Yes, it can but only if they’ve had swimming lessons! Muscle memory is the same concept that allows you to jump on a bike after not riding for years and pedal away. Once you’ve trained yourself, you never forget, and swimming is the same.
Despite its name, muscle memory isn’t stored in your muscles, it’s stored in a part of your brain called the cerebellum. Although the cerebellum only makes up 10% of your brain volume, it contains over 50% of the brain’s neurons.
When your child learns a new movement in swimming, their brain creates a memory of the pieces that make up that movement and stores it in their cerebellum. Scientists call this motor learning. When your child commits swimming to muscle memory it allows them to stop devoting mental energy to thinking about each stroke or breath. They will be able to focus on the specific elements for example, things they can do to tweak the stroke to make them faster or more efficient, rather than thinking about the next breath. When their body knows what to do and where to go, swimming can be very relaxing for them.
Laying a foundation
Motor learning doesn’t happen just by performing an action once, instead it occurs in stages. It’s just like learning to ride a bike. First, they learn how to position themselves and where their feet and hands should go. Then they practice individual movements, such as peddling with someone else guiding the bike, so they don’t have to worry about balance or steering. Once they’ve mastered that they can practice with balancing themselves and then steering, until they can put it all together.
That’s why in our swimming lessons we break the process down for your child.
First, we teach your child to get an understanding of what it feels like to perform the full stroke, this also allows the coach to better understand which areas of their stroke need attention.
Then we teach your child how to break down the stroke into specific areas using BLABT (body position, legs, arms, breathing & timing). This allows your child to focus on specific areas and to learn through repetition, the drills will get progressively harder until they have been mastered.
Once your child has mastered the micro skills our coaches will then work it into the full stroke to analyse if your child can maintain the specific areas of the stroke whilst completing it as a whole movement.
When your child starts to swim, it is important to take the time to do things right. After all, you want their muscle memory to deliver proper technique and not bad habits. Practicing the wrong way can be dangerous, as bad habits tend to crop up when they’re under pressure and are much harder to correct later, which is why we put such emphasis on technique over distance.
To prevent this from happening, our highly-knowledgeable coaches track your child’s problem areas as they learn and halfway through the term they carry out an assessment of your child providing you with feedback on their progress and highlighting any problem areas. Sometimes at this stage, we suggest your child attending one of our intensive holiday courses (5 days of consecutive swimming lessons during half term or holidays) to really help problem areas and help them progress quickly.
Strengthening muscle memory
Repetition strengthens your brain’s memory of ‘the right way’ to perform the skill and consolidate the results into muscle memory, strengthening neural pathways. So, the more repetitions your child has performed the more their brain has to analyse. Simply put, the more they practice, the stronger their muscle memory will be. Practice also helps cement what details constitute the action and which are external factors. For example, a different swimming pool on holiday might have a different feel, but the motions for swimming don’t change. Their brain will identify what matters and is integral to accomplishing the task.
Each swimming lesson will reinforce and strengthen the stored pattern making it easier to recall and eventually they won’t even have to consciously think about it and their body will know what to do. World-class coaches have been using the principles of muscle memory in sport to help develop athletes for decades and our swimming lessons are no different.