You probably have heard of the term muscle memory before. But how does it work and why are sports and strength and conditioning coaches pushing for it?
The answer to the topic: Obviously not.
But have you ever wondered why you never have to relearn riding a bicycle despite not having ridden one for a long time? It is all down to muscle memory, a form of procedural memory. This means memory through repetition.
So, despite not riding a bike even once a year, your muscles 'remember' because when you do ride a bike, the repeated movements create a long-term muscle memory, allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.
If we were to translate that to sports or workout forms, it eliminates the need for concentration and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. In simpler terms, you don't have to worry about your form or the way you play a sport; it becomes habitual. But it is more than just habits.
At BMT, we make many of our athletes and clients commit to create muscle memory. But when we mention muscle memory, we always get many questions.
Is muscle memory a real thing? Can our muscles remember movements?
The answer is yes and no. While there is no literal memory in the muscles, your mind-body connection is always at work. Perhaps a better name would be "subconscious memory" as it happens and becomes accessible by non-conscious means. This means your brain is constantly making subconscious memories without you knowing, and subconsciously, you are able to perform certain movements.
How does one develop muscle memory?
We have to make it clear that despite it being a subconscious process, initial effort has to be put into creating muscle memory, if not it will just become a bad habit. Making sure you are performing your workouts in the right form or your movements for your sports the right way is very important.
Once you start repeating the movements, it becomes innate and if you start the wrong way, you will repeat and retain the wrong type of muscle memory. So, lots of practice makes perfect and permanent.
The next thing is to keep your sessions focused and short. Compare doing bicep curls for an hour straight, and doing if for 15 minutes per day over four days. When your sessions are long, you get weary and your muscles start to fail from fatigue. On the other hand, if your sessions are short and focused, you learn more with the correct form.
Patience is also key as building muscle memory requires persistence over time. If you rush the process, your bad habits will start to develop and frustration will set in. Some researchers believe it takes between 1,000 and 30,000 repetitions before an activity becomes second nature.
So, how long does it take to develop muscle memory?
There is no fixed number of repetitions, days or weeks to get muscle memory. But research has shown that it takes two to four weeks to develop neurological adaptations. Afterwards, it is a cycle of injuring the muscle and repairing the muscle when you perform the activities at a higher weight or rate. The repair phase is where muscle memory starts developing. Your muscles are getting used to the way stress is put on them. Again, persistent repetition is key.
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