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Updated 06/21/2013


Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is a common term for neuromuscular facilitation, which is the process of the neuromuscular system memorizing motor skills.  When you repeatedly train movement, often of the same activity, the outcome is to induce physiological changes which attain increased levels of accuracy through repetition. Even though the process is really brain-muscle memory or motor memory, the colloquial expression "muscle memory" is commonly used.

There are two types of motor skills involved in muscle memory: fine and gross. Fine motor skills are very minute and small skills we perform with our hands such as brushing teeth, combing hair, using a pencil or pen to write, touch typing or even playing video games. Gross motor skills are those actions that require large body parts and large body movements as in the throwing sports such as bowling, football, and baseball, sports such as rowing, basketball, golf, judo, and tennis, and activities such as driving a car (especially one with a manual transmission), playing a musical instrument.

Muscle memory is fashioned over time through repetition of a given suite of motor skills and the ability through brain activity to inculcate and instill it such that they become automatic. Activities such as brushing the teeth, combing the hair, or even driving a vehicle are not as easy as they look to the beginner.  The same can be said for learning to play the bagpipes.  Once committed to memory a bagpipe tune almost (almost) plays itself.  The muscles in your fingers take over and it becomes an almost subconscious effort to play.  At that point, you can focus on expression, blowing, etc. and enjoy the music.  However, when you learn something wrong, the muscles have to be retrained.