In October 2022, I couldn’t jump rope for more than 5 seconds without tripping over the rope. For me, jumping rope was more of an exercise in building my frustration tolerance than a physical exercise.
It wasn’t just that I couldn’t sustain the jumping; I also added an extra bounce for every pass of the rope.
One of the skills of CrossFit is the “double under,” also known as “doubles” or “dubs.” In dubs, the rope passes under the feet twice before the feet land back on the ground.
I didn’t even have singles.
When I lamented about my remedial jump rope ability, my coach reassured me:
You’ll get it. The more you practice, the better you’re gonna get.
To which I replied:
That’s such a myth.
Signs of Progress
Shortly after that conversation, I turned a corner in my jump rope. I was finally able to sustain my “double” bounces and even get some singles.
In the past week my progress accelerated: I was able to string together 40 or 50 real singles — no baby bounce in between. I did this multiple times. I’ve even done one run of 80.
It’s undeniable progress.
It’s Not All About Practice
It would seem that the joke is on me: maybe practice does lead to progress?
Not so fast.
Almost immediately after my jump rope benchmark in October I got a toe infection. For five months, I was not able to jump rope at all.
Yet when started jumping rope again in early March, I saw progress almost immediately.
You can’t attribute the progress to practice alone.
Practice is the Pre-requisite
Practice matters, of course.
But practice is the pre-requisite. It’s the ticket to ride, not the ride itself.
On it’s own, practice isn’t enough. Too much of it might even be detrimental, reinforcing bad habits instead of changing neural pathways.
If you want to make some actual progress, your practice needs parameters.
Here are the top 3 factors that will help you make your practice lead to progress:
3 Crucial Parameters of Practice
Because alliteration helps aid cognitive recall, I’ve defined these parameters with F-words.
You practice baseball on a baseball field. You practice swimming in a pool.
Or, as I often say to my clients: there’s a reason you cook in your kitchen and pee in your bathroom.
It may be crude, but it gets the point across.
The right space is fundamental to making progress.
To make your practice fruitful, you need to put yourself on the right field of play: a dedicated place or space that is conducive to the activity you’re practicing.
Imagine you’re trying to learn how to play piano.
You practice your scales daily, with diligence and devotion, but you get some of the notes wrong.
Your practice without feedback won’t make you a better pianist. It will just help you play the wrong notes with greater fluency.
For practice to matter and lead to progress, we must receive feedback on our technique and form. Repeating the same thing without feedback will not lead to improvement; it will only reinforce and entrench existing patterns and neural pathways.
For the five months that I was not able to jump rope at all, I worked with my coach/physical therapist on squats, deadlifts, lunges with my heels raised, and other drills to strengthen my feet and legs.
We also strengthened my shoulder stability.
In short, we worked on strengthening my foundation — the muscles and joints I would need to rely on to improve in my jump rope skill.
Once I was able to pick up the jump rope again, progress came faster because I had strengthened my foundation.
Every skill is built on underlying foundational skills, or “muscles” that must be in good shape to build the skill.
Without a strong base in the foundational skills, we won’t have the strength to sustain improvements we make.
Effective practice includes strengthening the underlying muscles or skills of the skill you want to improve.
Practice alone will not lead to progress. If you want your practice to pay off in progress, you must incorporate 3 factors:
- the right field, or space
- effective feedback
- strengthening the foundation — the muscles that support the skill