Golf: Muscle Memory?

Well, this post turned out to be more interesting than I ever anticipated. My purpose of looking into muscle memory, was to debunk a lot of practice recommendations, regarding muscle memory, since I am down on practice.  I knew there was always a lot of debate on muscle memory, whether it existed or not.  When I began to research muscle memory, I had no idea, I would be reading about zombies, weight lifting, and that it does exist, but not in the way we thought.  Even though the definition of muscle memory has changed, they still call it muscle memory.  It is like calling tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, vegetables, when they are really fruits.  Everybody is fine with it, so who cares.  Let’s forget about golf for a moment, I know it is hard to do, and just look at muscle memory in general.

The way muscle memory use to be thought about, was the more you performed a task or movement, the better you performed that movement.  This was called muscle memory.  This is really brain memory.  It is memorized motor nerve impulses sent to the muscles, to perform a certain task. The more you send these impulses, the better the muscle performs.  I will let science take over here.” Muscle memory is a type of procedural memory. However, the name of this particular phenomenon is a bit of a misnomer. Although it includes the word ‘muscle’, the memory center actually lies in the brain, not in the muscles. When we repeat an action over and over again, it gets transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term storage. In the beginning, our brain is more actively working to perform the task, but as we practice or repeat it, over time, our brain needs to pay less attention to successfully perform that task. Another way that some people express the concept of muscle memory is with the term ‘zombie agents’. Some researchers use this term to refer to agents in our brain that can carry out a particular task without us being aware of it, and without any application of judgement. For instance, imagine that you drive to your workplace every day. One evening, you need to go out for a social commitment and take your car, but something is on your mind, keeping you distracted. By the time you realize what you’ve done, you have started to drive your car on the usual route to work! Keep in mind that the muscle memory at play here is not just about remembering the route, but also the act of driving the car. You will honk when necessary, change lanes, speed up and slow down, but you still may not realize that you’re going to the wrong place. This example aptly shows just how efficient muscle memory can be’. I knew it was due to zombies why my golf game stinks.

So, if the muscle memory of performance is a brain function what do muscles remember. Again we turn to science. ” Muscles that have been trained before, find it easier to get back to a trained state than untrained muscles building up for the first time. The reason for this lies in epigenetic changes that happen at the level of each individual cell. Specific sites on each cell are responsible for muscle growth and an increase in strength. When muscles stop training there is a slow at first and then faster decline of muscle size and strength but the genes responsible for muscle growth do not go away. Muscles do have a memory of their former fitness and strength encoded in their genes and it allows them to rebuild that strength faster when they lose it.” Even though the strength of the muscle goes away from lack of use, there are still parts of the muscle that “remember” how to get strong again  faster than the first time.   Now, lets get back to golf to see if we can apply any of this, to our golf games.

The good news here, is once you get muscles in golf shape, they will stay that way, and be easier to get back in shape for a new season. Swinging a golf club every day, without hitting a ball, will help keep those muscles in shape.  The brain is still in charge of improving your golf game and golf swing.  Some other things I learned, while reading about muscle memory.  Your golf muscles will not decline until after 2 weeks of non-usage.  You will learn faster, if you allow at least a 6 hour gap between each new change of your swing.  No matter how many swing changes you think you need to do, don’t do more than one at every range session.  The bad news is the brain side of muscle memory, can slow the process of making swing changes, by ingraining  bad swing habits, if you continue to do them. This may explain why students have problems making the proper swing movements, because the bad ones are so ingrained.  This explains, in my view, why the inability to aim is so prevalent in the game.  Our muscles as it turns out, are very much like ourselves, as they do remember how good they use to be.  But unlike us, they can get back to their former selves much easier. Remember, true improvement in golf, must come from the brain, just like everything else.

 

2 Replies to “Golf: Muscle Memory?”

  1. Vet, very interesting take. I have learned through practice and being instructed that my brain can only focus on two changes at once. When you add a third, I can’t perform. And those changes work better the more general and less mechanical they are. Thoughts like “pause” and “tempo” work best.

    Thanks for the perspective.

    Brian

    Like

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