“It’s like riding a bike!”
How often have you heard that phrase?
It’s usually rolled out when attempting to do something that should come as second nature to us, or when we do an activity for the first time again in a long while, meaning we should be able to pick up where we left off.
It’s all to do with a little thing called muscle memory.
What is muscle memory?
According to Collins Dictionary, muscle memory is: “The ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement.”
The technical term is ‘Neuromuscular Facilitation’ and it’s this muscle memory that helps you get dressed, tie your shoes, walk, drive a car and yes, even ride a bicycle.
Of course, these things aren’t instinctive, they are learned behaviours which have been physically practised over time. You won’t get muscle memory by simply reading about what you want to do. Muscle memory comes from knowing and doing, not knowledge.
Yes, you can tell someone how to ride a bicycle and when you say it, it sounds easy: “Straddle the bike, sit on the seat, put one foot on one pedal, push off, put the other foot on the other pedal and keep moving your feet.” (Or words to that effect)
But your muscles won’t know how to balance, how to pedal and how to keep going until you actually get on a bicycle and do it for yourself.
And, as muscle memory is a learned behaviour, there are two types of muscle memory:
Physical muscle memory
Pretty much everything we do each day involves some form of physical muscle memory.
But sometimes that muscle memory can hold us back, or affect our physical health in some way.
Hands up how many of you slouch when sitting in front of your laptop instead of sitting up straight? It’s pretty common, but over time will affect your overall posture.
And when you’re exercising, it’s very easy to think you are performing a move correctly, only for it feel completely different when your trainer corrects you. This phenomenon is also related to proprioception, which is the ability to instinctively sense the orientation of our bodies.
And if you’re coming back to some form of physical exercise after time away, you generally feel it more initially because the muscles are being woken up again.
Mental Muscle Memory
Like their physical counterparts, mental muscle memories can either be positive or negative. These are our habitual thought patterns, and many of them hold us back from achieving our full potentials:
- Negative thoughts – I’m not good enough, I’m not attractive enough, I don’t have the money
- Inefficient patterns – lack of focus, procrastination, being disorganised
- Faulty beliefs – I’m powerless to solve my problems, don’t trust anyone, admitting defeat is a sign of failure
The good news is, that for both negative physical and mental muscle memories, because they are a learned behaviour, they can be changed and turned into positive muscle memories.
But how do you do it?
Shifting the patterns
Nothing worth doing is never easy, and likewise shifting your muscle memories from negative to positive is not going to happen instantaneously. But, give it time and patience, and with these simple techniques it should happen:
Acknowledge and accept
Until you acknowledge and accept the bad tennis swing, or negative thoughts and that something needs to change, nothing ever will.
And, like any addiction, because you have chosen to acknowledge and accept the problem you will start the process of shifting the pattern.
It makes you consciously aware of when the negative muscle memory is happening, and allows you to choose whether to carry on or change.
Whether trying to change a physical or mental muscle memory, it’s always a good idea to be accountable to someone. This could be your personal trainer, a coach, a mentor, a friend or even your own conscience.
It’s someone who can help keep you motivated, but also someone who can tell you when the negative pattern is occurring.
Always choose someone who is really interested in helping you change. But take heed, sometimes those closest to us may not want to see the change.
This might seem a bit woo-woo to you, but affirmations really do work. Simply because by making a positive affirmation you are shifting your neural programming from negative to positive.
For example, if you don’t think you’ll ever master that ‘elbow-punch’ combination try saying to yourself: “I am going to give 100%, every time I practise I am becoming better and stronger and I am not a quitter.”
Sometimes you just need to let logic and reason take over.
For anything you think you can’t do, find examples that disprove what you think and believe and then every time you become aware of slipping into the same old pattern, remember the logical argument for the positive.
To shift the patterns, choose what works best for you. And remember, repetition is key. If you want to master that ‘elbow-punch’ combination there’s no point giving up after the first attempt, you need to keep practising over, and over, and over again.
When it comes to muscle memory, either physical or mental, the old saying really is true: “Practice makes perfect.”
And as Bruce Lee said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
If you’re bored of the gym and are looking for something different that will reduce your stress and anxiety and reconnect you in mind and body, check out our training packages and get in touch.