In a recent 2021 study named "Consolidation of human skill linked to waking hippocampo-neocortical replay." It was shown that after trying to learn a new skill, your brain compresses that skill and replays it a whole bunch of times immediately following the activity.
Previously, it was widely accepted that sleep was where the magic happened. There was a study on rats back in the early 2000s, showing that it was during REM sleep where skill consolidation was taking place. This new observation does not discount that, it merely points to another place that is also exceedingly beneficial to pay attention too when trying to learn skills faster.
Originally researchers thought that it was all about sleep, but what this new study shows, and other ones that are coming out, is that "wakeful rest" is just as important for cementing skills into unconscious behaviors as REM sleep is at night.
It is important to note that the improvements do not happen while you are practicing, they happen right after, in the reflection period. That is why it may be so important, depending on your goal outcome, to allow for frequent brief rests following intensive practice bouts to give your brain time to do its thing.
Researchers essentially found that groups that went continuous in skill practice, or straight through, did not perform as well as the groups that did a protocol of 10 seconds of skill practice, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
They found that during the brief rest periods, the brain is replaying said skill at roughly twentyfold. About two dozen replays in 10 seconds.
Here’s a quote from the lead researcher. "The same amount of practice results in significantly different skills depending on the presence or absence of "waking rest" within the training schedule. A phenomenon termed the spacing effect. Consolidation of skill is superior when frequent rest periods are interspersed with practice blocks, distributed practice, then when the same total amount of practice is performed over longer continuous blocks, aka massed practice. So, the presence of "waking rest" interweaved with practice is a crucial determinant of skill memory consolidation."
3 Major Takeaways
Allow frequent breaks - Skill work is not conditioning...Make sure to rest between moves or sections. It does not necessarily have to be 10 seconds, that is just what was used in the study…But the evidence suggests that somewhere around a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio is a pretty solid place to start. And introducing longer breaks throughout the whole skill session may be advantageous as well.
No distractions during "waking rest" - Don't go pick up your phone, or strike up a conversation. You are more or less trying to be in a meditative state. Empty head, let your brain do its thing. On the flip side, you are not trying to overthink it, or overanalyze it during this time either, don’t gum up the gears and get in your own way. Do the move or moves, cruise back to the starting position, and do it again etc...Take a break every 5-10 minutes with no distractions and do it a couple more times.
Cardio after skill practice - There are many studies linking the benefit of doing conditioning work after skill training as a way to help cement those skills into place faster, and how cardio actually enhances the learning curve.
Here is an example of how to put this into play:
Skill - Slow Wheelie
Practice slow wheelies for roughly 10-20 seconds, then either ride back to where you started, or just take a quick breather for roughly 10-20 seconds before your next practice bout. Do this 8-10 times, then take a 1-2 minute break, get off the bike and walk around. No distractions, no conversations or looking at your phone...Don’t try to overthink the thing you are trying to do either, just be free to let your brain work. Do 2 to 3 rounds of this style of skill acquisition and then go for a ride. Cardio after skill training is shown to be advantageous in building these patterns into a more permanent pathway.