The term muscle memory may be familiar to many golfers, but how many truly know what it means? It is an extremely important concept, not only for golfers, but for anyone who is trying to improve a skill or talent.
In truth, muscle memory is all around us 24 hours a day! It is involved with practically every single task that any of us perform, even for simple things such as brushing our teeth and tying our shoes!
Here, I will go into the basics of motor learning and inform you of why practice is so important for us golfers.
The term "muscle memory" can be somewhat misleading, because the memory isn't actually stored in the muscles. The "memory" is actually stored in your brain in the form of a motor pattern.
A simple terms, a motor pattern is kind of like a road map. It is a guide that our body uses in order to complete a certain motion or task efficiently. When we first learn a new task, that pattern is raw. It will get us from point A to point B, but it most likely isn't the fastest or most effective way.
What happens over time is that our brain refines this pattern. It does it over and over again, each time we perform that motion or task. This is called motor learning and is that main basis for practice! If we continually practice something, and practice it well, not only does the performance of that task improve, but the time is takes to process the request also is decreased.
Going back to our road map example, going form point A to B could have, say, 20 possible routes. Now as you travel back and forth from those two points multiple times, you find new ways to go, some faster than others. Over time, you will realize which is the fastest way to get there and you forget about those other 19 possible routes and focus just one one.
Now, in the optimal situation, muscle memory makes your performance better. However, if not done properly, it also can make you worse!
Have you ever heard the saying, "Practice makes perfect"?
How about, "Perfect practice makes perfect"?
The latter is definitely more applicable for those looking to improve performance. While practice alone is helpful, what if you have terrible form? What if you always look up before you hit the ball? If you continually make the same mistakes while practicing you will never get better!
Motor learning is not specific only to the good things that you do. It also picks up all of the bad things as well. You will be stuck making the same mistakes over and over again if you don't "train your brain"!
You need to make your practice more specific: Focus on improving small things, and make sure that they are correct before you are done. And by practice, I don't mean going out and playing 18 holes, I mean actually practicing specific shots and specific situations. We all know how difficult it is to become a good golfer, and how much time you must put in to get better. How you practice dictates how well you play on the course.
If you are truly looking to get better, you need to do your homework! Become a student of the game and learn about the proper golf swing. Take lessons, and/or spend time a the range or practice green honing your skills. Over time your muscle memory will improve and things will become more natural, but it doesn't happen overnight.
One other piece of information that I found very interesting about muscle memory is that your thoughts even have an influence over it! My neuroscience professor in college taught us that mentally rehearsing something over and over again in your head will actually improve performance! While it isn't as effective as actually performing the motion itself, it still has positive effects. This information is key to the mental aspect of golf (read more about it here) by visualizing in your head your swing and the type of shot you want to hit.
So perfect practice does make perfect!
Learn how to train the right way and your performance will improve due to a little thing called muscle memory. Train the wrong way, and you will be stuck with the same faults over and over again!
Now take the information you learned and go practice!
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