Muscle memory is an indication of our brain’s procedural memory. It’s an indication on the function of our brain and how it connects to muscle movements. It’s the kind of memory which, one of it’s function, is to learn and keep a record of our most common movements. Procedural memory is what helps us familiarize ourselves with movement to the point of intuition and beyond our consciousness.
“Muscle memory is an indication of our brain’s procedural memory.”
Professional runners spend hours practicing their start. The natural first step is to step backwards. For a professional runner, their first step needs to go forwards. It takes hours of practice to rewire our brain to make this switch. The more you do something the more familiar the movement becomes to our brain, therefore for our muscles.
In fitness, muscle memory is a critical foundation as procedural memory is unable to differentiate between the good or the bad movements we’ve learnt. In other words, if I’ve been squatting the wrong way for years, then it’ll be difficult to unlearn what I’ve spend hundreds of hours doing.
Things to be careful of:
#1 – Learning the right way from the beginning.
Nowadays there are so many varieties of workouts available and what’s often looked over is how important it is to establish the right way to move. A common example is the basic kettlebell swing. If done wrongly, this movement is rather unnatural to the untrained individual and tends to end up working the arms and back. A correct kettlebell swing requires a few things. Firstly, the right posture (butt out in a low squat). It is also important to have the right movement (think forwards backwards versus up and down) and to use the right muscles (focused on the back legs and glutes not the arms).
If someone has performed a kettlebell swing wrongly for years, it tends to be more difficult to reverse the log the brain already has kept and to relearn the right movement. Think about it, it’s basically impossible to unlearn walking. This is why being meticulous about learning a movement accurately from the start is important.
#2 – Procedural memory relieves the challenge.
After doing something over and over again, your body will switch gear into autopilot. What might have been challenging in the beginning can be as simple as lifting a feather after hours or years of practice.
This is why there’s a significant difference between the movements of a beginner boxer and the movements of a professional boxer. Practicing the right posture, stance, punches, and such movements establishes the kind of knowledge that becomes intuitive versus conscious.
A professional boxer will not need to think about where his feet are, the angle of his body, the position of his arms after years of practice because all this information is stored in his brain. Compared to a beginner boxer who will need to think about all of these movements while performing the action. A beginner boxer is still learning the movements. He or she will still need to be conscious of his or her every move.
If attended to correctly muscle memory is nature’s gift to allow us to progress further in our abilities. We will be able to push ourselves and continuously improve as we develop certain skills, but only when muscle memory was developed incorrectly does it become dangerous.