Here is an interesting bit of research that confirms what most of us discovered while learning to ride a unicycle.
Our brains do learn between rides, especially if we vary aspects of our equipment and training such as wheel size and crank length because it stimulates the brain to “reconsolidate” the variations to the mind model of the skill. I always found it fascinating that I often return to better riding technique after an extended break. I have also noticed improvements transferring between them now that I am regularly riding several unis.
Below are the main points taken directly from the article.
The research goes somewhat against the old assumption that simply repeating a motor skill over and over again … was the best way to master it.
“What we found is if you practise a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practising the exact same thing multiple times in a row,”
… the surprise was that the group that had repeated the original training session actually did worse on the test compared to those who had mixed things up and trained in new areas - in fact, the group that modified their training did twice as well as those who’d repeated the original skill.
The researchers believe it’s due to something called reconsolidation, which is a process whereby existing memories are recalled and modified with new knowledge. It’s long been suggested that reconsolidation could help to strengthen motor skills, but this is one of the first experiments to test that hypothesis.
This is also why the researchers gave the participants a 6-hour gap between training session - earlier neurological research has shown that’s how long it takes for our memories to reconsolidate.
Although there’s benefit in mixing things up with your practise, Celnik said the key was adjusting things subtly - for example, adjusting the size or weight of a baseball bat, tennis racket or soccer ball in between practise sessions.
“If you make the altered task too different, people do not get the gain we observed during reconsolidation. The modification between sessions needs to be subtle,” he added.