Blocked vs. Random Practice: Too Much of One, Not Enough of the Other

The way you practice has a great deal of influence on how well you will perform on the golf course. You want to be efficient and productive with the limited time that you have. In this article, I'll explore one of the foundational concepts of productive practice - blocked vs. random.

In my opinion, most golfers have spent way too much time on blocked (repetitive) practice. While repetition has its merits, I want to explore why introducing variation to your training can help take you to the next level in your game.

Also, you can listen to a podcast episode that I, Adam Young, and Cordie Walker did on the topic to give you a bit more perspective below:

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Golf Science Lab · Block or Random Practice? Adam Young + Jon Sherman of Practical Golf

The Difference Between Blocked and Random Practice

Most of you are very familiar with blocked practice; it's what the majority of golfers are doing. A simple definition would be practicing the same skill over and over again, repetitively. An example would be if you were at the range and hitting your 7-iron to the same target without making any changes.

Random practice introduces some changes in each shot. Let's say you had a lob wedge in your hands, and you hit to targets that were 75 yards, 25 yards, 50 yards, and then 40 yards. Each time you had a new goal, and it would force your mind and body to go through a calibration process. Another example would be changing the club on each shot - you could hit a sand wedge, 7-iron, and driver.

In my experience, the vast majority of players are spending way too much time on blocked practice. A lot of golfers don't even know what random practice is and what kinds of benefits it can provide.

Why Blocked Practice Has Come Under Fire

Over the last several decades, there has been plenty of research emerging in sports and plenty of other disciplines that call into question the efficacy of blocked practice. One of the main arguments is that repetitive practice might lead to better results during training sessions, but fails to transfer long-term skills that can be used in "game situations." Many of you likely know the frustration of hitting great shots at the driving range and then being wholly demoralized when you can't recreate that success on the golf course. I believe a lot of that has to do with the way you practice.

Additionally, blocked practice can work against many golfers because they are merely ingraining bad technical habits. If you are struggling with a slice, and keep hitting balls over and over again without making any changes, how can you ever expect to fix it?

Perhaps taking a lesson and getting some new drills to try or experimenting with trying to hook the ball could fix the issue. But you would never know until you made some change.

Without getting too deep into the woods on the topic, it's believed that randomized practice helps transfer skills more effectively because it challenges you to solve more problems.

When you hit a driver 30 times in a row, likely, you are not paying too much attention. It requires a lot of mental discipline to concentrate while you do something repetitively. However, if you had to change your club and target each time, your mind will have to readjust and adapt to the new challenge. Many believe that variation is training your brain to perform better under pressure.

Engagement Is the Most Important Factor

It's impossible to know precisely the right amount of blocked practice and randomized practice that will lead to your best results. I believe both have their merits when it comes to improving your golf game.

No matter what you are doing, engagement and concentration is the most critical factor in my estimation. If you have a plan for each shot and focus throughout the process, you are giving yourself a better chance of improving your skills. I believe that introducing random practice to your routine can help with that process. But that doesn't mean you should throw repetitive practice out the window!

What Does Productive Blocked Practice Look Like?

Let's say you were hitting your 8-iron to the same target 20 times in a row. Here is a list of things you could be doing to increase your engagement:

  • Go through the same pre-shot routine before each shot that you would use on the golf course.
  • Each time you step up to the ball, you are paying attention to your setup. Is your posture the same? Are you gripping the club any differently? Where is the ball positioned in your stance? Where are your eyes focused?
  • Is there a specific technique you are trying to work on? Perhaps it's a rehearsed drill that your instructor gave to you to address a swing flaw.
  • You are focused on your target entirely before you hit the shot. Afterward, you pay attention to the result. Which direction did you miss? Do you think about why that might have occurred, and what you can do on the next shot to adjust?

Those are just a few examples, and there are probably hundreds of different ways you could come up with to give meaning to a blocked practice session. I don't want to inundate you with too many ideas, because focusing on one thing at a time will likely work best for you. For many golfers, merely concentrating on the target and taking note of where the ball ended up could enhance their performance.

Two forms of practice I love are impact and tempo training, which can be done repetitively and produce great results for your golf swing.

Overall, repetitive practice does have its merits if you are correctly engaged. My number one hope for you is to prevent those "zombie range sessions" where you mindlessly hit balls without giving much thought to what you are doing. You are lowering your chances of increasing your skills.

What Does Productive Random Practice Look Like?

I don't want to give the impression that random practice is the solution to all of your golfing woes. Because it isn't. Even if you changed your target every time you hit a golf ball during practice, there is still going to be a chance that your mind and body are not adequately engaged in the process. However, I believe variation gives you a much better chance of simulating the conditions you will see on the golf course, and preparing you more effectively.

After all, golf is a random game. How often do you get the same shot on the course over and over again? Every round you play, you are always faced with randomness. You'll get different lies in the rough, uneven stances, the wind will keep shifting, or perhaps a tree will be in your way, and you need to find a way around it. Your preparation should take that into account and introduce some variability.

Here are some examples of random practice:

  • Playing performance games that simulate the pressure and variation of a real round
  • Choosing one target and trying to hit four different clubs to the correct distance
  • Experimenting with varying shot shapes and trajectories
  • Trying to strike different parts of the clubface consciously
  • Cycling through different yardages and targets with your wedges inside of 100 yards

The best part about all of these methods is that they are usually more fun for golfers. If you try some of them out, you'll likely start looking forward to the practice range, rather than feeling like it's some obligation.

Overall, I think there should be a healthy mix of repetitive and variable practice methods. No matter what you are doing, you want to have a plan and be engaged.

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