December 10, 2018
How to Master Any Skill
WRITTEN BY Amanda O'Brien

As a strength and conditioning coach, it is imperative to take more responsibility for increasing the maximum physical potential of our clients as it relates to their specific goals. The journey is not a quick or easy one, no matter how badly the client wants this. Therefore, the sooner we can educate our clients that the continual pursuit of growth takes years of development, the sooner they will learn to appreciate the journey!

Skill development is an empowering way to increase engagement and excitement in the gym but must be translated into an objective measurement to ensure there is improvement from week to week. By using the correct principles, not only will you be able to increase the particular skill at hand, you’ll also be able to move closer to mastery.

A skill is a movement that an individual was once unable to complete and takes prerequisite strength and/or coordination and mobility to successfully accomplish. A few examples include the single leg squat, which requires adequate ankle dorsiflexion and single leg strength, and the strict handstand push-up, which requires adequate overhead mobility and vertical pushing strength.

Doing a movement once or twice does not count as mastering a skill; mastering a skill is the ability to do dozens, if not hundreds, of reps in a fatigued state. This takes years! And the few clients who move more quickly towards mastery typically have years of sports and athletic development under their belts.

Continually improving a skill set can be done at a much faster rate if there is intention behind the training program. Below are the necessary steps required to move towards mastery, and the objective measurements used are increased volume and difficulty as clients move through the continuum.

Step 1: Develop the skill

Let’s take strict handstand push-ups (HSPU), for example. Our avatar is a 34-year-old female who weighs 152 pounds with a strict press of 115 pounds—let’s call her Diane.

Step 2: Build volume in a non-fatigued state

Once Diane developed the skill of completing a strict handstand push-up, the goal was to increase volume each week with minimal to no fatigue. For her, this looked like the following:

Week 1: Strict Handstand Push-Up 1.1 x5 rest as needed

Week 2: Strict Handstand Push-up 1.1 x7 rest as needed

We increased volume in various non-fatigued ways until she was able to perform 30 strict handstand push-ups in one training day. By this point her maximum strict handstand push-ups increased from 1 rep to 8 reps unbroken!

Step 3: Skill with breathing

Next we dropped volume slightly and paired the skill with breathwork while building volume over several weeks.

Week 1: Assault Bike 10:00 complete 3 strict HSPU every 2:00 for 5 sets

Week 2: Row 12:00 complete 3 strict HSPU every 2:00 for 6 sets

Once she developed an adequate amount of volume with breathwork, she was ready to advance!

Step 4: Skill with complimentary movement

Again, as you advance into the next phase of skill acquisition, it is important to drop the volume slightly and slowly build each week.

A complimentary movement is any movement that will not fatigue the muscle groups involved in the specific skill at hand. In the case of the handstand push-ups, I would want to ensure that the movement chosen will not fatigue the arms.

Week 1: sHSPU AMRAP (-2) + 20 Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges; rest 90 seconds x4

Week 2: sHSPU AMRAP (-1) + 20 Jump Lunges; rest 90 seconds x4

Again, the goal is to ensure volume is built from week to week before advancing into the next phase. A rule of thumb is no less than 6-8 weeks in each phase and more often than not, much longer time periods are needed to ensure adequate volume has been developed.

Step 5: Skill with non-complementary movement

This is where it can get dicey if the adequate volume and muscular endurance has not been achieved. Here, we are continuing to build endurance through muscular fatigue by pairing the specific movement with a non-complementary movement.

Week 1: Assault Bike 20:00 every 4:00 complete 5 strict HSPU and 5 strict supinated pull-ups

Week 2: Run 400m -into- 5 strict HSPU and 10 burpees; walk rest 90 seconds x4 sets

Another example is as follows

Week 1:

A1. Strict HSPU x4-6 unbroken reps x4 sets; rest 90 sec

A2. Strict Supinated Pull Up x5 unbroken reps x4 sets; rest 90 sec

Week 2

A1. Strict HSPU x5-7 unbroken reps x4 sets; rest 90 sec

A2. Strict Supinated Pull Ups x5 unbroken reps x4 sets; rest 90 sec

Step 6: Skill in sustainable aerobic piece

Now we get to test the waters around the efficiency of the particular skill by including it in a sustainable aerobic piece. It is crucial to ensure that muscular endurance will not be the limiter during the aerobic piece, so it is important to understand your athlete in order to choose the right movements and dose response within the aerobic piece. The key here is continuous movement through the entire time domain or task at hand.

Week 1:

4 sets - continuous effort @ 80% effort

Assault Bike 10 Cals @ 50 RPM

BJSD 8 reps

Strict HSPU x4 reps

Week 2:

5 sets - continuous effort @ 80%

Row 300m @ 2:15/500m

Strict HSPU x4 reps

GHD Sit-Ups x8 reps

Step 7: Skill in pain

The athlete is now proficient enough to complete the skill in an anaerobic, high-intensity fashion. Here, the dose response is tough and the rest between multiple sets should be much longer than that of an aerobic piece. When the skill is not dosed correctly, or the adequate volume and muscular endurance has not been  built, the ability to tap into the anaerobic system will be impossible.

Week 1:

For Time @ 95% effort

HSPU 5-4-3-2-1

Deadlift 10-8-6-4-2 @185lbs

Week 2:

4 sets for time @ 95%

5 strict HSPU

10 KBS 53lbs

15 Cal Row

Step 8: Work capacity

This is an opportunity for re-testing, which will be done under muscular fatigue. The tester will be varied based upon the individual and the skill at hand. No volume is built in this stage as once the tester is completed, he or she will then move onto the next phase of training.

For Time

50 Strict HSPU for time - first set max unbroken set

Constantly varied training works well for beginners but unfortunately will result in stagnation eventually. If continual progress is a priority, there must be a progressive format utilizing the principles seen above. These principles are used specifically for skill acquisition, but ensuring growth in other areas of fitness such as strength, aerobic capacity and more, must also include progressive intention and a personalized approach in order to ensure years of growth. If you have been consistently training for years, but feel stuck in terms of seeing the results you want, schedule a strategy session with a Central Athlete coach to learn how personalized fitness can help you move towards your highest potential!

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