Monday Memo 6/4/18

The Monday Memo

June 4, 2018                                                                           PITT DPT STUDENTS

Let’s Learn a Skill


Learning a new skill can be difficult and perfecting a skill can seem near impossible. Whether that skill is opening a jar or shooting a slapshot from just inside the blue line, moving through the ranks from beginner to expert can be a long and challenging process. One skill involves fine sensorimotor and upper extremity control, the other involves the ability to balance and transfer weight on the ice, with great force, while aiming a 3-inch puck at a 4-inch opening greater than 60 feet away. Interestingly enough, learning these different tasks can be approached the same way. Correctly identifying the type of skill and the level of experience of the patient or client can offer a clear guide to creating a useful and challenging exercise.


First, categorize the task at hand as discrete, serial, or continuous. Each is described differently, and when learning can be approached differently as well:

  • Discrete – a skill that has a clear and definite beginning and end.
    • Cartwheel, swinging a baseball bat, kicking a ball
  • Serial – a series of separate discrete skills completed in a specific sequence, ultimately creating one larger activity
    • Ex. – a place kick in football (including components of the run-up and the kick)
  • Continuous – have no distinct beginning or end, and are repeated continuously
    • Ex. – Swimming, walking, jogging


Then, using the information we have already, we can design an exercise by deciding how we want to break down the task if we want to break it down at all. Here we can decide if we want to do part vs. whole training, and blocked, variable, or random training.


Whole vs. Part training:

  • Whole – The whole technique is practiced without a break
  • Part – Separating a complex skill into its base parts

Blocked vs. Variable vs. Random

  • Blocked – Practice that involves repeating the same movement or task under the same conditions
  • Variable – Practice that involves repeating the same task or movement, but where one component of the action is changed after each repetition
  • Random – Practice that involves completing various discrete or serial tasks necessary for the overall skill, but completed in a random order unknown to the performer


Here is a good example of how exercises can be prescribed based on these principles. An example of a few levels of exercise are described, and it is discussed when each is appropriate or not appropriate to be used. Although these ideas may seem simple, if used correctly, they can help maximize the effectiveness of your training.




-Jim Tersak, SPT, CSCS

June 4, 2018 |

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