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What + How Long Does It Take To Learn A New Exercise?

What does it take to learn a new exercise?

Whether you are new to Pilates, or a seasoned vet, everyone goes through the same process. In order to learn a new exercise, or sequence thereof, our body must build “muscle memory”, proprioception, strength, balance and coordination.

What is muscle memory?

Muscle memory is the result of repeated, practiced and learned movements that appear effortless. Activities like driving a car, typing on a keyboard, playing sports, or musical instruments require muscle memory from the same repetitive movement.

How do we build muscle memory?

Muscle memory is just that, memory – stored in the brain, not the muscles. Building muscle memory takes practice and repetition. Repetition creates new neural pathways that become hardwired in order to perform any movement automatically, without forethought.

Tips for building muscle memory:

  • Practice. Repetition can solidify accurate movements;
  • Take it one step at a time. This way, you won’t forget what you’ve learned;
  • Practice in short, frequent spurts;
  • Watch your alignment. Muscle memory can recall good and bad habits;
  • Introduce foundational parts of an advanced movement first;
  • Be patient. Commit to the learning process, however long it takes.

Muscle memory: How long does it take to learn a new exercise?

Depending on how proficient one wants to become, research shows that it takes 20 hours of practice to be proficient and 10,000 hours, to be at a professional level.

In a Ted Talk with Josh Kaufman, he states, “it only takes 20 hours to learn a new skill to the point of being reasonably proficient.” I agree with Kaufman as I see firsthand, clients’ proficiency of movements within a few months. And though, it can often take more time to truly embody the exercises, and movement as a whole. 

Chiropractor at Missouri Orthopedic Institute, Dr. K Jeffrey Miller wrote a study on whether or not it is hard work or happenstance that determines success His research revealed that effort over talent proved to be the difference in becoming proficient. This makes perfect sense as practice makes perfect!

What impacts the length of time it takes to build muscle memory?

Aptitude, attitude and commitment impacts skill development as below:

  • Aptitude. Inherent coordination perhaps gained through previous sport;
  • Attitude. Having patience and believing one can attempt it;
  • Commitment. How often one practices to become proficient.

It is really individual to each client as to when they progress or how long it will take to imprint the work, though effort and attitude are key to success. Advancing clients through the repertoire as they are ready, is exciting! This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘advanced’ repertoire. Developing skill-progression advances our practice, maximizing movement potential. 

Experienced clients go through the very same process, though it may be faster, as they have mastered the building blocks of those advanced exercises.

Is there a way to speed up the learning process?

Pablo Celnik, a researcher with John Hopkins University provides good news. He states, “If you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row. The theory goes – subtly changing things up and adding tension between what your body already knows and what it doesn’t can help you learn skills faster”.

This statement compliments the Pilates repertoire because it can be catered to every individual via modifications or variations.

Modifications and variations:

  • Introduce foundational parts of an advanced movement first;
  • Introduce symmetrical then asymmetrical exercises (double arm/leg then single);
  • Start with more load for support or no load prior to adding more spring tension;
  • Utilize props to support full variations e.g. snake on the box vs just the reformer;
  • When appropriate, add complexity, ranges of motion, and planes of movement.

Benefits of Skill-Progressions

Expanding our repertoire develops skill-progression of our practice, maximizes the benefits of Pilates, and our movement potential!

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