When Training Hard Backfires

From someone who loves the following quote, this post might seem out of character. 

“The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.” — Anson Dorrance

But as much as I prize hard work, I value smart work even more.

There are times when training to exhaustion is counterproductive. Specifically, when you’re learning a new skill

For example, if you’re re-working your jump shot or adding a new dribble move to your arsenal, fatigue is the enemy for one main reason: it encourages poor technique. When you’re tired, you get sloppy, and that’s how you build bad habits. And bad habits have a nasty tendency to stick around.

Building Neural Connections

Precision is always valuable, but when you’re learning a new skill, it’s especially important because you’re actively building new connections in your brain. And you don’t want to build the wrong connections. 

A helpful way to grasp how our brain forms new connections and neural pathways is to imagine you’re going sledding on fresh powder. Once you lay down the first few runs and carve out a groove, the sled slips easily onto the track. With each additional ride, the groove gets deeper and it becomes easier to follow the same path. 

Similarly, each rep you do when learning a new skill engraves the skill on your brain. So it’s crucial when learning a new skill to always do perfect reps so that you engrave the proper technique. Otherwise you’re creating a path through the snow that’ll lead you right into a tree. 

A few bad reps early on can create a long-lasting bad habit that’s difficult to break. 

Getting Rid of Bad Habits

Changing established habits is difficult, which is why it’s not easy to re-work your jump shot. You’re not just building a new skill from scratch, you’re dealing with competing neural pathways. 

You currently have a deeply-engraved neural pathway that you’ve used thousands of times before. That’s a deep rut for your sled. To change your shot, you have to build another neural pathway that is deep enough to compete with the old one. And that takes a lot of trips down the mountain. 

More specifically, it takes a lot of trips down the mountain in a new groove. Reinforcing that new groove requires precise reps and full concentration to avoid slipping into the old pathway. 

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