Friday, July 12, 2013

What Are You Training When You Train?

What are you training when you train? Simple enough question, isn't it? Surprisingly, the answer is very simple although not very well understood.

Repetition is the bedrock of martial arts training. Many in the martial arts and other sports refer to 'muscle memory.' MUSCLES DO NOT HAVE MEMORY. The reference to muscle memory is a way for people who don't know the 'why' of techniques or training to explain the why of techniques or training. It is a constant source of amusement when my work on understanding the why of techniques is derided and yet those same deriders then attempt to explain the why of the tactics and techniques they are teaching. The why explanation that is anecdotal at best.

The brain is 'plastic.' Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to create new neuroconnections throughout its life. Habits are well established neuroconnections. If you want to create new habits, you need to create new neuroconnections. You then need to reinforce them with repetition.

The brain changes physically (anatomy) and functionally (physiologically). It's not just about 'the way we think.' Training is about changing the physical and functional characteristics of the brain.

Your training is developing new neuroconnections and reinforcing those neuroconnections. That is why visualisation works to improve your physical performance. The brain changes itself. You visualise your physical activity and that is establishing and reinforcing those new neuralconnections. There have been studies done were people how have never played an instrument have learnt to play that instrument without physically playing it.

There is training that trains the body - pushups, etc - however, the skill training, while you may think it is physical training, is actually mind training.


  1. Always thought that "muscle memory" was just the layman's term for motor memory - imprinting more muscle synergies via repetitive execution into the motor planning regions of the brain - the consciously controlled motor cortex, the subconscious motor areas of the basal ganglia and cerebellum. Never thought of it as "memory inside muscle" but as "memory of muscle firing patterns".

  2. Your post fits in very nicely with my series of ongoing posts discussing the necessity of mental training, rehearsal and role-play. Nice succinct explanation.


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