What is the biggest challenge in training? Some might argue that it is determining exactly what to spend your time on. It can be very easy to practice mindlessly, but to get the best results for your time you need to know exactly how to stage your training.
When you undertake your training you are trying to reach some sort of goal. Achieving a singular, simple goal can be easy, just practice until you succeed. Balancing your training to reach a complex set of goals on the other hand is where things get difficult. How do you manage these kinds of goals to achieve them all in a finite set of time?
Drive your training with assessments
One method for balancing your training and determining exactly what you will work on is a progress assessment. The concept is simple: measure your progress against your goals, and re-balance your training plan accordingly.
Sometimes dividing all of your time equally among many activities has the downside of diluting your efforts to the point of ineffectiveness. Redirecting your training based on a set of assessments has the benefit of allowing you to determine exactly what needs the most work so you can direct the most effort to that area.
How do you assess?
The biggest hurdle in driving your training with these assessments is determining exactly what and how to assess.
Some things are easily assessed. Weight lifting provides a simple example. You know exactly how many reps you did, and how much weight you are lifting.
Other areas are not quite so easy.
Shooting is a great example of this. Unlike weight lifting, every training session doesn’t measure progress in itself (unless you have a lot of money and a range in your backyard). Dry-fire is much harder to measure than live fire. You can improvise in dry-fire, but you need expensive equipment to avoid sacrificing the accuracy of your measurement.
Make the most out of each range session and devote at least some of it to measuring your progress by recording hits and times on a consistent course of fire. Personally I use the F.A.S.T. and Dot Torture to measure my own progress.
Some things can be even harder to measure than your ability to hit a target or the amount of weight you can lift. Take for example some fairly subjective things like your fighting techniques. What are you struggling with the most? Kicking, punching, or maybe footwork? There is no completely objective way to measure these skills. If you can’t be objective (or even if you can) you might want to ask a training partner or an instructor on a recurring basis to determine exactly what you need the most work on. If neither is available, consider video recording yourself, it might make self-assessment easier.
Taking your scores home
Once you have a good idea of exactly how you are performing, you need to take those numbers and turn them into an adjustment to your training plan.
Weight lifting naturally lends itself to self-adjustment. If you are working to improve your bench press, you might choose some weight and attempt to perform a number of repetitions. When you can successfully complete that number you increase the weight.
Shooting on the other hand might not be as obvious to adjust. One method to use here is to take your scores from your shooting assessment and compare them against your goal.
Personally I’m trying to improve my F.A.S.T. When I look at my resulting time breakdown, I can see exactly how I performed. Since my goal is for an overall time I compare my component times to what I know are good times. How does my draw, reload, and follow up shots stack up against David Sevigny’s (or some other master class shooter)? I know my reload time is the component furthest from my goal, so I emphasize my training towards correcting that weak spot. When my assessment indicates that my reloads have improved, I will refocus onto my next weakest area.
Why base your training off of assessments?
When you train without a defined purpose, or without clearly measurable goals, you are destined to not hold yourself to a real standard. Measuring your progress allows you to confirm that what you are doing is really working. If you find yourself expending lots of effort for little gain, it might be time to try something different.
Your goal in training should be to improve your ability as a whole, but also to round yourself out. The shooter with the best draw in the world but the worst reloads isn’t the best shooter in the world; instead, the shooter with the best balance of skills will always be better. The same goes for just about anything. If you only train what you want to train, or what you are good at, you won’t really be improving yourself because these big gaps in your overall abilities will remain. Using methods to assess your progress and logically determine what to work on takes your ego out of the loop and allows you to work on what you really need to work on.
How do you assess your skills and determine what to train?