Skill Development: Time Surfing and Consolidation Training - PROGRAMMING: THEORY AND TACTICS - Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methodsp (2015)

Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methods (2015)




The concept of skill training introduced in chapter 11—work on complex movements which require a lot of coordination and dexterity, like flips and kip-ups—can be summed up in four points:


Skill training works best for exercises where the athlete has the power level to perform the movement, but has yet to master the correct coordination. When performing an exercise ask yourself: can I perform this exercise easily and with perfect form? If the answer is yes, you don’t need to apply skill training. You can use conventional set x rep schemes, or move up a step to a more challenging exercise.


The goal of every single rep of skill training is to perform the technique more perfectly. The athlete must not be interested in subjective goals, like training “hard” or pushing themselves. Nor should they be wrapped up in objective goals like going higher or faster: leave that for the power work. Obviously—since form tends to degrade as the athlete tires—this means that for skill work, reps must be low, or single reps. As soon as you get too tired to really perform a skill drill to the best of your ability—when your form begins to collapse—it’s time to call it a day. Don’t think of skill training as “working out”, but “practice”. Get Zen.

In skill work, you need to think in terms of training the nervous system: not the muscles. Single reps are ideal for exercises like flips and kip-ups. To get the technique right, it’s helpful to gather your energy, take a breather and reposition yourself and mentally readjust after each attempt. Singles will also help prevent you becoming too fatigued to do things right.


Skill training will increase power, but it primarily improves neural coordination. The nervous system learns all skills (including acrobatic skills) by repetition. This is sometimes known as Hebb’s Law: in short, the more often you repeat something, the quicker you’ll learn it (see also page 314). It follows that (if we are using singles or low reps), to get high volume we need to use a lot of sets). The upshot of this—practice as often as you can.


This is related to the previous two concepts. If you want your reps to be as perfect as possible, and if you wish to work with a technique frequently—often several times a day—you can’t exhaust yourself during skill training. This means that you should rest in between repetitions to the degree that your fatigue doesn’t build up and tire you to the point where you become stale or your muscles/ joints get sore. How long do you wait between reps? Until you feel rested. This can be as little as ten seconds for easier work, or a minute or more for trickier stuff. Of course, you can rest even longer—hours, if you want (provided you don’t get warmed-down during the work—see page 295). To really stay fresh, it’s also a good idea to have a day or two off from skill work every so often, to let the body recover from any residual fatigue.

There, in a nutshell, you have the core of skill training:

· Always shoot for perfect reps

· Only use singles or very low reps

· Use a high amount of sets

· Train fresh—take enough/lots of rest between those sets.

That’s the Cliff’s Notes on the theory. But how do you apply these four concepts to day-to-day training? Basically there are two methods: time surfing and consolidation training.


In chapter 11, I (hopefully) emphasized to ya that basing training around reps and sets is not as useful for skill work as it is for, say, power work or bodybuilding. This is because how many reps you can do is not as important as getting better at doing those reps.

So—if you’re not scheduling 3 x 10 reps for an exercise, how do you plan your training?

The most basic, efficient way is time surfing. This just involves setting by a period of time in your workout—say, five minutes—to practice a technique. Instead of counting sets and reps, you just look at a clock (or set your watch, phone, or whatever), practice, and stop five minutes later. Understand—you do not perform continuous reps for five minutes. That would comprise one huge, five minute set! Instead, you perform a rep, take a breather until you feel ready to go again, and perform another rep, and so on.

As an example, let’s suppose an athlete is starting to work with the front flip chain. After a good warm up (page 296), they start at the beginning, with step 1, shoulder rolls (page 146). They take a note of the time, and perform their first repetition. They shake loose, and think about how it felt. After the dizziness goes away, they try for another rep. Not sure they got it right, they try again. Breathing is getting faster now—they take a few deep breaths until they are back to normal. Then they do another rep. This goes on until five minutes is up. That’s all time surfing is.

Although it can be used with power work, time surfing is a better way to train for a skill. It permits you to be thoughtful, subjective, and explore what you’re doing, without recording numbers or worrying about beating your last performance. It allows an athlete to get lots of reps in, avoids fatigue, and dumps the need to do any counting. Like I say, five minutes is good for a beginner, but you can stretch the amount of time if you like. Don’t get in the habit of watching the clock and trying to squeeze more reps in, though. If you want more reps, add a minute, or however long you want. Just remember that a minute—during training—may actually feel a lot longer than it sounds while reading this book. Let’s say an athlete is well conditioned, and performs his or her reps with ten second breaks in-between. If you kept up your pace, that’s about five reps per minute—fifty reps in a ten minute period. Not bad.

Time surfing works well when:

· You could perform several reps of an exercise, if you wanted

· You are progressing quickly

· You are performing multiple exercises and need to fit them into your program

If you “milk” your training—by not rushing ahead too quickly, and continuing to benefit from exercises you can control fairly well—time surfing can give great results, and for long periods of time. But there are negatives to this kind of training (aren’t there always?) For one, this method places limits on your practice time: it means you are only allowing yourself a small window of time during your day for practice; with 24 hours in each day, using up just 5-10 minutes might be seen as a bit of a waste by some. Secondly, time surfing only really shines if you can already perform the movements you are working with, fairly consistently. If you are exploring very difficult techniques which you cannot quite “get”—but are on the verge of achieving—then consolidation training will probably work better for you.


I described the nature of CT in Convict Conditioning:

If you are really having a problem getting just a handful of reps on a particular exercise, try consolidation training…When you have been working a movement series for a prolonged period, sometimes it can be tough to move from one step to the next…this is not uncommon as you become increasingly advanced. Consolidation training is an excellent way of coping with this situation. Instead of working the new exercise once or twice a week and struggling to improve your reps every time, try working the new exercise every day…Use good form, but don’t strain. The name of the game is to spread your effort by performing lots of reps over a period of several days, not to push your muscles hard in any single attempt. If you get excessively sore, back off for a couple of days. Follow this unique protocol for a week or two. As the days pass, the once nearly-impossible technique will gradually seem easier. When you go back to your regular training, you will find that multiple reps are much, much more attainable.

Convict Conditioning, Chapter 11

Use CT when:

· You are moving up to a particular step/technique you are struggling with

· You can barely even perform a technique once

· Progression is more difficult

Consolidation work is in fact the natural way to train. A lot of people—conditioned by years of weight-training into thinking that workouts must consist of discrete sessions of reps x sets—think this approach is weird and esoteric. But there’s nothing revolutionary or radical about consolidation training. It is, in fact, the most natural way for humans to train. It is the default, intuitive method—but only if we haven’t been brainwashed by years of sets and reps. If you look at a kid trying to master something difficult—maybe a breakdancing trick, a cheerleading stunt or a parkour technique—they won’t do it a bunch of times in a row, then come back a few days later. They will go into the yard, try it a few times before school, and fail. Then they’ll maybe try it a few times during recess. Then they’ll give it a shot a few times in their room at night. Eventually—if they keep this up, maybe taking the odd day off to let their mind and body rest up—they’ll get the hang of that move. This all builds up to lots of reps, and, ultimately, that’s the only way us humans learn anything. It’s also similar to the way young animals learn during “play”.

CT can work great with exercises where you need to master balance. Try the technique several times throughout the day, until your nervous system figures it out.

There are drawbacks to CT, however. Since it’s unstructured, it requires good instincts (body wisdom) to pull off, without under- or over-doing it. Choosing to train several times a day, while not really time-consuming, can be a pain in the ass if you have a busy daily schedule (like work, school, domestic stuff, and so on). Lastly, CT works best when you are focusing on one, maybe two movements. The more you add in, the more any adaptation gets diluted, and the more likely your nervous system is to suffer from mental logjam. So using it exclusively for all chains of the Explosive Six would either be very difficult or totally counterproductive.


As I pointed out in chapter 11, most of the chains in this book (namely the kip-ups, flips and muscle-up chains) don’t really suit the typical in-gym sets x reps approach. Instead, the two methods put forward in this chapter—time surfing and consolidation training—work better.

Both time surfing and CT have their benefits, but they also have negatives: time surfing limits your practice time, and CT doesn’t fit well into a fixed program. For this reason, most athletes will wish to blend both approaches together in their daily training. I’d advise most athletes to use the time-surfing method to neatly fit the bulk of their practice into a clean program, and then augment that schedule with some multiple daily CT sessions when they come up against a tough movement, or when they want to progress a bit quicker.

For those hungry hombres out there who want even more, I’ll outline some black-and-white programming approaches in the next chapter.