Sunday, November 29, 2009

More on motor learning.....your brain is plastic

One of the things that this blog has recorded my thoughts about recently has been the idea of skill development vs strength development. Strength development is one thing, but in order to be good at your sport or activity you need to practice the specific skills involved. There has been a lot written on motor learning which is fascinating to study. Some of the interesting stuff is of how there is little transfer between similar movements.

This area of skill development came up in today's seminar with mc - which I will write more of soon (it was excellent) - but I also came across this today which is relevant to the discussions:

Study shows new brain connections form rapidly during motor learning

New connections begin to form between brain cells almost immediately as animals learn a new task, according to a study published this week in Nature. Led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study involved detailed observations of the rewiring processes that take place in the brain during motor learning.

When you are learning a new physical skill, you are re-wiring your brain....and to some degree this is permanent.

"It's a remodeling process in which the synapses that form during learning become consolidated, while other synapses are lost," Zuo said. "Motor learning makes a permanent mark in the brain. When you learn to ride a bicycle, once the motor memory is formed, you don't forget. The same is true when a mouse learns a new motor skill; the animal learns how to do it and never forgets."

Interesting stuff. You need to learn the skill....but that learning gets hardwired into the brain and stays there. As mc said today, the nervous system is plastic.


Chainey said...

No offence intended, but this isn't exactly new. I've known this for years and years and I always considered it general knowledge. It's also rather self-evident don't you think? How would anyone ever learn or remember anything new if there weren't permanent changes in the brain?

As it happens, I can remember when I first heard of it - it was in Edward de Bono's The Mechanism of Mind - published in 1969.

I'm not really having a go at you - more at the scientists who seem to burst forth with bleeding obvious conclusions after spending hundreds of thousands of dollar.

And (I can't resist), I'm one of those people whose teeth are set on edge by the misuse of "literally". Referring to brain organisation as wiring is a metaphor and so there's nothing literal about it.

Won't find any wires if you open up your head - just a whole lot of squishy meat and oozing chemicals.

Brahma said...

The idea of learning *new* skills this way is one thing, and the first poster makes a good point about it being a bit obvious. But I wonder about the application of this to *improving* at a skill you already have. For example, Pavel often talks about "greasing the groove" by doing a high volume of sub-maximal reps with an exercise. Is this an application of the above?

pieter d said...


Frank from Exuberant Animal posted an interesting presentation on motor control and variation

might be interesting


Chris said...

Chainey - well spotted, the "literally" thing annoys me too. I have removed it.

Chad said...

Hi Chris. This is part of my training concept...the idea that the brain is pliable. The brain releases the same learning proteins and chemicals while performing (learning) a complex motor skill, as it does learning math, or another language. Dr. John Ratey did research for this in his practice, and many school systems across America have implemented his research in their classrooms...FINALLY! The book is called "Spark." I highly recommend it. Nice post (as always!)

Chad said...

Yes, it is a similar concept. Doing thousands of reps (correctly) at a very submax level will stimulate more thorough, stronger, quicker neurological connections in the brain. Just like your brain creating memory pathways when learning math...isn't 2 + 2 always 4? But we had to learn that by repeatedly doing the homework. Submax exercises are the homework from which we can apply more intense (higher weight) efforts...IMO.

Richard Nikoley said...

Like riding a bike.

I fly hang-gliders, sailplanes & power. I've had a year or more go in-between flights, sometimes, but it just never seems to matter. Far more important than the "muscle memory" are safety procedures.

Oh, on "literally" abuse: