A hundred years ago, I was a gymnast. I have memories of some pretty intense, several-hourlong sessions involving repetition, after repetition, after repetition. Sometimes it bored me to tears, but I knew in my sport it was necessary and common. One night, after an especially trying practice filled with being lost in twists and over-rotating flips or landing on my ass a million times, I complained to my dad that I was doing things over and over and just not getting any better at them. It was clearly my coach, right? Or my sore knee. Or just a bad day, maybe. But my dad, being the brilliant man that he is, followed up my complaint with the best piece of sports advice I’ve ever received. My dad told me that the old saying is BS. Practice does NOT make perfect. Rather, perfect practice makes perfect.
I’m the first to admit that when things aren’t going the way I’d like, I have moments of laziness. In gymnastics, I’d work on a twist for hours, get frustrated, and end up doing it the same way every single time. I wouldn’t make a conscious effort to change something about what I was doing. My coach gave me cues, my body knew what to do, but my mind wasn’t in the game, and I lacked the commitment needed to make the necessary adjustments. And until I fully committed, my movements and skills presented the same struggles and displayed the same flaws.
After that night, I tried to apply what my dad had told me. I tried to be more coachable by truly digesting the cues and feedback and by making an immediate conscious decision to force my body to do precisely what I wanted. It wouldn’t just happen. And it wouldn’t be easy. And it wouldn’t be comfortable because it was different. And human nature fights change. But truth be told, it worked like a charm.
In CrossFit, the same rule applies. If an athlete continuously practices a wall ball with a low throw and a less-than-full-depth squat, it will never get any better and neither will his or her bum. If a core is not engaged and breathing and tension cues are provided, it’s going to take effort to make that adjustment. But if it’s not put into play, improvements will be lackluster at best. When it comes to CrossFit, safety is a top priority, and as adults, we must take our safety (in part) into our own hands. We need to come to classes prepared to progress and change and adapt. We need to shift movements from bad habits to healthy and functional. And we need to remember that practice does NOT make perfect ... in fact, practicing something wrong can lead to really crappy results.
The pursuit of perfection is a long and endless one, but at least the path guides you in a better direction. A perfect practice session doesn’t necessarily mean everything you did was perfect; it simply means you were conscious of your performance, enough so that you worked toward improvement through change. That’s a perfect practice. So the next time you pick up a barbell or hop onto the rig for some pull-ups, remember that only perfect practice makes perfect.