I have been playing baseball since I was eight years old. In little league I learned how to hit, field and pitch. I continued playing through high school. The number of swings I have taken and the pitches thrown are too many to count. After all these years of practice and games, swinging a bat and pitching comes naturally to me. But what does naturally really mean? Each time you do something it tends to feel more comfortable. Sometimes, there is improvement the more frequent a skill is repeated. I think the science behind an act feeling natural is what is meant by muscle memory. From personal experience, if you repeat something enough your body develops a memory for the task. Doing the task seems easier or becomes second nature. When I swing a bat my body automatically gets into position without thinking about it. It’s the same with my pitching. The occasional correction to my pitch is more of an adjustment rather than re-learning how to pitch. We shouldn’t confuse muscle memory with necessarily being good at something. If you repeatedly swing a bat poorly, muscle memory helps you get good at having a bad swing. It’s the same with weightlifting. If you lift but don’t do quality reps you simply won’t see the results you were looking for. Another example, are avid golfers who practice daily but have developed bad habits and therefore never improve.
We don’t really need scientific research to know muscle memory exists. We observe it everyday. I see it with my swings, tennis players with their serves, and professional golfers with their swings.
The more I read about muscle memory it became evident that the scientific research is aimed at trying to understand how the body functions to create muscle memory than to prove that it exists. I don’t believe in magic so understanding the science behind muscle memory makes sense to me.
It’s no surprise that the key to movement, memory and all of our body’s abilities come from the brain. Muscle memory is no different. According to James Houk, a professor at Northwestern University, It’s not the muscle storing the memory but rather an area in the brain that stores information and signals the body to perform. Mark Hallett, MD who runs the Human Motor Control Section at the National Institute of Health is focused on studying brain processes and how movement becomes natural. His hope is that his research will help to understand movement disorder diseases and be able to develop treatments for them. There are many theories about where in the brain muscle memory or automatic movements are controlled. Researcher James Houk at Northwestern believes the motor cortex in the brain gets trained after movements are repeated over and over again which suggests that the motor cortex has the ability to recall and store memory. Professors at Northwestern University discuss the science behind Muscle Memory. Click here to watch a video of Northwestern professors discussing Muscle Memory.
For me, I am convinced that muscle memory exists because every time I get on the mound I no longer think about how to throw, I just throw.