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Why I hate the Term Muscle Memory

The term “muscle memory” is thrown around by trainers, athletes, and other people without really understanding the meaning. Muscle memory can be defined as the idea that the muscles of the body contract in patterns to cause movement or maintain posture and are memorized on some level, either consciously or unconsciously (Muscolino, 2009). There are a couple things wrong with the concept and term muscle memory.

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he term is mainly wrong because muscles have no capacity for memory storage of movement. Instead muscle memory is controlled by the gamma motor system of the brain (Muscolino, 2009). The gamma motor system works by sending signals to muscle spindle fibers to either contract or relax (Muscolino). Since muscles cannot store complex, let alone simple motor activities a more accurate term would be motor memory.

Motor memory is different than normal declarative memory of facts as it is an unconscious process and is consolidated in a limited time window (Krakauer & Shadmehr, 2006). Krakauer and Shadmehr (2006), describe motor memory as long term, stable, and relatively stable against disruption. For example once a person masters a complex motor skill like serving a tennis ball, they repeat the skill in a similar manner over repeated trials, and do not forget it barring a brain injury.

It is important for fitness professionals to use the most correct terminology, so they do not confuse or misinform their clientele. The term muscle memory should be discontinued and replaced by the more correct motor memory. It is a more accurate way to describe the way the brain can store motor skills related to movement.