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Do muscles have memories?

Posted on 18 April 2009 | 9:04am

With a long
journey home ahead of us, a quick blog to pose the above question. It has come
to me many times as I have cycled around the Highlands.

Some of you may
remember that a few weeks ago I took delivery of a wattbike, a tweet on which
prompted a rash of ‘what’s a wattbike?’ responses. I explained that it is a
static bike used by British Cycling for training and the spotting of talent.

The wattbike’s
great advantage over the kind of bike you get in a gym is that it feels like a
real bike, you can use proper cycling shoes and it has a stack of computer
technology on there which enables you to race against yourself (previous rides)
or others, or over well-known routes.

But the computer
wizardry I use most is a screen which tells you what percentage effort each
side of the body is putting into each pedal stroke. The goal is 50 50. As you
pedal, a shape forms on the screen and the goal is 50 50 with a perfect circle.

I’ve managed to
get 50 50 often enough but never the perfect circle. But in working to make it
happen I have been conscious of moving the power in my legs from muscle to
muscle. Sometimes only the front of the thigh is working. Sometimes the back.
Sometimes the calf. The closest I ever get to the perfect circle is when all
are operating together, which may be more tiring but is more efficient.

When I first got
the wattbike, there was a danger it was becoming my latest addiction. The weather
at home was not so good, I could read a book, pedal away and keep an eye on the
perfect circle.

So when we got
up to Argyll, I was glad to get out on the real bike a bit more. And even more
pleased to note I was riding a bit faster, and a bit further, than this time
last year. Not by much, but enough to realise my muscles had learned to operate
in a different way as I cycled along.

So in answer to
my question, yes, muscles do have their own memory system.

Like I said,
short and sweet, and not a hint of politics in sight. Normal service will be
resumed on return.

  • kevin

    Can’t ride a bike as I’ve no sense for balance. Seems like a very involved hobby but I’d need a trike if I took it up. Maybe there’s a big future in this?

  • Caroline Hett

    We don’t want to talk about wattbikes. We want to talk about Damian McBride, Red Rag, Labour List, Derek Draper and whether you think the ghastly Millburn and Byers are waiting in the wings.

  • jayprich

    Oooh nice piece of kit. You’d be disappointed if you didn’t get an improvement.

    Better efficiency is all very well but for me the idea of going faster is getting somewhere sooner – not just going further. Cycled with a friend in the Lake District the last couple of years and improving a bit anyway just from fitness and mental attitude / expectations.

    I notice a cheap exercise recommended by a tri-athlete site for improving technique is practicing one-footed cycling, they also recommend pushing technique toward higher cadence. As in most fields, brief but focused repetition of the exact right thing is better for adaptation than longer periods of training which lose the focus and re-inforce a bad habit.

    You’ll no doubt miss the bens of Argyll.

    cheers, @jayprich

  • Brian Hughes

    The best static bike I’ve seen was at the Exploratory in Bristol (now, alas, no more). It was connected to a generator which powered a television – the TV would only stay on if you pedalled quite vigorously. The exhibit neatly illustrated that powering even a small black and white set takes quite a lot of energy.

    Perhaps we could help to eliminate obesity by making it illegal to power a TV or computer by any other means!

  • Alan Macrae

    I disagree Caroline — we don’t all want to talk about that, again. I thought Alastair’s two blogs on McBride were enough, and they seemed to make an impact. I also think that even if some of the papers like to lump all so called spin doctors together, the team that helped Blair would never have been as crass as McBride seems to have been. Also I am not a cyclist but I think the occasional non political blog is no bad thing. There is plenty of politics around elsewhere any minute of any day

  • Mike Barlow

    There IS such a thing as ‘muscle memory’.

    It is referred to as ‘neuromuscular facilitation’ and that describes the process of how the neuromuscular system retains/remembers motor skills.

    See http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/207/1/11 for more info.

    More accurately, it’s really brain-muscle memory or motor memory but “muscle memory” is the phrase often referred to, in studies.

    What REALLY is interesting though….is that there is no such thing as a bicycle seat that does NOT act as a bacon slicer on anyone weighing 16 stones or more.

    Mike

    A reformed, and buttockly crippled, bike rider.