hurts in all the wrong places. Instead, put the time in to perfect your body awareness and adhere to the fundamentals strictly. To decrease injury, increase consistency, and maintain an accurate log of physical development, you must practice…perfectly.