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Mix It Up: Why Adding Variety to Your Practice Regimen Is Essential

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Dr. Bob Rotella stated, “A golfer has to train his swing on the practice tee, then trust it on the course.” The way you structure your practice has a significant impact on skill development and how those skills transfer to the course. In this post, we will compare and contrast three practice approaches – blocked, random, and exaggerated practice. We’ll break each one down, no doubt covering some familiar territory, but hopefully putting a new spin and providing some inspiration.

Blocked practice involves repeating the same skill or shot over and over, while random practice varies clubs, shots, skills, and even drills, to simulate different situations. Exaggerated practice is just what it sounds like – intentionally overdoing certain motions in order to ingrain proper technique and feels.

Research clearly shows benefits of more random practice once basics are learned. The increased mental adaptability and problem-solving better engrains skills for the variability encoutered on the course. However, blocked practice is useful when focusing on ofr learning a specific technique. We’ll outline when to use each approach and how to implement a blended blocked, random, and exaggerated practice regimen for rapid improvement.

A blend of blocked and random training, with an emphasis on randomness and exaggeration of movements as skills develop, leads to better retention and transfer of skills under pressure. We will break down the details and suggest some further reading, such as “The Practice Manual” by Adam Young and “The Four Foundations of Golf” by Jon Sherman, which can help you maximize your practice time.

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Blocked Practice

Blocked practice occurs when you repeat the same skill or shot over and over with little to no variation. For example, hitting 10 drives in a row with the same club to the same target on the range. The main goal is repetition to ingrain that one particular motion. Research shows that while blocked practice can quickly improve performance of that one isolated skill during the practice session, it often does not lead to long-term skill development or ability to perform well on the golf course.

Blocked practice is useful when learning a new technique or movement or fixing a fault. But research clearly shows that practice should shift to being more random rather than blocked as skills develop. The problem is that it doesn’t simulate the variables of a real round of golf. On the course, each shot you face requires that you assess multiple factors like lie, distance, wind, pin position, shot shape, target selection, aim and alignment.

No doubt we have all fallen into overdoing this at some point and see examples at the driving range all the time. It reminds me of coaching basketball a few years back when parents would be surprised that their son wasn’t playing well in the game, since they “always shoot well in the driveway.”

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Random Practice

Random practice is an effective training method that can help golfers improve their skills and lower their scores. The basic idea behind is to constantly vary the shots you hit during practice sessions. For example, rather than hitting 10 drives in a row with your driver, you would hit a drive, then an iron shot, then a chip shot, and so on, constantly mixing up clubs and shot types and motions.

Research has shown that random practice leads to better long-term learning and retention compared to blocked practice, where you repeat the same shot over and over. The increased mental effort and problem-solving involved in random practice engages more parts of the brain, leading to stronger neural connections. Incorporating more randomness into your range sessions and short game practice can pay dividends when you get out on the course. The key is to simulate real situatuions, where each shot requires a slightly different strategy, execution, and adaptability.

One of the most common examples is to “play” your practice session like a round of golf. Visualize a hole that you have played hit a drive, approach, pitch, and so on. Shape youir shots to fit that hole. Golf simulators are great for this, but you can do it on the range or even at home with a launch monitor. Utilize a pre-shot routine, intermediate target and make it as real as possible.

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Exaggerated Practice

Research shows that exaggerating swing errors in practice can actually lead to improved ball striking. For example, one study had golfers exaggerate an out-to-in swing path during practice. This group increased club head speed by 4% and ball speed by over 7% compared to golfers doing normal practice.

Exaggerating allows you to get very clear kinesthetic feedback on proper and improper motions. It speeds up the learning process since it gives you a distinct basis for comparison versus making subtle changes. Once the exaggerated feels are established, you can then refine and smooth out the motion.

Examples of this are overdoing shoulder turn, hitting shots with an extremely in-to-out path, opening or closing your stance, slow motion practice, splitting the hands on the grip, or reversing the hands on the grip to swing crosshanded. Try the “Goldilocks” method – one swing with an overly long backswing, the next with a short, and the third normal or “just right.”

You may recognize some of those as fairly well established drills and may already be doing them. If not, there are great resources online and even on this site that can get you going. It’s important to mix things up, so the next step is putting all of this together and introduce variety into your routine.

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Put It All Together

With a solid understanding of these three concepts, let’s put them together to create a more efficient practice routine. If you’re doing more than just hitting ball after ball at the range, to the same target, then you’re probably already combining elements of all three of these.

Understand that block practice has its place when learning new skills, motions or feels. It’s not a negative to spend time on the ingraining a feel or working with the same club or drill for an extended period of time. We are talking about a longer term and more holistic view, breaking up sessions to evolve and enhance skills that have already been developed by incoprporating all three concepts.

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Examples

Here’s a simple example from my current situation. I’ve been working on my putting indoors on my practice mat in the following combination. A few minutes practicing 4-10 foot puts working on stroke, then randomizing things by doing a version of the ladder drill and not hitting the same putt more than twice in a row. Finally, varying the length of my stroke – longer, shorter, still trying to make the putt, then returning to the natural or normal stroke to feel what is correct. This can obviously be applied to the full swing and taken to the range or your home practice area, or the practice green for short game.

Be careful when practicing at home into a net (this can also apply to the range), because without a clear target, it can become monontous and easy to fall into a total block practice routine. My way of breaking this up is to never hit more than 5 shots in a row with the same club, alternate full shots with drills every 5 swings, use training aids, and always align/aim for an intermediate target.

A fun excersize I do is hitting shots with the same club and vary the distances, utilizing a launch monitor to measure (I use Rapsodio MLM2Pro for outdoors), and try to guess each time, developing better feel. Try putting impact tape on the club and consciously trying to contact different areas of the face intentionally and match the feel to the visual feedback on the tape. You just need to be creative, experiment and find what works for you. Varying practice also removes the monotony of it all and makes it fun.

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Further Reading

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The Practice Manual
by Adam Young

Summary: The Practice Manual is an acclaimed golf instruction book by coach Adam Young that provides golfers an A-Z guide for effective practice by integrating techniques based on motor learning research and neuroscience. It sets out optimal methods for engraining skills long-term, structuring productive training sessions, and hacking the brain for faster improvement with drills, theory and concepts useful for any player or coach. The manual’s action plan establishes achievable goals within a practice regime through its holistic and thorough techniques transferable on and off the course. This innovative guide has become an international bestseller for its groundbreaking approach marrying science and quality instruction to foster lifelong golfing success.

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The Four Foundations of Golf
by Jon Sherman

Summary: Elevate your golf game by mastering the four foundations outlined by John Sherman. This transformative audiobook covers:

  • Manage Expectations: Master setting realistic goals and understanding the scoring system. It will improve your golf game and increase your happiness.
  • Strategy: Strategic thinking is essential in golf. Use a framework to select the best targets for each club and improve your score.
  • Practice: Receive detailed, step-by-step guidance to enhance your skills and seamlessly transition from range practice to the course. Improve your swing without fixating on technique.
  • The Mental Game: Mental techniques like staying calm, building routines, and being confident can help golfers improve their performance.

With these four foundations, this audiobook is more than a guide; it’s your roadmap to becoming a more complete golfer.

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Understanding the Golf Swing
by Manuel de la Torre

Summary: Manuel de la Torre was a leading teacher of Ernest Jones’s swing principles, emphasizing a simpler approach focused on developing a true swinging motion rather than complex body movements. The book covers the philosophy of the golf swing, analysis of ball flights, techniques for special shots like pitching and chipping, the mental side of golf, and understanding golf courses. It argues that if the club is swung properly, the body movements will take care of themselves, so golfers should focus on the motion of the club rather than their bodies. The book blends golf philosophy and practical advice for golfers of all levels, from beginners to professionals.

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Club-Focused Golf Instruction
by Edward LeBeau

Summary: Club-focused golf instruction focuses on the golf club motion rather than body motion, an approach used by only 5% of instructors. This method, championed by Hall of Fame instructors Ernest Jones and Manuel de la Torre, allows faster learning and better play. LeBeau combines de la Torre’s expertise with educational principles into a powerful instruction manual bringing together decades of club-focused instruction experience. Scientific studies have verified club-focused instruction’s superiority for improving player performance over traditional body-focused methods.

Videos

Block vs Random
GolfRX – Random vs Block
Exaggerated Practice
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