The Benefits of Repetition
Exercise is known to improve strength, enhance endurance and increase flexibility. While strength, endurance, and flexibility improvements can be attributed to changes that occur at a muscular level, exercise also enhances our brain-body connection (i.e. our neuromuscular system).
What is a Neuromuscular System?
You can conceptualize the neuromuscular system as a message delivery system, or a blueprint. In order to voluntarily contract a muscle, our brain must send a signal down a motor neuron (nerve) to the muscle. This stimulates the muscle and produces the intended contraction (or movement).
Image the brain as a person who writes and sends a message, the motor neurons as postal delivery personnel, and the muscles as the end receiver of the message.
Some people contest the term ‘muscle memory’ as it gives the perception that our muscles have the ability to retain information. While our muscles don’t have brains’ themselves, with repetition our brain can become more efficient at sending messages to the muscles. With an efficient neuromuscular system, movements become smoother and more automatic, as if the muscles themselves remember the movement. Therefore, the more we repeat an exercise the stronger, more solidified the neuromuscular pathway becomes.
Imagine yourself in a wide open, grassy field. There is a beautiful lake on the other side. You cross the field to get to the lake, and leave a small, barely noticeable path behind you.
If you continue to take that same path day after day, week after week, the path gets packed down making it easier to walk on. Perhaps overtime you decide to put gravel down on the path, making it more permeant. After travelling the same path more and more, you realize that it should be paved. Doing so solidifies the path and makes it easier, more efficient and more enjoyable to travel across. This is essentially what happens inside our bodies with the neuromuscular system.
The more times you repeat a movement, the more efficient and solidified the path from the brain to the muscles gets! This means that in addition to strength, endurance and flexibility improvements, exercising also improves our movement efficiency.
In fact, the more we challenge and train our neuromuscular system the more pliable and adaptable it becomes. A person who has a more pliable, adaptable neuromuscular system will have an easier time learning or new physical skill (ex. learning a new exercise and/or sport skill).
Applied to Training
On that note, although repetition can help to solidify our neuromuscular pathways, it is also beneficial to challenge the neuromuscular system. This is done by learning a new exercises or physical skills. Repetition is certainly needed to establish and solidify our neuromuscular pathways. However, once we become proficient at a movement, it is recommended to seek additional growth opportunities (i.e. new exercises and movement patterns).