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Published: February 16, 2014
One of the first terms you need to become familiar with as you're learning how to golf or rebuilding your golf swing is neuromuscular reeducation.
Your brain, or your nervous system, has neural pathways that it develops over time as you learn and repeat certain movement patterns. These pathways allow you perform frequent patterns more efficiently.
As far as your brain is concerned, these pathways are not right or wrong; they're just movement patterns you have repeated so often that your brain has learned and reinforced them.
Your golf swing may be terrible. You may look, as David Feherty once said, "like an octopus falling out of a tree," but the neural pathway that defines that golf swing is all your brain knows. Your nervous system created that pathway because you trained it to do those movements, through repetition.
Repetition is the Key
Whether you meant to or not, each time you repeated that faulty movement, that bad golf swing, your brain reinforced that pathway to make it more efficient. This process is called myelination or myelinization.
Your neural pathways are made up of neurons. As you repeat a movement pattern over and over, the neurons grow thicker and thicker with myelin, which is like an insulator. The myelin sheath allows electrical signals to travel faster along that pathway, so the more you repeat something the more efficient you become at it - right or wrong.
Your brain has no idea whether the movement pattern is "good" or "bad," it just learns the pattern through repetition. That's why it's so hard to learn new movements in the golf swing; you've repeated the faulty movements literally thousands and thousands of times. Your brain has learned and reinforced every incorrect movement you've made in your golf swing with each repetition.
It's a complicated process. It takes some time to build these pathways, but it does happen, every time you swing a golf club.
Our job, then, is to break down those pathways and build new ones that reinforce the correct movement patterns. This is what we mean by neuromuscular reeducation. We're giving your nervous system new information, teaching it to create new pathways, so that over time the correct movements will become more efficient just like the faulty ones are now.
Learn How to Learn
Building and reinforcing new pathways is a very specific process, and it's important that you understand what's actually going on and how it happens. When learning how to golf, many golfers grow frustrated that their swing is not improving, and it's because they're attempting to make changes in ways that don't allow the brain to go through its natural learning process.
In order to take advantage of the brain's natural learning process, you need to have all the pieces of the puzzle.
There's one important thing that a lot of golf instructors miss. Many of the better golf instructors know they need to tell you what to do. They know exactly what they're asking you to do, but the problem is they aren't able to tell you how to do it.
For instance, a golf instructor might tell you, "I want you to turn your shoulders 90 degrees to the target at the top of your backswing."
Well OK, but how do you want me to do that? Should I push my left shoulder under my chin? Should I pull my right shoulder back? Should I use my obliques? Should I use my arms and sling them around my body? How do you want me to do that motion?
That's where the Rotary Swing is different. We get very specific, and tell you exactly which muscles that are designed to create the movements we ask you to make.
"How" and "What"
You need to appeal to all of your senses when you're trying to rebuild these pathways, and most importantly, you need to understand the how versus just the what.
The what is important, of course. It's the intellectual understanding of what it is you're trying to do in the golf swing. The club needs to be in this position, your body needs to be here, your joints need to be aligned this way, etc.
The catch is, you may understand what you're trying to do, but your brain needs to know exactly how to do it. When you do it incorrectly - say you get the club in the right place but your body is in a terrible position - we'll have you keep repeating that pattern over and over until you learn how to move your body correctly.
That's all we're doing. Everything in the golf swing comes down to how your muscles fire. That's it. The only way the golf club is going to move is if your muscles contract, so you need to learn how to contract those muscles, which muscles to contract, and when to do it.
That's the purpose of the Rotary Swing; to give you a platform for understanding how to move the golf club, not just what to do with it.
Learning is a Biological Process
Once you know the what and the how, the next thing you need to understand is that learning is a biological process.
The way the golf swing has been taught for the past 50-60 years is completely ineffective. We can see this because handicaps have remained the same the whole time.
When learning how to golf going and taking a golf lesson, getting a couple of tips, then going out on your own and hitting a bunch of balls at full speed on the range to try and groove that new pattern is ineffective.
That's not the way that your brain learns. Your brain does not learn at 100 miles an hour. It learns very, very slowly.
Imagine the first time you sat down at the piano, with all those keys, and someone teaches you to play a song. The first time you try to play it, you're going to hunt and peck your way through very, very, very slowly.
After a while, that pathway becomes reinforced enough that your brain can fire those electrical signals very quickly, communicating with the rest of your nervous system to get these muscles to fire and contract the way you need them to, so the song comes out with the right rhythm and tempo you intend.
Your brain learns the golf swing the same way. It does not learn at full speed, hitting golf balls right away. You probably know this on some level, because you haven't gotten any better using that method. Your brain learns things in small, baby steps, one at a time.
Being good at golf is not a gift that some people are born with and others lack. Just because you're a terrible golfer right now doesn't mean you can't be a great golfer. The key is time; time and repetition, and being very focused when you do those repetitions to be sure you're doing them correctly. That's how you become a great golfer.
In order to learn more about this process, we recommend the book The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle. Everyone should read it; it's one of the best books out there. It's applicable to all learning, not just the golf swing, although it does include some golf examples.
The Talent Code is extremely relevant to what we've discussed here. It explains the myelinization process that occurs with repetition and deep-focused practice.
This is exactly what you need to do when you're learning how to golf or making changes in the golf swing: step back, learn the motions piece by piece, and repeat them over and over and over again in order to allow the myelinization process to occur, reinforcing the correct motions through proper repetition.
The brain learns new movement patterns slowly, through repetition of small tasks. Where have we seen this before?
There's a great example in the classic movie, "The Karate Kid." Ralph Macchio's character, Daniel Larusso, wants to learn karate and is frustrated because Mr. Miyagi has him waxing cars, sanding the deck, painting the fence, and painting the house.
What he's really doing, of course, is teaching Daniel very simple movement patterns, slowly, through repetition. Each time Daniel did the motion incorrectly, Mr. Miyagi corrected him and made him do it right.
The Karate Kid Method Works
At the end of the whole process, of course they have their big standoff. Daniel is upset that he's been doing all this housework for Mr. Miyagi without learning any karate. They go through a little sparring match and Daniel finally understands, "I really did learn something, and in the end there was no other way I could have learned it."
He couldn't have learned to defend himself if Mr. Miyagi he had just started throwing punches and kicks, expecting Daniel to stop them at full speed. He had to learn the correct moves over time, because that myelinization process doesn't happen in a matter of minutes.
It takes anywhere from two days to as many as a couple of weeks for that biological process of the myelin wrapping around the neuron to occur and start to make the new pathway more efficient.
When you go out and practice golf, let's say you spend an hour hitting balls. You aren't technically learning - you're not building a pathway that will be reinforced over a long period of time - in that one session. It takes repeated sessions over time, from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, for that pathway to start to be reinforced.
The process is a little bit different for everybody, but the fact of the matter is, it's a biological change that's happening in your brain and nervous system, and you need those repetitions to master those tasks.
Want to be a Great Golfer?
When you're learning how to golf, whether or not you become a great golfer depends on two things:
- You must receive the correct information - you can't improve if your instructor is giving you faulty information
- You must be willing to put in the necessary time and repetition
There's no way around it. Whether or not you become a great golfer does not depend on some God-given talent. It's simply a matter of whether or not you're willing to put in the time to build the proper neural pathways to learn and reinforce the correct movement patterns.
Research has shown that it takes about 3000-5000 repetitions to master a movement pattern. That doesn't mean you can't repeat it correctly after doing it 50 times, but it won't become automatic and fully grooved until you've done it 3000-5000 times, and there's just no way around this.
If you want to master the takeaway in golf, for example, you need to have the right information so you know how to perform it correctly, and then you need to put in 3000-5000 quality reps of doing that movement correctly before it will ever be grooved.
Again, that 3000-5000 reps is for the new movement to be completely mastered. The number that you want to take out of this article right now is that it takes 100 reps for a pathway to even be created.
Think about that. If you're out hitting balls, let's say you hit 100 balls, and you're doing it at full speed. You're trying to learn a new movement - let's say you're working on the takeaway and trying to learn the shoulder blade glide we talk about on the website.
Do you think you're going to do that exactly right 100 times in a row when you're also trying to focus on making contact, hitting the ball at the target, all those things? Of course not.
Don't Waste Your Time
More importantly, it's going to take much more time to hit those 100 balls than it ever would to take 5 minutes or 15 minutes away from that and just do the 100 reps of the shoulder blade glide before you ever pick up the golf ball.
In every Rotary Swing lesson, we try to get at least those 100 reps of the new movement pattern in, right there in that first session, because we don't want you to come back tomorrow, or go work on your own the next day, without having created that new pathway. If you do, you'll find yourself right back at square one.
You may remember exactly what the lesson said, but your body, your nervous system, hasn't built the pathway that will allow your muscles to repeat that sequence correctly, and that's the key.
You need at least 100 reps in that initial session for the pathway to be created. If we meet that goal of getting 100 reps in, doing it perfectly, in that first session then the brain at least has a chance tomorrow to try and continue to build upon that pathway.
Those 100 perfect reps help assure that your brain is learning the right information because, remember, your brain isn't going to interpret the movements. It's not going to say, "I don't want to learn this, but I do want to learn that." Your brain doesn't know if a movement pattern is right or wrong, it simply learns the patterns and builds the pathways based on the movements you're repeating.
Learning is a Biological Process
Whether you're learning how to golf or just modifying your golf swing, you're reeducating your nervous system. This is a process that takes time, no matter who you are. Tiger Woods has to go through the exact same process of building new pathways that you do.
Go back and watch "The Karate Kid" again. See how Mr. Miyagi has Daniel start out doing very, very simple movements. He has to start by learning the most essential movements and build up from there. The same is true for the golf swing, with the setup, the grip, the takeaway, etc.
You need to learn all these basic movements before you can combine them into a full speed golf swing and execute them correctly in more complex, distracting environments like the golf course.
The reason you haven't gotten better at golf is not that you don't have talent, or that you're never going to be a good golfer.
The reason you haven't gotten better at golf is most likely that:
- You didn't receive the right information
- The information you did receive wasn't communicated to you in the correct way - you were told what to do, but not how to do it
- You tried to learn new skills in ways that did not reflect how your brain actually learns
Did your instructor make sure you got 100 reps of one specific movement pattern when that pattern was introduced? Did you have exercises to get you up to 3000 reps over the course of a month or so before moving on to the next set of moves?
The truth is, you can't avoid that process. That's how your brain learns. That's how everybody's brain learns, and that's what you need to walk away with today.
Checkpoints for Practice
- The brain learns new patterns in small chunks, one at a time
- Repetition reinforces new neural pathways
- Like any new skill, you have to start slow
- Going out and hitting balls at full speed will NOT reinforce newly learned patterns
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