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Push it to the limit

Dmitry Klokov doing a 250kg front squat.

I started practicing Olympic lifts recently. They are very complex movements requiring power, perfect timing, and motor skills. I usually start with a short warm-up, then move to the exercise itself. I try to outdo my previous attempts, either by increasing weight or improving technique. If I’m working on the latter, I get tired over time and have to decrease the weight to maintain a proper form.

My brain gets overwhelmed with new information at some point, so it starts firing at random. I try one movement, the body does something else; we’re totally out of sync. The moment I feel this, I stop and hit the shower. Continuing would be non-productive and even dangerous in this case.

Learning many other things has a similar progression: start easy, increase complexity, push your limit by a tiny bit, rest, and then repeat. It sounds easy, but actually, it’s not easy at all. Two major mistakes happen most of the time:

  1. Not reaching the limit at all. It’s very easy to do that and I think most people fit the description. Keeping the task comfortable for a whole time might be productive and has it’s uses, but it’s not a way to get better.

  2. Pushing it for too long. When you get to the limit, you should be tired (if not, you’re not there yet). There isn’t too much you can do in this state except try to focus and push the limit for just a tiny bit further. Trying to sustain that for a very long time usually results in a significant drop in performance, making bad decisions or even causing damage.

Finding that delicate balance is very hard, but not impossible. The best way to achieve it is through deliberate practice. Set a dedicated time to go through the whole learning loop. Try to be conscious of your actions, feelings, and progress, but not in a way that interrupts the flow; just be alert enough to notice when you reach the red zone. Then it’s a perfect time to stop, rest and reflect.

The secret is in doing it again tomorrow.

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