Muscle Memory and Motor
Learning In Golf
Golf and other sports require learning complex muscle movements in proper
sequence for optimal performance. The greater the
reproducibility of this motion, the better the chance of engraining it
into muscle memory or motor learning.
Motor learning does not involve isolating one individual muscle but
learning how to train, sequence and provide proper timing for the movement
of these muscles and joints. The coordination of these muscles and joints
will provide the motor task within the sporting activity.
The golf swing incorporates the use of muscles and a golf club to strike a
ball. The golf club is left to individual choice.
The muscle groups are the same for all golfers. These muscle groups are
divided into two groups the first being the large and the second being the
small. The large muscle groups include the trunk, back, hips, legs and
shoulders. The small muscle groups are the feet, forearms, wrists, hands
The coordination of these large and small muscle groups is quite complex
to achieve a fluid motion where the contracting and relaxing of muscle groups
is such that it does not interfere with acceleration.
Motor learning of multiple muscles and joints is quite complex and cannot
be learned in one lesson. Success is greater achieved by breaking down the
movements into less complicated sequences and phases.
The golf swing can be broken down into four phases.
The four phases are the preparation of physical and mental during the
stance phase. This provides for correct stability with proper placement of
the feet in relationship to the shoulders as well as flexing and
straightening the knees, hips, spine and neck in order to create a firm
center of balance.
2. The second phase is the back swing, which brings the
club to its highest position in preparation for acceleration.
3. Phase three
is the downswing or the force produced movement where angular velocity
creates club head speed.
4. Phase four is
impact, follow through and recovery. This phase is the outcome and
deceleration of the golf swing. The deceleration helps the muscles achieve
the state of relaxation with least potential of trauma by making an abrupt
There are two separate mechanisms that are important in the golf swing.
The first mechanism is postural control for balance during the arm swing
and the weight shift. The second involves the sequential fluid movement of
the arms and hands throughout the golf swing.
The brain is the control center of the body where all information is
processed and coordination of movement is made. The brain provides sensory
feedback from physical, visual, vestibular and touch during the stance
phase and the movement phase. In the stance phase tone is regulated
primarily in the lower limbs pelvis and torso during the swing process. In the
swing phase of movement the brain provides sequential turning on and off
of muscles of the arms, shoulder and hips. Any dis-coordination in this
phase will result in deceleration and loss of momentum at impact.
The brain distinguishes and gives priority to more actively contracting muscles
than postural muscles. Therefore the brain activity is more prevalent in
the movement of the muscles of the arms, shoulders and hips than adjusting
for balance in muscle tone and stance.
An important concept in motor learning is that we place to muscle memory
which most emotionally charged. The reason for this is
that anatomically and physiologically that part of your brain, which is
also responsible for emotion, converts short-term memory to long-term.
This may explain why we remember things from our past that hold the greatest
emotional charged events.
Incorporating this concept, one should become emotionally charged
with positive outcomes of performance. Unfortunately, most
players place the greatest emotional charge on their mis-hits, especially
missed putts and tee shots. For golfers who become emotionally charged
with bad shots they place them in their motor learning and
are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again.
Researchers at the University of Chicago have been studying professional
golfers and muscle memory. Professional golfers were connected
to an EEG machine that mapped electrical activity of the brain. During a
putting exercise, golfers showed that during the visualization phase the
left side of the brain showed activity as noted by spiky alpha waves.
After the golfer visualized the shot and proceeded with the actual swing
of the putt, then the brain activity switched to the right side of the
brain showing smaller wave activity.
Similarly, as any other complex movement that
requires precision reproducibility, one needs to practice only proper
mechanics. Practice should be based on improving proper muscle
memory, not the quantity of balls hit. One loses the exactness of
muscle memory with mis-hits and fatigue.
Should you have any further questions
regarding this article, please direct your questions or comments to "Ask
the Doctor" section.
Copyright © 2004 - 2012Taras V.
Kochno, M.D. All Rights Reserved
Board Certified in
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation