We have all heard it from our trainers, coaches, and friends. Once you have the muscle memory, your body will just perform without you thinking about it. Do our muscles actually remember what to do? Can my muscles decide to work against me? If they do, how can I make them happy?
For some people, if their muscles hurt too much, they may quit their sport thinking their body has decided it no longer wanted to play. Others think it is their age or their muscles are too old, not them. Whatever your thinking is, we will dive into what is muscle memory and how you can improve yours. Once you understand what muscle memory actually is, you can stop most of the injuries you get.
Can Muscle Remember? or Get Mad?
The truth is, no, muscle cannot remember or get mad with you as it would require a brain in each muscle to have that ability. Think of your muscles like the “emotional fingers” of the brain. If you decide to get a glass of water, your brain makes that decision, tells the appropriate muscles to move, and then you get the water. However, if I told you, you had to climb up on the roof of your house to get the water and you are afraid of heights, getting that water would be a little harder. It still comes out of the tap in a glass, and it is the same distance. What changed? The level of danger changed. Walking into your kitchen feels safe. Climbing on your roof, may not.
The same is true for any movement. As long as your brain feels safe, it will allow the muscles to perform. Ever heard of an athlete who may be very good at their sport, be mentally off, or get the yips. Their muscles have performed that task hundreds of times, yet there is something in their brain changes their movements and they can no longer perform. The muscles didn’t forget, the brain pattern changed due to a fear of some sort.
How to Feel Safer?
When you are stretching your body, there are fears that can creep in. Questions like, can I hurt myself, or can I get back up, or will I be able to walk again can restrict your muscle movement. However, it is not about ignoring them, but showing the brain you can do this.
The biggest mistake we make in stretching is we get too impatient. The idea that I will override my brain’s fear and force myself into a pose or stretch cause more injuries that anything else. The reason is, your brain is contracting the same muscles you want to stretch. You cannot do both. By easing into the stretch and repeating 10 times, you are allowing the brain to see there is nothing to worry about.
Forget about how far you can move in the beginning, just move enough to feel the stretch, then back off. Then repeat and feel how easy it is to get to where you were last rep and realize you can go a little farther. What happened is the brain could see the original movement did not hurt and therefore on the second rep, it will extend more. The same is true for each rep afterwards.
In essence, you are teaching your brain that you can stretch in that way. every stretch will require that same basic training and you may find, in the beginning, you must repeat this type of training each time you stretch.
Bottom line is, the more you do it, the better you will get. Joints will lubricate, even artificial joints, discs will lubricate, and pressure taken off of your nerves will improve you physically. The emotional release of the muscles will improve your energy levels and a better sense of wellness mentally.
Muscle Memory? How did I Get Here?
Most of us grew up with the idea that we would retire around 65 and do nothing until we die. We may buy a house on a golf course, by the beach, and relax in our recliner doing whatever we wanted. We play golf or tennis every day if we wanted. I no longer need a watch, and nobody will tell me what to do ever again. This is where the problem begins.
In the beginning it is great, but day after day of playing your favorite sport catches up with you without stretching. Going home and sitting back in that recliner with a drink and watching a little TV turns into sleeping in that chair for some as they can no longer lay flat in bed. Maybe you buy a bed that lifts you up, still the pain persists. Your friends and doctor tell you it is your age. What is really going on is your muscles have tightened up to a point that it takes more energy to move, more pressure on joints and discs which cause pain, and worry about your future self. All of this can lead to mental and physical fatigue, maybe even lethargy. Learning how to stretch the correct way can bring you back to life, but you have to stretch every day as long as you are alive, otherwise you are dealing with plain old rigor mortis and that is no fun.
Stretching allows you to teach your brain that the movement of your activity is safe. Whether you are participating in a sport, gardening, or working on your job, freeing the muscles will prevent most injuries people suffer from every day.
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