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The Whole Truth

The Whole Truth

Season 3, Episode 7

Practice makes perfect, right?  Well that depends on the nature of the skill and the type of practice.  So when it comes to acquiring a motor skill, it’s possible you haven’t heard the whole truth. Conventional wisdom usually doesn’t distinguish between types of practice, other than more is better. In the Motor Learning world there are many different ways we define & design practice routines based on the desired outcome.

Broadly, practice can be conducted as a whole or in parts.  Should we deconstruct the movement and practice one phase at a time?  Or, perform the entire complex skill as one continuous movement?  

Join PJ and GG as they dive into this topic and cover the research, the different layers of whole vs part practice, including concepts such as sequencing, sub-routines, discrete movements and more.  Then, they’ll extrapolate the findings to practical applications and discuss their perspectives on how we can use this extraordinary information to help yourself or your clients in the gym.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The difference between whole and part practice
  • The difference between part practice and sequential practice
  • Types of skills more suited to part practice
  • Rote learning vs voluntary motor skill performance
  • Subroutines
  • Why we forget certain skills very rapidly


Complexity: The number of parts and the amount of information processing demands that characterize a skill

Discrete motor skill: A skill with clearly defined movement beginning and end points, usually requiring a simple movement

Part practice: A practice condition in which a skill is broken down into several parts and each part is practiced independently

Subroutine: A strategy used for deconstructing movement down into constituent parts for the purpose of analyzing performance of each part

Whole practice: A practice condition in which a skill is practiced as one whole movement


  1. Gobet, F., Lane, P. C., Croker, S., Cheng, P. C., Jones, G., Oliver, I., & Pine, J. M. (2001). Chunking mechanisms in human learning. Trends in cognitive sciences, 5(6), 236–243.
  2. McGuigan, F.J. and MacCaslin, E.F. (1955). Whole and part methods in learning a perceptual motor skill. The American Journal of Psychology, 68(4): 658-661.
  3. Naylor, J. C., & Briggs, G. E. (1963). Effects of task complexity and task organization on the relative efficiency of part and whole training methods. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(3), 217–224.
  4. Park, J-H., Wilde, H., and Shea, C.H. (2004).  Part-whole practice of movement sequences. Journal of Motor Behavior, 36(1): 51-61.
  5. Pechstein, L.A. (1916). Whole vs. part methods in motor learning - a comparative study. Doctoral Dissertation, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  6. Shea, C. H., Lai, Q., Black, C., & Park, J.-H. (2000). Spacing practice sessions across days benefits the learning of motor skills. Human Movement Science, 19(5), 737–760.

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