Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What Kind of Practice Makes Perfect?

The Hammer is a complex skill that requires a great quantity and variety of practice.

Here is an article that appeared recently in TIME Magazine. I don't usually expect to find anything of training value there, but happened to run across this. The web address is posted at the end of the article. While this refers to golf and tennis as examples; my experiences agree that it would apply to throwing as well.Personally I don't think it is a good idea to just throw full throws in practice day after day. As mentioned, I think your brain/nervous system becomes stale and performance tends to deteriorate. Interspersing full throws with technique work in the form of drills and partial throws seems to allow the neuromuscular system to stay fresher and allow long term progression. It seems the more complex the movement, the important this is. As usual, I will insert some commentary in blue.
The next time you putt 100 balls at the range, because you know the practice
will improve your short game, know this: it probably won't.

Why? Because it's not just practice that makes perfect. It's practicing
intelligently that improves performance.
If hard work was all it took, it would be easy to improve in a linear fashion. Results would be proportional to effort. However; any experienced athlete knows it is much more complex than that. Smart work is more productive than mindless hard work.
Such are the conclusions of a study published this week in the journal Nature
Neuroscience by a group of neuroscientists at the University of Southern
California and the University of California, Los Angeles. The authors compared
the performance of people who tried to hone a skill through "constant practice"
— that is, the rote repetition of a task, like taking 100 serves across the net
— and those who underwent "variable practice," in which you work on a mix of
skills during a training session. An example of variable practice: taking a
serve, followed by a backhand, then mixing in a drop shot and forehand.

In the study, participants were asked to mimic a 60-degree forearm movement that
was represented as a wavy line on a computer screen. They moved their forearms
while holding a lever, and their results were superimposed onto the target line
after each movement. The more the movement mimicked the target, the better the
performance. Those who repeated the movement 120 times (constant practice)
performed just as well during the practice session as those who did the
60-degree movement 60 times, and a 30-degree, 45-degree, and 75-degree movement
20 times each, in a jumbled order (variable practice).

Of course, you can knock the cover off the ball in practice. But it's the game
that counts. About 24 hours after the volunteers finished their practice
sessions, the authors tested their performance again. This time, they found that
those in the variable-practice group performed better on the 60-degree movement
than those who trained with rote repetition. The suggestion is that during the
key postpractice period when the brain processes and retains the lessons it has
just learned — known by neuroscientists as the consolidation phase — mixing
tasks pays off.
I have never played tennis. Where we come from it is considered a rich persons' game. But I have had similar experiences in throwing and lifting. I have found that variety leads to longer periods of progession and better technical skills.

Why? Psychologists have long known that variable practice of motor skills leads
to better retention. The current study, however, offers a neurological
explanation for this phenomenon. Immediately after the practice sessions, some
study participants (from both the variable- and constant-practice groups)
received transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a procedure that temporarily
interferes with brain activity through the application of electric coils on the
primary motor cortex, the area of the brain associated with simple motor
learning. "We kind of messed with the brain after practice," says Shailesh
Kantak, a former Ph.D. student in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical
Therapy at USC and the lead author of the study. Another group received TMS on
the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with higher-level
cognitive functions like problem-solving and planning.

The variable-practice participants who received TMS to the prefrontal cortex did
not perform as well as those who received TMS to the primary motor cortex, or
the control group. Since interference, and a temporary "slowing down," of the
prefrontal cortex negatively affected performance of the variable-practice
subset, the authors were able to conclude that variable practice engages this
problem-solving and planning area of the brain. The engagement of this more
powerful part of the brain, in turn, explains why variable practice improves
retention levels the next day.
Very interesting. Learning is a physiological process. You can't seperate the physical from the mental and the idea of the stereotypical "dumb jock" is a myth.Similarly, people in the constant-practice group who received TMS to the primary
motor cortex performed worse on the next-day retest than those who received
prefrontal-cortex TMS. This implies that the rote drills engage a lower part of
the brain, and further explains why constant practice is less effective for
next-day retention of motor skills.
And why cramming for finals is not as effective as consistent study.Tedium is bad for the brain. So is high school, for the same reason!!"In constant practice, people just go into auto
mode, and are just like, 'Whatever,'" says Kantak, who is now a postdoctoral
fellow at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "In variable practice, your
brain is more actively engaged and actively processing information, which allows
it to hold information better. Our brain is like a muscle, and when it gets a
good workout, it gets stronger."
Variation in throwing and lifting is also achieved by varying weights.So go ahead, take those 100 serves. But don't forget to work on your drop shots.
Your brain will thank you for it. And your opponent, perhaps, will rue the day
you mixed up your workout.

Some may not agree. There are some who seem to thrive on only full throws and doing only the competitive lifts, but; I think most of us do better with variety.

Read more:http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2004141,00.html
The late George Frenn throwing.

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