Training Tips - Why Practice Is So Important - June 2008 Ryan Purdy

The importance of practice in arm wrestling. The obvious to everyone keeping strength and endurance up in all areas. Also three stages of learning that create “motor pathways” (The motor pathways are pathways which originate in the brain or brainstem and descend down the spinal cord to control the a-motor neurons. These large neurons in the ventral horns of the spinal cord send their axons out via the spinal roots and directly control the muscles. The motor pathways can control posture, reflexes, and muscle tone, as well as the conscious voluntary movements that we think of when we hear “motor system”.)

The 3 stages of learning are Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomous. As you progress, into a sport for instance these are the 3 stages your nervous system, skeletal system, and muscular system progress through.

Cognitive stage. The cognitive stage consists of formal motor skill training. This is the time when the patient is improving the perception of the skill. He or she needs to understand the task and know what it feels like. The physical therapist needs to provide instructions, visual cues, mental imagery, optimal body positions or postures, and various facilitation/feedback techniques to help produce the ideal response. It is also necessary to provide or use various techniques including feedback to decrease over-activity of global muscles.

Next, we work on improving precision of the skill. Associative to automatic stages. The associative stage is where the patient has “got the idea,” so he or she needs repeated practice of the skill for thousands of repetitions to develop a motor program and thereby progress to the automatic stage. The idea is to decrease the facilitation/feedback techniques as one progresses toward the automatic stage. We also start with a simple, non-functional task in unloaded positions and gradually progress to complex, functional, upright tasks while gradually adding load and speed. Sometimes people can never make it to the final stage.

When and if we get to the Autonomous stage the motor pathways are created, however with lack of practice the pathways can become slower but is much easier to gain back. Don’t think of motor pathways as just the speed in arm wrestling but it can come down to things as simple as pulling and “autonomously” keeping your elbow on the pad while pulling, without practice little things aren’t so natural.

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