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Practice makes perfect

March 16, 2010

I’m reading Superfreakonomics at the moment; it’s the follow-up to the bestselling Freakonomics. It’s a popular forray through the world of slightly odd-ball economic research, posing deliberately quirky questions as its chapter titles (take, ‘Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?’ for example).

Sifting through other people’s research, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have sparked a frenzy of popular behavioural economics titles (following the same MO of using other people’s research, although no one quite plumbs the depths of other people’s ideas like Malcolm Gladwell). Consequently, one piece of research that they mention in passing rather than summarising more in-depth is the work of K. Anders Erricsson. (It turns out that Gladwell got there first with his book Outliers.)

The interesting quote, which relates to running, is below:

And yes, just as your grandmother always told you, practice does make perfect. But not just willy-nilly practice. Mastery arrives through what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.” This entails more than simply playing a C-minor scale a hundred times or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

Source: Superfreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner, Allen Lane, 2009

The lesson to take from this is that running for the sake of running won’t result in improvement (in reality, it will bring gains up to a certain level, but will then plateau). So, when looking at your training schedule, it’s important to include a mixture of runs in order to create a rounded improvement.

Just to give you some warning, I might do some more research on this, and then roundly do exactly what I’ve criticised Malcolm Gladwell for…

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