The Power of Muscle Memory

Muscle Memory

by Bonnie MacDougall

With’s 30/30 Hoopy New Year Challenge kicking off today, I thought about the time I took my boys ice skating for the second time in their lives. I, myself, had 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!

At the skating rink, when 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 directions, 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. 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.

Thinking about my boys ice skating, I saw that after awhile they were falling less, pushing with their feet more, laughing harder, and their muscle memory was 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, one to be exercised to gain muscle memory. What kind of muscle memory had I been giving it?

The 30/30 challenge began today and the first thing I told myself was, “Well I can’t commit to this, but I’ll try.” Watching my boys, my teachers, however, I gulped, fully swallowing this knowledge of what I have been doing for so long. I watched them in my mind, bliss exploding from their beings as they continued their 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 tell myself during the challenge and the new year, and to take care of what is spoken out loud – little ears are listening. And in that very moment, I started to rework my mental muscle memory, simply by saying, “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, with her two boys. When she’s not dancing madly with her kids, she sells custom made hoops and teaches local and regional hoop dance classes and workshops.

One thought on “The Power of Muscle Memory

  1. I love the concept of muscle memory and how it works. So neat right? Its a big part of what gets me back to hooping when I’ve taken a hiatus, knowing that my body still knows how.

    How fun to hoop and skate! I would’ve loved to see that, maybe I should get our local hoopers to do a jam at the rink.

    Happy Hooping in 2014.

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