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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Baseball & Softball Swing Training - Is Muscle Memory a Myth?

By Todd Thomas

Exactly what is muscle memory and how do you create it for a specific thing you want your body to learn to repeat? The term muscle memory is thrown around so loosely, but do those who use the term really know what muscle memory is and how to create it? So many have just heard the term and simply repeat it because it sounds good. First off let me ask, do your muscles really have cognitive power in and of themselves? Do our muscles have brain cells embedded in them? I think even those who throw the term around as if they really understand it would even admit the simple answer to that question. That answer being No. Our muscles do not have the ability to remember anything. So where does the term muscle memory come from and how does one actually create it?

Muscles really only have two capabilities. They can either be constricted(to varying degrees) or they can be relaxed. That's it. So again, where does this "muscle memory" come from? Well, it's really BRAIN memory. The brain is what is really "remembering" moves or has the "memory" of certain performed activities. The brain sends electrical impulses to the muscles causing them to either be constricted or relaxed in order for the body to perform what it is being asked to do. So it's really the brain that needs to be programmed for memory of desired muscle movement not the muscles themselves. They just perform what the brain tells them to.

So with this in mind that we really need to train the brain not the muscles in order to learn and repeat a desired athletic move, that begs the question of exactly how to do it. To understand the answer, just think about the sensory inputs that the brain receives in order to learn. Yes, the senses...Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Feel(Touch). And of course, that sixth sense, Emotion. The two most important here for programming "muscle memory" is sight and feel. Sound or Hearing factor in here too from the instruction of what a coach may be telling a player to do, but hearing by simply being told how to perform an athletic move is a far distant second(if you will) behind sight and feel in training the brain for muscle memory.

It is important for a player to "feel" what they are doing in their swing. Feeling the swing as a whole and feeling what different body parts or muscles groups are doing is a powerful step forward for any player. The ability to feel the "hands" for instance and how they are working in the swing is important. Knowing where they(the hands in this example) are at each moment of the swing is important. "Feeling" where they are and feeling what they are doing IS KNOWING their performance in the swing. I tell students a lot to draw their attention to a certain body part and to "pay attention" to what that part is doing in their swing. Paying attention to it(whatever it is) is to "observe" it without trying to change it. Pay attention or observe it as I, the instructor, am observing it. Feeling is important and is a powerful way to make mechanical changes or adjustments and to promote muscle memory.

Then there is sight. Baseball and softball players being able to see themselves and what they are doing, be it in a mirror or on video is extremely important as well. Seeing what they are doing helps them to feel what they are doing. However, the players seeing what they are doing is not the only important visual sensory input to the brain that will help develop the much desired muscle memory. It is also extremely valuable for players to take in the visual input of other players they want to emulate by watching video of that player(s) over and over and over perform at their best(or performing their best swing). Don't sell the value of this short. I'm telling you, it is a scientifically proven fact that watching the best players perform at their best is a great(and in many ways untapped) way to train a player's brain in their desired athletic endeavor. Remember, it's the brain that is trained for "muscle memory" not the muscles themselves. The brain stores and recalls this information to send to a player's muscles when it is time to perform. Does just watching a little bit of video do it? No. It should be a regular "practice" of a player wanting to train their muscle memory. Just like physical practice isn't a one time(or few times) thing either. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Oh yea, that brings me to physical REPETITION. Physical repetition of course is critical. Does physical repetition train the muscles? No. It trains the brain on the impulses necessary to send to the muscles to perform the desired athletic activity.

So technically, muscle memory is a myth. It's the brain that one needs to train to perform the desired muscles memory. Remember that!

Todd Thomas is a Baseball Coach and Professional Hitting Instructor for Mike Epstein Hitting. Coach Todd's personal hitting website is Coach Todd also enthusiastically endorses as a place where baseball and softball hitters can master the Confidence, Composure, Focus and Consistency of their game so they can reach their full potential.

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