Deep Thoughts: Do your muscles really have a memory?

You can run quarters on the track in 80 seconds. Maybe you can even do them in 60 seconds. Maybe you hit a PR for sustained power on the bike. You can drive your golf ball 250 yards down the fairway. Does this mean you are really performing at your potential?

Every time we practice a movement, we are reinforcing a particular movement in our brain. This is commonly referred to as “muscle memory”. Training technique is an often overlooked aspect in endurance world. Each joint in your body has an axis around which it moves, with muscles controlling the movement. These tissues are engineered to move a specific way. If we learn good muscle memory, we continually re-enforce good habits – and come competition day – we perform at our potential.

Competition to you might be a round of golf with friends on Sunday or qualifying for the 10,000 meter at the Olympics. At every level, focusing on your form can improve your performance.  Our body and mind strive to get the job done – at all costs. Often, this can mean we learn an incorrect strategy to get the job done. And even if your form is better than most, we all suffer form alterations when we fatigue. When these form changes occur, we have a decrease in efficiency. Since we are performing “different” than we normally do, we put more strain through our body’s tissues and are more likely to become injured. Understanding the stages of motor learning will shed some light on why we need to work on our form in the first place:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – this means we have no idea that we are doing something with incorrect form. Most of us fall in this category. Look at the picture of the woman landing from a jump. The joints of the lower body are designed so that the knee tracks over the second toe when we land from a jump. The goal is to preserve proper alignment when we move. This athlete has no idea that her knees crashing to the inside are a problem. She doesn’t know that it significantly increases her risk for an ACL tear, patellofemoral syndrome, hip impingement, or a host of other issues. She doesn’t know that this landing technique will hurt her running, jumping, and cutting performance.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – We reviewed this athlete’s form issues with her. We showed her that the jump landing technique she uses can lead to injury and compromises her performance. She is now aware of it and understands the issue. This is the point where specific corrective exercises, cues, and drills are prescribed to her to correct this muscle memory. The more she practices these correctly, the more she re-enforces correct motion – however this stage requires a lot of conscious thought to perform the movement correctly . Because of the increased cognition or thought that this stage requires, the athlete may in fact be less efficient at their particular sport because they are “thinking” so much about the way in which they move. This is why drills often seem challenging.
  3. Conscious Competence – The athlete understands that there was an issue, knows correct technique, and now is able to perform correctly without thinking about it. She has removed the stresses from a flawed technique, and can perform correctly in sports-specific drills and in competition. The is the stage we want to be at! Think about some of the best performances you’ve ever done. What were you thinking about? Most successful athletes can’t even remember what they were focusing on. They were in “the zone” and just let their bodies perform using the skills they learned through a lot of practice.

In our quest to improve, we often focus on adding intensity or training volume thinking it to be the magic fix to take us to the next level. We’ve often heard the phrase “train smarter, not harder.” Adding time and focus to alter your technique pays off in spades. So let’s expand that saying to “move smarter, not harder”. The focus of the biomechanical analysis done in the SPEED Clinic @ the UVA Center for Endurance Sport is identify your unique compensations and make those muscles smarter!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s