Mastery and Practice

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, believes that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve Mastery in any field.

That's about 4 hours every single day for almost 7 years.


For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about what it means to master certain skills. I'm a pretty goal oriented person; I like setting tough, but achievable objectives and building a plan to get there. This has helped me immensely in my personal and professional life.

Many of you know my story....pack a day smoker for over 25 years, then I decided to quit and take up running. I went from couch potato, huffing and puffing my way around a high school track to first time marathoner in about 9 months. I ran 5 more marathons in a 3 year period, then suffered an injury and took up cycling and weight lifting. I stopped riding when we moved to Virginia last year when I gave my bike to our older son in North Carolina.

I did however stick with the weight lifting and set a goal to lift a combined 1000 lbs between squats, bench press, and deadlifts sometime this year. I finally achieved that at the end of June.

So now I don't have any big goals and I feel a little adrift. I got into Kettlebells back in February and they are pretty freaking awesome. There's no real gold standard to shoot for with Kettlebells. There's an outfit called Strongfirst ( ), that has a pretty tough certification involving timed Double Kettlebell Swings, Double Cleans, Double Presses, Double Front Squats, Snatches, and Turkish Get-ups. It's an instructor certification, which I really don't need (I'm pretty much a hardass when it comes to instructing....I make Stasi Guy look like the Sugar Plum Fairy. This has helped me immensely in my professional life, but only gets me in trouble at home when I try to pull that sh!t on SWMBO!)

These last few weeks, my focus has been on mastering the skill of lifting heavy things and putting them back down. The amount of weight is kind of important, but I'm most really interested in HOW I'm doing the lifts or swinging that kettlebell. I try to make sure that my form is really perfect, that I get down low in the squats, that I pause for a moment with the bar on my chest for the bench press, that I'm really conscious of using all the right muscles when pulling up a deadlift.

Same with the kettlebell. I'm way more interested in making sure that every swing is perfect, strong, & powerful, stopping only when my form goes to hell. Sometimes that's only 5-6 swings, sometimes 20 or more.

Now I will say that today, for the first time, I finally did a Turkish Get-up with a 72 lb Kettlebell! I've been struggling with this bad boy for almost a month. At first, all I could do was hold that beast over my head, my shoulders and arms shaking as I tried to keep it stable. But today, everything felt just right and I decided to go for the full monty. I warmed up with a 53 lber, then heaved that 72 lber in the air.....and up I went.

Forgetting everything I said above about keeping good form, I looked pretty much like a gawky, newborn foal trying to stay stable against this thing called gravity. But I took a quick break then tried it again. If my first attempt was ugly, my second was an abomination!

But it felt great! Afterwards I just laid on the floor gazing up at the gym ceiling, feeling the peace that angels must know when they're allowed to gaze upon the divine countenance of God!

That's when it hit me....I could be happy practicing just like this the rest of my life. I can have goals....or I can just practice.

I'm always focused on having a goal, a number to shoot for, a distance to run, a time to beat, a weight to lift. I go to the gym to workout, to work up a sweat and burn some calories, then come log the minutes onto SP.

What if I were to just....practice....practice lifting heavy things with the best form I can....practice swinging these heavy kettlebells gracefully and with maximum power. What if my goal should be to stay with that 72 lb kettlbell and just practice perfecting my TGU form, going fluidly from position to position.

It's kind of a zen thing....meditation and contemplation with action. The numbers are a good guide, but what's really important is to find that sweet spot where maximum effort is balanced with perfect form and tight mental focus.....Mastery, where movement becomes art.

We'll see. Maybe I just have too many endorphins still coursing through my system....I'll have to come back and read this blog in a few weeks or months to see if it still makes sense to me!

Have a great night Spark friends!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Your goal then would be perfecting your form- a worthy goal I say! The practice of perfecting this goal is a step towards lifting heavier. Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect. Sometimes the practice is as fun or more endorphin-producing than the goal itself.
    2488 days ago
    As a musician I can only confirm the importance and the great pleasure one gets out of simply practicing mindfully and regularly and get better at something. It makes up for more than 50% of my "work." I found for myself though, that practicing mindfully alone is not enough to make me (and most of my students) happy in the long run. In addition, I mostly need places or moments to share what I learned with other people - for me this would be giving concerts. I could imagine, that you would need to share your practicing "achievements" with other people too. This is not exactly like a goal but it is something you practice towards.
    Enjoy getting better!
    2516 days ago
  • JUNEAU2010
    I love KBs! The only thing "exercise" that I do like. TGU may be impossible, but I can do a lot of the rest of it!
    2518 days ago
    Wow. Just wow. I think you've experienced a great insight! Goals have a really big downside - you reach them. Then you have to make new ones or you start to drift. But having an ongoing love for improvement is a never-ending goal, and is it's own reward. Keep following that passion. And please, keep blogging about it! I may never "lift heavy" (or then again, I might, someday), but you inspire me to keep working on my own "improvements"! Thanks for the great blog!
    2519 days ago
    I can definitely see in the fitness world where people put their achievements of goals above them and what they feel. Goals are important, but I think you've made a great point about just doing it to do it the best you can. Not necessarily for a certain #/goal/whatever. Great blog.
    2519 days ago
    I agree with GreginProgress - Great Blog. I also have goals that help keep me focused. Being a woman, I have to really keep lifting and building upon the goal or I'll lose those strength gains. But sometimes I think I'm losing the battle against time. I wish I had gotten serious about lifting when I was younger. Oh well, I'm much fitter now than two years ago and if I stay as fit as I am now for the rest of my life I'll be thrilled. I like your concept of practicing with perfect form. I'll keep that in mind as I train.
    2519 days ago
    Great blog! I think I'm in a similar boat. My big goal for the year was to do P90X3, P90X2, and P90X back to back and I'm almost finished. Those exercise programs don't make you a master of anything, but they make you better than you were (i.e., not a power lifter but stronger, not a yogi but more flexible, not a gymnast but better balanced, not a track star but better endurance). So it's kind of conducive toward that kind of practicing mentality, and I also recently came to the realization that I enjoy that practicing for what it is, not just for the long term goals it helped me achieve. There are lots of little things I know I can improve on, so whenever I get better at those I still get a pretty good sense of achievement even though it's not a huge goal.
    2520 days ago
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