If you care about getting better at ANYTHING, this is the order you should focus on.
First–learn how to do the thing! How should it look and feel? What are the things that SHOULDN’T happen? How do you know if you’re doing it right? These are the Mechanics of what you’re trying to learn, and if you mess this step up, you’re just setting yourself up to come back here in a few years, with a lot of bad habits built.
When we’re learning the mechanics of a movement, we care about the three p’s:
- Practice: we have to get reps in! You’ll do some wrong, and some right. The important thing is having a coach, training partner, or video review with yourself to know which reps were good, and which reps weren’t. It’s OK to fail–but it’s not ok to stop getting practice in.
- Progression. When you’re learning a new skill–it’s MUCH harder to learn it all at once. Instead, break it down into small steps. Start at the beginning, work on the very first thing that happens until you get that right. Then, go onto the next step in the progression. Continue until you have mastered the movement!
- Precision. You will not be perfect at first–that’s where practice and progression come in. However, all too often, we see people stop before they REALLY get it right. It takes time, it’s frustrating, but it’s WORTH IT to be precise with your mechanics.
Second, focus on doing it the same way every time. This is where consistency comes in. It’s very common to see drastic improvement after working on a skill, only to not touch it for a week, and then backslide a little bit. Keep working! Consistency is more important than intensity at this stage. When we’re focusing on consistency, remember the acronym FAST. FAST stands for:
- First rep
- At will
In other words, from the very first rep, you should be able to consciously make each rep look the same–even if it’s paired together with something else. This prevents the major pitfalls of skipping the consistency step. Without focusing on making the first rep look great, you often have to do a few reps before the movement settles out. If you add intensity to that, you end up accumulating lots of reps over multiple workouts that don’t have good mechanics–no bueno!
If you can’t do it at will, then when you’re tired, distracted, or suffering, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to summon good mechanics. Our favorite way to describe this is–if we rolled you out of bed and told you to do the movement, you should still look great doing it! (Ignore the creepy part where we woke you up at 2am to shove a pvc pipe in your hands).
If each rep doesn’t look the SAME, then adding intensity is only going to magnify those differences. Think of this as mastery. When you really understand a movement, you move the same way each time. If you don’t, you’re just kind’ve guessing, and anything that is really hard will end up making you move like crap part of the time.
Finally, if you can move from the first rep, at will, and make them all look the same–but adding anything else in conjunction screws the whole process up, then you’re stuck doing single movement workouts for the rest of time–and that’s no fun! You need to be able to go do something else, and then come back and have all the other components still be there.
Third–you do need to add intensity eventually! Yes–it can’t come before mechanics or consistency. No–it’s not worth sacrificing form for, ever. BUT: the biggest mistake we see with conscientious athletes who spend a few years really dialing in everything is: eventually it has to be hard to challenge you.
When you start your fitness journey, just showing up, moving well, and trying to make that happen across a bunch of different movements is enough to make you fitter. Once you’ve got them all down, however, it’s time to crank the dial up.
If you’ve been doing this for a little while, and you move well–the missing ingredient is going towards your threshold. Try weights you’ve never done before. Drop the hammer on a bike and see how you feel when you pick the dumbbell up after. Push your limits–and then figure out where you can improve.
Mechanics. Consistency. Intensity. If you go through your fitness career with that in mind, you’ll get everything you ever wanted.