That’s when my father, who was also my coach at the time, first taught me about muscle memory. Muscle memory is when you teach your body to do something by just doing it over and over again. It’s particularly important in sports like softball where everything is so mechanical; the way you throw, the way you swing, the way you run. There’s many ways to do it but there’s only one right way. That’s why you train your body to know the right motions, so when you get up to bed it just does it automatically.
After the first half of my first season season and a number of batting lessons and practices, I went up to bat and, for the first time in my life, made contact with a ball in a live game.
It was a foul ball and I still struck out.
But to me, it was progress.
Over the years I still played softball; on club teams, on high school teams and on adult leagues and, after countless swings on a batting tee, in a batting cage and in games, the mechanics of swinging a bat, have pretty much become second nature for me.
The concept of muscle memory seems pretty straight-forward. You learn the thing you should be doing and you do it. Then you do it again. And again. And Again. If the body does the wrong thing; you correct it and do the right thing. Again and again.
But what happens if the body changes? Are the memories still there?
A few years ago I lost about 100 pounds in less than a year. Coincidently, the bulk of the weight loss had happened between softball seasons. My first season in the league I weighed in at around 310 pounds but I would still have considered myself a solid player. I could hit, I could field, I just wasn’t winning any foot races.
After losing the weight, I had expected to come into the next season in, what was then, the best shape of my life, ready to bring my game to the next level. I had dreams of, finally, hitting my first homerun. I had just assumed I would crush balls with my healthier, stronger frame.
But that wasn’t what happened at all.
My swing was off, I wasn’t getting nearly enough power as had gotten the year before and I was beyond frustrating. I thought getting fitter would make me a better player, not a worse one.
Then the following season someone had posted a picture of me, mid-swing and I had my Eureka moment. My mechanics were fine but I was swinging way too early.
My body was used to my muscles working at a certain speed. But my muscles were stronger, my body smaller and more nimble and my bat was too fast. I retrained my body and started waiting just a second longer for the ball to come to me.
And I haven’t looked back.
This past year or so I’ve started a different journey, I’d prefer to call it a fitness journey. Since I actually haven’t lost that much weight. I’ve realized that the numbers on a scale don’t really tell the whole story.
I also didn’t want to drop weight, if that happened that was just a bonus. I really just wanted to train like an athlete.
I changed my diet. I upgraded my workouts and changed to a better gym.
In this before photo from the Fall 2018 and after from the Spring 2020 (and the last time I was at the gym before the shutdown) my body has changed a lot. I haven’t lost a lot of weight this time, maybe 20 or 30 pounds, but I am in the best shape of my life and my body is capable of so many things it couldn’t do before.
When I first started my exercise program I couldn’t get past 3 burpees or 10 mountain climbers.
Now I power though my entire program which includes multiple sets of at least 40 mountain climbers.
Daily things or I guess what used to be daily things before the pandemic, are just so much easier. Like running up the subway stairs to catch the train without getting out of breath, lugging home an extra bundle in my week’s worth of groceries or carrying a full hiking bag with all my necessities and a full 2 Liter water reservoir on an incline for an extra mile.
During a softball game this past fall someone called me “speedy.” I have never been called speedy in my entire life. I was the only person on base but I still had to double-check to make sure the player was talking about me.
When COVID-19 took down the gyms and I moved my workout program outside I decided to take up running again. In high school I could barely finish a mile in under 20 minutes, but without any training I was off and running about 2 miles in that time. And that accounts for respecting social distancing. while wearing a mask and dodging other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
I use an app that sends me workout programs daily and when I see a new exercise I sometimes scoff, assuming my body isn’t capable of it. Until I give it a try.
It’s been a fun adventure learning all the things my body can do but I’ve also noticed there’s a bit of a learning curve. I’ve been running so long carrying the extra weight that I don’t know if I know what it’s like to run with this new body. Like a lanky teen who shot up 6 inches in over summer vacation, my brain seems to still be processing the changes in my body and I don’t think I’ve unlocked it’s full potential.