The Power of Muscle Memory

Muscle Memory [ columnist Bonnie MacDougall pumps it up.]

by Bonnie MacDougall

This week, just as’s 30/30 Challenge was kicking off, I took my four- and six-year-old ice skating for the second time in their lives. I, myself, have not skated in over 20 years and was surprised to find how quickly I picked it back up. While my immediate thoughts turned towards hooping (“Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to do today’s 30/30 on ice skates”), I also was surprised at how naturally my body fell back into rhythm with the feel of the ice, skates on my feet, and mixing the two together. Initially, I gave this only a moment of thought as I returned my focus to the task at hand; teaching the boys some basic skating skills.

Have you ever wondered how your body changes from struggling to keep the hoop up, or fighting to learn a new move, to then doing it effortlessly? Yes, practice, practice, practice is essential. But why is it that when we first start hooping we have to hoop with fierce intensity to maintain the hoop’s rhythm, but as time goes on we are able to slow down, almost to where our body appears to barely be moving to keep the rotation afloat? Simply put, it is muscle memory.

Muscle memory is a glorious method of learning where our muscles, simply by repetition, are able to move more fluidly and fluently. Continuous repetition of an action allows our bodies to then perform the action nearly effortlessly. In hooping, by practicing a move or trick frequently, our long term muscle memory takes over and soon we are able to execute the task, often without thinking. Just think of the saying, “You never forget how to ride a bike.” It’s all about muscle memory!

Back at the skating rink, while I was teaching the boys the basics, and watching them fall repeatedly and then dust themselves off and get back up again with joy, my thoughts, for moments at a time, turned back to hooping again. I love the learning process. I find it absolutely enthralling to watch a student go from fear of picking up the hoop during his/her first class to rocking it in both currents, and perhaps learning a move or two by the time the hour has ended. Surely some people don’t learn as quickly and are maybe only able to hoop for 5 minutes (or 5 revolutions) by the end of the first class, but still progress has been made. Muscle memory is being formed, and this I find oddly fascinating. Seriously, I relish in the magnificence of what memories our bodies hold, and how our muscles retain memory and help us hoop or learn other new skills.

As we continued to skate, I could see the boys falling less, pushing with their feet more, laughing harder, and their muscle memory growing and growing. I took notice that not once during this learning process, through all the falls and bumps on the ice, did either one of them EVER say , “Mama, I just can’t do this.” I began to reflect on my own erudition with hooping and how many times, even just in passing, I said “Oh I can’t do that, yet…” What powerful words, “I can’t”. Even just the subtlety of the words “I’ll try” vs. “I’ll do it.”. After all the brain is a muscle too, to be exercised, to gain muscle memory. What kind of muscle memory had I been giving it?

The 30/30 challenge had begun that day, and I knew the first thing I had told myself was, “Well I can’t commit to this, but I’ll try.” I skated on the ice with my boys, my teachers, and gulped, fully swallowing this knowledge of what I have been doing for so long. I watched them, bliss exploding from their beings as they continued this journey on the ice, the words “I Can’t” never exiting their lips. I took pause and promised myself to be actively mindful of the silent messages I told myself, but also to take care of what I spoke out loud, little ears are listening. And in those moments I started to rework my muscle memory, “I will do the 30/30 Challenge. I can do it!”.


Bonnie MacDougall Bonnie MacDougall of HavenHoopDance has been in the spin since 2002. She lives in Detroit, Michigan, USA.

4 thoughts on “The Power of Muscle Memory

  1. Sometimes when I’m hooping I “accidentally” do something awesome, only I’m not even sure what it was or how I did it. Enter the power of muscle memory. I say, “Hey Body, how did you do that? Can we do it again?” It’s a powerful tool

  2. “Little ears ARE listening” and little eyes are watching and maybe you don’t realize it, but they are seeing and hearing the things that mom CAN do with joy. Chances are, you’ve been hooping most of their little lives here on earth so far and they have heard and seen you accomplish much in that time. Kudos to you for instilling a “can do” attitude in your boys!

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