There are many things that skaters learn to do automatically because they are done over and over again. When a skater repeats certain movements enough to become programmed to do them, it is called muscle memory - and the process used is the secret behind many great skaters.
Muscle memory is sometimes called motor learning, and it happens when a skating movement is consciously repeated enough times so that the movement can be performed smoothly and accurately without a lot of thought or effort. Muscle memory is necessary for many specific complicated skating maneuvers or techniques, so that much less attention is needed to for the execution and more effort can go into other strategic, creative or technical aspects of a skating activity, competition or performance. Muscle memory builds a set of permanent motor skills that help make required actions automatic for a skater, and the memory gets better with practice as muscles become more and more familiar with their tasks.
Building A New Motor Skill
The first time someone skates or add something new to skating activities, it is not already a programmed skill in their system, but the brain works hard using physical, perceptual and cognitive information to execute it anyway. All of this effort makes any new action or technique feel awkward the first few times it is tried.
Any skater who continues learning a new technique, or practicing an existing one is building a new or stronger set of neural pathways that will enable muscle memory in the brain and help each skating challenge become an unconscious or automatic action. For skaters in any discipline, this just means that the more often requirements are practiced, the more likely it is that requirements can be done when needed under pressure.
Good vs Bad Muscle Memory
In activities that use body muscles, it is important that all motor learning or muscle memory is built using the correct technique. It is a complete waste of time to practice skating the wrong way. This is what bad habits, weak skills, bad skating technique or bad muscle memory is made of, and once something has been learned the wrong way, this incorrect muscle memory has to be overcome and new neural pathways must be built to replace them. Sometimes, it is not easy to teach or coach someone who has skated without proper training for several seasons, because of the need to break the skater of any bad habits or bad muscle memory that has developed.
Muscle Memory Stays - Muscles Do Not
The wonderful thing about muscle memory is that is does not go away. Once a strong set of neural pathways are built in the brain for a specific action or set of actions, the technique will come back with ease, even if it has not been used for years, since the memory is stored in the brain to convey action messages to the muscles.
Unfortunately, the muscles themselves can become weak after time and may need a small or large tune-up before an unused technique will work properly. When any skater is away from roller sports for a long time, muscles will remember what to do, but rebuilding them may take a lot of effort.
Anyone can use muscle memory to improve their skating techniques. Most top skaters and coaches agree that muscle memory develops with regularly scheduled and supervised practice. Good practice combined with a positive attitude to support motor learning is a good combination for any skater who does not want to have to think about performance, they just want to do it - and do it right.