Muscle Memory

I have terrible muscle memory.  Ages ago, the first several times I tried aerobics, I always went left when everyone else went right. When I rode, my biggest fear was rarely the size of the jumps — it was doing them in the wrong order. (From personal experience, I can tell you there are few more humiliating experiences then being alone in the arena and having the buzzer sound with someone yelling “OFF COURSE!” Not that that ever happened to me.  Ahem.)

On the flip side, once I get that memory, I have it for years. (Seriously. Anyone want to see my step aerobics routine from the 1990s?) Writing is a bit like that, too.  If I can get my butt in the seat, if I can doodle around for a 45 minutes or so, the words start to come without my thinking about them. My fingers and my brain wake up and remember what to do so long as I stay out of their way.

These days, I’m trying to instill a different kind of muscle memory.  I sit by my children at night, taping together a Halloween costume, hearing them recite Spanish phrases, helping with new math. I do this not because I am so enamored of new math (which is different from the new math I had as a child, which must now be old math and is still ghastly) but because I’m hoping that I can instill in them, in their minds and their hearts and in their very muscles themselves, how much they are loved. I want them to remember without even thinking about it, to simply know it the way their lungs know how to breathe, so that when our relationship isn’t as simple, when the questions are so much harder than  How do you say cold in Spanish? and What is the lowest common denominator?, their bodies will remember what their brains may not.

Does muscle memory come easily to you? When is it useful?  And if you have time, check out this gorgeous video which includes footage of my riding crush David O’Connor almost going off-course at the Sydney Olympics.  (It happens around minute 13, but the whole video is worth a watch.)


Posted in ,

Liz Michalski


  1. Vaughn Roycroft on October 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I have good muscle memory for some woodworking tasks. Thankfully, they are mostly safety related (nothing like an eye injury to make you automatically don safety goggles, or a saw-buck to make you rely on the guides and guards).

    Heartwarming post. I’m sure your kids will retain that muscle-memory and then some extra reciprocal love for you and fondness for home.

    • liz on October 28, 2013 at 10:51 pm

      The one thing I always remembered when riding was to check the horse’s girth, Vaughn — because the one time I didn’t I landed on my rear. You are absolutely right that it only takes one time to make a big impression!

  2. Helen on October 22, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Just remember red is right, and green is left ;)!! I’ve met David O’Connor and many other riders on the eventing circuit…they are humans just like us ;). Keep writing!!

    • liz on October 28, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Thanks, Helen. Good to see you this week!

  3. Jan O'Hara on October 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I have decent muscle memory when it comes to fine motor skills. Typing, piano-playing, for instance. Large motor skills are dicey and require recent repetition, which is why my dance class can be interesting at times, particularly if they change the routine and I’m on auto-pilot.

    With how you describe your home life, I can’t imagine your kids not feeling secure and knowing they are loved at the cellular level.

    • liz on October 28, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      I have NO fine motor skills, Jan. Which is why my husband and my MIL cringe every time they see me pick up a knife to chop something for dinner. (Not that my large motor skills are anything to write about … it’s a good think we don’t take dance together.)

      And I hope they do, but you never know.

Leave a Comment