Learning & Practicing New Movements

Written By: Coach Liam M
Positions are the first priority as it is the foundation for everything that follows. It is the most basic element of any movement. For example, starting positions and receiving positions can alone dictate the success of a lift. Additionally, positions are the boundaries and checkpoints of a movement. You cannot perform a correct movement from or to an incorrect position, because it would then be by definition a different movement.
This means that when learning and training a movement, don’t be in a rush. Take your time to establish your starting and ending positions. Hold those positions to establish awareness and positional strength/stability. This small investment will pay huge dividends. It will give you a chance to make adjustments and to familiarise yourself with what a correct position feels like, and that will, in turn, provide you with the ability to eventually recognise and correct improper positions.
Movement is the next piece of our puzzle. Movement is the process in which we travel from one key position to another. When learning and practising new or existing movements it is important to perform them relatively slowly when possible. Just as holding a position allows you to understand it, moving slowly will enable you to ‘feel’ what is happening throughout your body. This is hard to comprehend when moving at full speed with light loads such as an empty bar or PVC pipe. For example, no matter how badly you snatch a PVC pipe it will never pull you out of balance.
This is partly why our teaching progressions use so many abbreviated movements along the way to create the complete exercise. As these drills allow for focused, controlled learning of a specific portion of a movement at relatively low speeds in most cases. While not all motions or segments of a movement can be performed slowly you can build the base with slowed motions.
Speed can and should only be added when we have correct positions and movements. Speed can often mask technical mistakes of incorrect positions and movements right up until the load is too heavy or the muscles are to fatigue to get away with them. Now certain movements must ultimately be performed at high speeds such as the Olympic lifts, explosive gymnastics and even some skill-based movements (double unders). However, maximal speed is pointless if the movement being performed quickly is incorrect. Nobody cares how fast your missed attempt was. This also doesn’t mean you should only ever move slowly but it does mean that continual refinement through reduced speed lifts, segments or drills are needed to improve your faster movements. This can be done by performing these slower movements as part of your warm-up until you’ve reached proficiency in that lift.
Finally, we have a load. Adding weight to any movement is always the last step. Loading develops strength, and strength is very position- and motion-specific. Strengthening poor position and movement is the best way to make real progress as difficult as possible. As in the case of fixing a faulty movement pattern which you can demonstrate strength through, not only do you have to relearn and ingrain new positions and movements, you have to overcome competing with the faulty ones that have been cemented in. Then even if you can perform the new motion well without much loading, as weight increases, you’re going to revert to the poor patterns because they’re what your strength can support. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to keep your chest up in a heavy deadlift if your body can’t physically keep it up.
So be smart about your loading. Often people are so terrified of not putting more weight on the bar, that they refuse to reduce weights when needed to move correctly. This just reinforces the problem and takes them even farther away from success. This is no different to continuing to walk down the wrong path for miles because you’re scared of losing progress, while that ‘progress’ isn’t even toward your goal and you’re going to have to turn around eventually. The sooner you do and get back onto the right path, the sooner you’re going to reach your goal.
The Bottom Line
Keep the process simple. Build a solid foundation before you start overwhelming yourself with details. Don’t be afraid of taking a step backwards when you need to as this may enable you to take two steps forward and will save you time and effort in the long run.