Michael Jordan has made free throws with his eyes closed. Tiger Woods has made 3-foot putts with his eyes closed. This must mean that their muscles knew exactly what to do, right? To answer this question lets take a step back and look at an experiment done by Mr. Wadman in 1979. In this experiment he placed EMG needles into the bicep and triceps to look at firing patterns. He had subjects hold a rod on a track, kind of like a sled with a handle, and told them when you hear a “beep” slide this sled as fast as you can to the other side. They had 10 attempts to see how fast they could do it but, on the 10th, attempt he locked the sled in place and didn’t tell the subjects that he did that. So, the previous 9 attempts the bicep contracted at a certain time and the triceps relaxed at a certain time as the elbow flexed as the subjects pushed the sled to the end of the track. So with the sled locked what happened on the 10th attempt? Well, the subjects tried as hard as they could but the elbow didn’t flex, it probably extended as did the entire arm, a completely different movement pattern than before. The EMG resulted in the same firing pattern as the previous 9 attempts! This means that muscles have ZERO memory and all of our memory is stored in our brain!
Each memory is like a book in our brain, let me explain. Our brain develops motor and cognitive skills differently. For instance, if I asked you to take your 7th grade algebra test how do you think you’d do? Probably not well. I know I wouldn’t. If I asked you to ride a bike, would you know how to do it even though it’s been years since you last rode one? My guess is after a few wobbly seconds you’d be cruising down the road. This tells us that our brain stores cognitive and motor skills in different areas. Now think of all the “books” we’ve written throughout our life in terms of motor skills. Literally anything regrading movement has its own book in our brain. Once that book is written it’s stored permanently!
Alright, we know how the brain works when it comes to movements so what happens if it has a faulty movement pattern or a bad book stored in there? The research shows that we can try and try and try to change a movement pattern but if the brain constantly refers to that faulty movement pattern book, well you’re still going to have that faulty movement pattern. The key is, and it can be challenging, is to write a new book and convince the brain that this book is much better than the last one! This is as simple as I can explain it. So if you’ve been working with a health care professional and you’re still not improving or still getting the same movement patterns, then the health care professional isn’t writing a better book.
Circling back to MJ and Tiger, they were able to write the correct books and when they line up for a free throw or a 3-foot putt, the brain tells the body exactly how to move in a correct manner. Knowing and understanding how the brain works is why I love incorporating functional movement screens into my practice.
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