Practice Design

Inducing movement variability in practice: Can it hinder performance?

In the previous post I discussed the framework proposed by Rajik Ranganathan and Karl Newell about how coaches can induce movement variability in practice. The article primarily focused on why this can be beneficial.

But are there situations whereby movement variability is not advantageous?

Ranganathan and Newell concluded their article by discussing two examples where movement variability might not be beneficial. These examples are outlined below.

1. Use-Dependent Learning

As stated in the article: “.. well practiced movements show a degree of specificity. For example, in skilled basketball players, performance at free-throws from the regulation distance (i.e., the 15-ft free throw line) is greater than that predicted from performance at nearby distances.” Hence, if players practice from varied distance, it might limit performance from the free throw distance.

However, we must keep in mind that basketball players are required to shoot from a range of distances other than the free throw line. This means that practicing exclusively from the free throw distance will hinder the ability to adapt movement patterns to every other distance.

2. Coordination Pattern Stability

Movement patterns fluctuate between periods of stability and instability. A stable movement pattern is one that can be easily reproduced. Think of it as a movement pattern that comes natural to the performer.

For new stable movement patterns to emerge, there needs to be a period of instability which can be induced with movement variability. Ideally the emergence of new stable states will lead to better performance. However, it is possible that the opposite will occur, with the new movement patterns leading to poorer performance.

Hence, coaches should be wary of whether movement variability in practice is leading to the emergence of maladaptive movement patterns.


Ranganathan, R., & Newell, K. M. (2013). Changing up the routine: intervention-induced variability in motor learning. Exercise and sport sciences reviews41(1), 64-70.

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