Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

A Bridge Between Training and Practice in the Two-Factor Model

by Sean LeDonne | August 11, 2020

out practicing golf

The two-factor model is a useful concept in delineating the two components of athletic performance: training and practice. Training should be the process undertaken to physiologically adapt to improve performance. You can teach a 200-pound person to have the most efficient pass blocking technique possible, but if he doesn't eat and train in a manner designed to get his bodyweight up and make large strength gains, then he will have no chance to compete in the NFL.

Likewise, practice should be the honing of the precision and accuracy of the skills necessary for competition. A receiver that runs a 4.1-second 40-yard dash but has hands of marble and is incapable of catching even the most well-thrown ball is of little use to an offense. Recently there has been a tendency to co-mingle the two, an attempt to have the training resemble the competitive activity as much as possible – to “load” the practice. The two-factor model is the antidote to this line of thinking. If the two modules are properly differentiated, the activities most beneficial to improving both skill and strength can be properly applied, and this gives the athlete a better chance of improving each. 

As helpful as these broad classifications are, a case can be made that there is a carryover effect when training movements directly enable increased skill capacity. The minute adjustments cued from coach to lifter during training exercises force the athlete to be in more conscious control of his body, and new neural pathways are created when this happens. This results in the athlete having an improved kinesthetic sense, which puts him in a better position to succeed on the field. Put another way, the process of improving strength can also enable the improvement of skill. 

Let me give you a golf-centric example. Since approximately the late 90s, my golf coach has been trying to get me to use the external rotators of my left hip to rotate my pelvis counterclockwise sooner and faster in my downswing. Clearly, to my brain, this motion is not instinctive – the neural pathway did not exist, and he didn't know how to cue it. This was highly frustrating to me, my coach, and the geriatrics on the range who were introduced to a whole new lexicon of profanity two generations their junior. But a breakthrough occurred two weeks ago when yet another expensive coach I pay to yell at me shouted “Knees out!” to correct some knee cave white squatting. My motor neurons, in fear of more reprisal, were being asked to control muscles in a very precise fashion, while simultaneously producing force against a load and not falling down. 

Days later, when my golf coach was trying to yet again encourage me to externally rotate my left hip, the light bulb flickered. I realized he was asking for the same movement as my SSC (Emily Socolinsky). Forcing your knees to stay out white squatting requires external rotation. I had already established a signaling mechanism to speak with these muscles, I just needed to apply that cue from under the bar to the movement pattern I was practicing, and this odd foray into clarity immediately resulted in much better strikes. The new motor pathway I had acquired in training a more general movement (the squat) was immediately applicable to my skill practice of the golf swing. In this case, training turned on the light in practice. 

Neither coach realized what had happened until I told them, and I didn't either until after it happened. It was my neuromuscular system that made the jump, and I was just along for the ride. Training and practice work together, in more ways than are immediately obvious. 

I can't have been the only one to benefit from this training/practice crossover. Translating and applying what one has learned from one practical application to another is usually reserved for far more intelligent and successful persons than I, at least according to my mother. But occasionally when you do so, you’re bridging the gap between training and practice and getting more bang for your buck in the process.

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