Myelin: The Gatekeeper to Developing Any Skill
I have a question for you. Have you ever heard the phrase muscle memory? I certainly have. In fact, I’ve used that very phrase many times over the last 25 years of coaching health and fitness with my clients. I couldn’t tell you where I heard it in the first place. I imagine a coach somewhere along the way probably said it. Now, here’s another question. If our muscles have memory, where does that memory come from? Now we’re heading in a direction that is quite fascinating to me! Most recently I finished an excellent book and in it author Daniel Coyle discusses some of the most current research directed toward answering that question. The book discusses skill development in all of its neurophysiological and practical glory. Whether that skill is playing an instrument, learning a new exercise, or improving our talent in the kitchen there is one universal component to mastery. The answer is myelin.
So what is myelin you ask? Simply, it is the insulating layer that covers nerve fibers. Much like rubber lining around a copper wire makes the electrical signal stronger and faster by preventing electrical energy from “leaking out”, so too does myelin act around nerve fibers. Until more recently myelin was more or less overlooked as having any real purpose except to protect our nerves and improve nerve conductivity. Neurologists were aware of certain autoimmune diseases that attacked myelin but most research well into the 1980’s was primarily focused on changes to neurons and synapses rather than towards myelin itself.
It was not until around 2000 that myelin started to get more attention. A new and powerful technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) allowed neurologists to measure and map myelin inside living subjects. What they found was incredible as they saw links between myelin deficiencies and a variety of disorders, including dyslexia, autism, attention deficit disorder and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
As many researchers focused their attention with the new technology on myelin’s link to disease and disorders, another group began to form that placed their focus on normal and high-functioning individuals. The findings started to get exciting as these pioneering researchers discovered that there was a direct proportional relationship between hours of practice and the amount of myelin present. Still other researchers such as Dr. Douglas Fields, director of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, uncovered the mechanism by which these myelin increases happened. I’ll give you the simpler version. Certain supporter cells are stimulated to wrap more myelin around a nerve fiber when it fires. The more the nerve fires, the more myelin wraps around it. The more myelin wraps around it, the faster the signal travels.2 Imagine myelin as the transformer of narrow alleys into broad, lightning-fast superhighways.
Let’s get practical now. The key to developing your own healthy layering of myelin is practice. I’m not just talking about any kind of practice though. No, instead I’m referring to very deliberate practice, complete with lots of mistakes. Imagine a skill that you now have and that you feel really good about yourself for having. Now think back to when you didn’t have that skill. How did you go from no skill to amazing talent? You practiced. And when you practiced you probably blocked out other distractions, you positioned time and did so regularly enough to create improvement, and you were passionate about what you were practicing. This last part is a real key. Many of us with the best of intentions seek to change something but we stumble and give up as soon as we’re not able to improve to our liking in some made-up time frame of our own creation.
A prime tenet of skill acquisition and therefore myelinating of our nerve fibers is to make mistakes, regroup, and try again. We cannot be afraid to fail because it is the constant firing of the nerves involved with whatever we are trying to learn that stimulate the supporter cells to lay down more myelin.
So the next time you find yourself really frustrated with learning something, an exercise, a new song, a habit, ask yourself if you’re really invested in change. If you find that you’re not, re-evaluate your “why” and come at your goal differently. And if you’re answer is yes, simply embrace your mistakes, learn from them and keep on keeping on. You will achieve success simply by sticking to this formula.
Now, let’s consider what we want to place our energy toward as 2019 begins and start laying down that myelin!
1 – Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born: It’s Grown, Here’s How. New York: Bantam, 2009. Print.
2 – Ishibashi T, Dakin KA, Stevens B, Lee PR, Kozlov SV, Stewart CL, Fields RD (2006)
Astrocytes promote myelination in response to electrical impulses
Neuron Mar 16, 49(6), 823-32
Client Spotlight – Barbara Moore
1. What was the reason you decided to go to a trainer?
To enjoy and maximize the benefits of having a personal workout plan to improve cardio, strength, muscle mass, balance, & mobility as I grew “more mature”.
2. Did you consider or participate in any other form of treatment for your reason before seeking a trainer?
No – I just knew I wanted to have an appropriate work out series to perform regularly.
3. How did you hear about BodyBasics?
From my neighbor, Lynne, who was highly impressed with BodyBasics.
4. Did you evaluate other gyms or trainers before deciding on coming to us? If yes, what were other places missing that BodyBasics was able to provide?
Yes – Before I knew about BodyBasics, I did begin working out at a gym and tried their personal training system briefly – – it was generic and the certified trainer was unable to confidently address my questions. And the sessions didn’t address my fitness level or what I should or should not be doing with and for “aging” knees, stiff joints, etc. There was no comprehensive evaluation/discussion of where I was or where I wanted to be fitness-wise. It just wasn’t what I had expected – felt there could be more. The “Way More” turned out to be BodyBasics.
5. Ultimately, why did you choose BodyBasics over other options?
It was the intelligent choice! BodyBasics has such skilled, knowledgeable, intuitive specialists – – providing fun, delightful, appropriately challenging, motivating workout sessions personally geared to my fitness/health status.
BodyBasics evaluated my levels of flexibility, balance, mobility, and strength and we talked about joint stiffness, arthritis, nutrition, and other issues that were pertinent to my well-being. I was, quite honestly, amazed at what I heard about causes of and ways to improve things I had been dealing with (things many of us notice or live with as our bodies age).
To me, BodyBasics is a magnificent Kaleidoscope in the fitness/nutrition world – ever presenting one with beautiful new and expanding patterns of more knowledge, more moves, more mobility, increasing success, great fun, solid fitness, interesting classes, ways to stay motivated, better quality of life….. The BodyBasics Family is unparalleled!
6. What goals did you have when you started at BodyBasics?
Embarrassingly simple – I just wanted to begin regular workouts to improve cardio and muscle strength and assure the best quality of life I could have and look forward to.
7. How long have you been training at BodyBasics and what specifically have you achieved over that interval?
Almost 6 years! It has been and is a wonderful journey of learning, doing, improving, and knowing things about how the body works to enable me to be the best I can be with the body I have to pursue life, new hobbies, and adventures joyously. I have muscle definition I have not EVER had in my 72 years. I have improved balance, strength, and endurance that (before working out) were beginning to diminish. I have confidence in trying and successfully doing new workout challenges despite “giving Chris the eye” and saying “really, you want ME to do THIS”! I am in better shape each time I arrive there and then I ALWAYS feel better when I leave there than when I arrive there! Do the math 🙂
8. What current goals are you pursuing with your trainers at BodyBasics?
To enjoy this journey, to be more committed and disciplined (don’t most of us always have that goal?), to continue to develop/increase/improve muscle definition, strength, balance, agility, mobility – rather general, I know. In pursuing these general goals, I have found for me, the more specific gains and accomplishments that could be “specific goals” have just jumped into place – how great is that?
Welcome New and Returning Clients
The greatest compliment we can receive is a referral from one of our clients or allied health network!
Andrew Guitard ~ Found us by doing a Google search
Nancy Purdin ~ referred by Dr. Jonathan Tait from Rejuv Medical Southwest
Shout outs are about us voicing victories we witness you all having at BodyBasics. We’ll keep it to our top 5 each month.
Mike Sampogna ~ for achieving his goal of using his heavy bag once again, something that he set as an intention to get back to when he started in late March of this year!
Mike Cummins ~ for his never quit attitude as demonstrated most recently by resuming his workouts less than a month after having serious neck surgery!
Ross Henderson ~ for setting a personal goal of riding 6500 miles on his bike and blowing it out of the water! That’s an average of 125 miles a week for 52 weeks!
Ben Ritchie ~ for his recent drive to up his fitness level and his increasing focus within his sessions!
Kim Griesmer ~ for gaining mastery of her hip hinge!
Recipe – Coconut Almond Granola
This homemade granola recipe keeps it simple, and makes the whole house smell amazing. I like to add shredded coconut and almonds, but if you don’t have almonds, any nuts work really well too. Enjoy this crunchy addition to your yogurt, oatmeal or as a topping for your favorite smoothie!
- 2 1/4 cups rolled oats
- 1/2 cup slivered raw almonds
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- Line baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 300F degrees.
- In a large bowl add your oats, coconut, almonds, salt and ground cinnamon. Set aside.
- In a small microwavable bowl add your coconut oil, syrup and extracts.
- Heat in the microwave if needed to keep it a liquid. (If your syrup is cold it will make your oil solid again, just pop it in the microwave for 5 seconds or so to melt it again.
- Stir your liquid syrup mixture into the oats, mixing well so the oats are all covered in oil/syrup.
- Pour out on to the baking sheet.
- Bake at 300F degrees for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to help cook evenly.
- Once baked through, let rest on sheet pan for at least 15-20 minutes until cooled.
- The longer it sits the crunchier it gets!
- Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks!
Recipe By: Ashley Munro, RD, CDE
Ashley is a Tucson native, and the owner of Ashley Munro Nutrition, LLC, were she offers virtual nutrition counseling and meal planning support. She is a trained chef, and certified Intuitive Eating counselor. Through delicious cooked meals and recipes, Ashley shares her passion for food freedom, cooking, and family on her blog. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys running and ice cream dates with her 4 year old.
Basic Moves by BodyBasics – Helpful Hints for your Squat
Upcoming Community Events
January 26th – First “Learn with Litten of 2019! Topic: Perfecting Your Pushup – In this learning session Chris will discuss the different components of the pushup and provide practical suggestions for how you can set up for success with this very practical exercise.
Chris, Kris, Kristian, Amanda, Dustin, Chelsea and Xavier