BJJ and Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is commonly defined as the “ability of your mind to capture a particular activity or movement”. For example, once you learn how to ride a bicycle as a kid you don’t have to learn how to ride again as an adult. Even if you haven’t ridden a bicycle for years, you will still be able to ride without having to go through the learning process again. Your muscle memory stores certain muscle movements, and these movements can be performed exactly as before, even after a 20 year break in the activity.

How muscle memory works exactly is still somewhat of a mystery in the world of science. But there are several common theories regarding muscle memory. Most theories state that your muscles get accustomed to a particular process, when the activity is performed consistently, neural pathways develop due to repetition. Your neural pathway helps you store certain muscle movements in your body’s memory.

So how does this relate to BJJ? Muscle memory is developed by practicing the same activity time and again. No matter what the technique is, you develop muscle memory by regular and consistent training.  But here is the secret! Muscle memory burns into your body if you do the activity fast or slow, technically perfect or sloppy.

My high school basketball coach used to say practice doesn’t make perfect, “perfect practice makes perfect”! Think about it, if you practice something technically wrong 10,000 times, what is the likelihood that you will do it technically correct under the stress of competition? Highly improbable! But, what if you practice something technically perfect, slowly and smoothly 10,000 times? What is the probability that you will do it technically perfect under stress? Highly probable!!

When you go to class and start to rep techniques, do them slowly and smoothly. If you get a partner that wants to roll hard, find a more experienced partner that will help you practice the technique. Take the time to practice the elimination of unnecessary movement and unnecessary tension. Concentrate on “feeling” the movement and closing the space between you and your training partner. If you rep techniques this way for thirty days you will see fantastic improvement in your techniques and transitions when you roll. Remember, have fun and enjoy the journey!

I’ll see you on the mat!


Wayne Spinola is an instructor at Open Guard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.


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