Tiger McKee

Shootrite Firearms Academy

Muscle Memory

You hear the term “muscle memory” a lot in training, but if you think about it muscles don’t have brains, so the muscles can’t actually have memories. Each muscle, or group of muscles, only knows how to do two things – contract and relax, and these actions are controlled by your mind. When training and practicing what we are really trying to do is develop the neural pathways that run between the mind and the muscles.

To understand what is taking place we start at the brain. The mind makes a decision, and then fires impulses through the neural network that carries this command to the proper muscle(s). The mind’s command must follow a certain pathway that carries this impulse to its destination, the muscle.

When first learning a new skill this pathway from the mind to the muscles is like a dirt road. It takes a long time for the impulses to negotiate this rough and unknown pathway. As we begin to actually learn the skill through repetition the pathway becomes a paved two-lane road. After thousands of repetitions it eventually becomes a large interstate, capable of high speed and lots of traffic.

These repetitions also form sequences in the mind, which are filed away in the subconscious mind. Once something is truly learned the conscious makes a decision, for example “reload,” then the subconscious takes over to send the impulses down the interstate to the muscles, which perform that particular task. It’s kind of like math, once you do your 2 times table, eventually you don’t have to actually work it out in your mind, you just know that 2 times 9 is 18.

This is why training your mind is the most important aspect of fighting. According to Bruce Lee, “Training is more a matter of learning coordination, training the nervous system, not a question of training the muscles.” The physical components of the process, your muscles, are pretty much the same every day, with exceptions of course for injuries and the gradual effects of aging. The muscles can only do what the mind tells them to.

The mind must be educated and trained so that it can control the muscles. The best way to get these repetitions is with dry practice and mental imagery practice. With dry practice you’re working with the muscles included in the process, and at the same time becoming familiar with your weapons. Mental imagery practice is simply the process of vividly imagining the actions you need to perform. Both methods of practice are providing you with the necessary repetitions to form a smooth flow from the mind to the muscles.

Fighting is a mental process. Once you’ve been introduced to the proper skills you have to practice to learn those skills, retain them, and improve them. Mastering the fundamentals, and being able to perform them under stress, is the key to becoming a great fighter.


September 19, 2010 - Posted by | General Training

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