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Just like a 3rd grader


You know that moment when you realize learning has occurred-when you can see how and why to transfer skills and see how things are connected; when you can begin to apply what you have learned to new situations?

Just like a 3rd grader.

Take for example, learning to read. Once you know how to read, you discover endless opportunities to learn!

But first, learning to read requires learning a progression of skills that will eventually lead to writing and reading to communicate. The process of reading is a complex series of skills that begins with oral language development in the first 5 years of life and transfers to understanding the written word.Reading and writing require skills such as letter and sound recognition, decoding, phonics, pattern recognition, and the generalization of these skills and the transfer and application of skills to learning new words. Children do this all the time.

It  never really occurred to me that when an adult learns a new skill the process is quite similar.

I already knew how to squat and deadlift. Just like a 5 year old knows how to write stories-with invented spelling and lots of pictures of people with arms and legs shooting out of their head. Well, maybe they were a little more developed than that. But they are a work in progress, and things have felt kind of the same for awhile. The weight has been going up, but overall, not much news. In other words, I have learned to read, and am pretty much reading at my level and doing okay.

Then I tweaked my knee a couple weeks ago.Tweaking my knee forced me to re-examine what my hips, legs and feet were doing in my front squat. Because the inside of my right knee-after two weeks-still hurt-a sharp stabbing pain kind of hurt-when I squatted or tried to get up from a squatting position. Since NOT squatting was not an option, just like any curious learner, I tried experimenting with my stance, and practiced until it felt right, and I had no more pain. But then I needed to figure out why what I was doing caused no more pain.Cue the trainer with the knowledge base ,experience, and ability to explain the why. That is how I knew learning had occurred, and once I figured it out, I was able to repeat it and transfer it to my other lifts.

It wouldn’t have mattered what my trainer told me to do before then-I thought I was doing it correctly, and it looked like I was doing it correctly, but once the workload was increased, it became apparent something was off.

I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like.

For months I have been front squatting, but with a more focused attention on externally rotating my hips, having my knees over my toes, with  my feet more parallel and my shins more vertical, and I was trying so hard, not really knowing what it was supposed to feel like, but using my cues, “screwing my feet into the floor” and feeling pretty good about things. But tweaking my knee made me realize my torque was coming more from my knees than my my hips, and I was too far forward, placing too much strain on my knees. By playing around with the box squat and back squat, I was able to open up my hips and lean back, and just like that-no more knee pain!

The funny thing about a tweak-pain is the natural consequence of less than good technique. I am not saying bad technique-but now it is better. Remember: practice makes better.

I few things happened that are notable:

  • The tweaky knee forced me to back off on some things and pay closer attention to my form and technique with everything from warmups, to lifting and running.
  • A change in schedule and break in running training de-emphasized the end goal that has driven me since June, and I gave myself permission to just work on stuff.
  • Taking time to work on execution allowed my body to recover and feel stronger
  • Taking time to practice with lighter loads means I will be better prepared to go back to my regular training and remain injury free.

And I am finally okay with it in my head; I do not feel panicky about taking a week or two off from a structured plan.

And so it goes. This week has been more about the process of learning and less about the end result. Because when you think about it, the end result is a moving target. There really is no finish line to forward progress. The learning process is indeed a spiral, after narrowly escaping getting caught up in the downward spiral of doom last week, I am also learning to try to accept the ups and downs.

I have a friend and colleague who is a yoga instructor. Yoga is all about honoring the body. The body knows what the mind refuses to see. Some days are just better than others. Today the body said go for it. It was a good day.

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