What is Muscle Memory?
A lot of people ask us coaches at KJO Coaching if muscle memory is a real thing or if it’s just a gimmick they hear about on social media.
Muscle memory is the idea that once you’ve gained muscle, if you happen to lose some, it’s much easier and faster to build the next time around than it was at first.
Aka your muscles “remember” and make it more efficient to rebuild and regain strength.
Coach Laney is here to talk about all things muscle memory!
Over the last few weeks, you may have taken a bit of time off from the gym due to the holidays. Now that you’re heading back to lifting weights, it’s understandable that your strength might not be where it was before the holidays. The more time you took off, the more noticeable this change will be. Although I promise that just a few weeks off the weights won’t cause significant muscle loss!
What is muscle memory?
There are two explanations for muscle memory and how it works.
The first explanation has to do with neurological adaptations. The connections created between your brain and your muscles, along with adaptations to specific movement patterns (exercises), don’t go away after taking a break, assuming these movements are something you’ve repeatedly done prior to taking time off.
For example, I haven’t played tennis since last summer, but when I go to play again this summer, it will come right back to me! I won’t have to re-learn how to play because the muscle memory is there from playing in the past.
The second explanation for muscle memory has to do with muscle physiology. As you lift weights, your muscles need to add more nuclei to grow. These “muscle nuclei” are called myonuclei.
As the muscle atrophies (gets smaller) when you stop doing a particular movement, the myonuclei don’t go away. They stick around because of an epigenetic modification. The new myonuclei responsible for muscle memory are now part of your DNA.
Pretty neat, right?
This means that if you do take some time off from lifting (like a lot of us did during quarantine), it’ll be easier to gain back the muscle you’ve lost.
As an example, I’ve been doing hip thrusts since college, which is about eight years, and I have worked my way up in weight over that time. Due to an injury a few months ago, I didn’t hip thrust heavy weight for about eight weeks. I’ve done heavy hip thrusts 2 or 3 times now after fully getting back into it. I’m 15lbs away from where I was pre-injury and feeling like muscle mass is returning - and this was after TWO MONTHS off!
The myonuclei were still there, and even though I couldn’t immediately go back to the weight I was lifting pre-injury, the process for regaining that strength and muscle mass is much faster than it was when I initially started working on my hip thrusts.
So yes, muscle memory is definitely a thing, both anecdotally and scientifically.
You may have lost some muscle mass due to quarantine, injury, or other circumstances, but don’t let that discourage you from going back to the gym or getting back on your heavier lifts.
Actually, you could use it as a reason to push yourself harder!! Now that you know it’ll come back quickly, push yourself to make progress. (Hello, growth mindset!)
As always, do it gradually and safely. But also use this time as an opportunity to really work on progressing your strength. It feels damn good! You might amaze yourself with how quickly you can build your strength back up to what it was before you took time off from strength training.
You don’t have to go it alone either! At KJO Coaching, we’re here to help you out! You can apply to work with our incredible team of coaches to get back the muscle mass you once had and more! By working with our team, you’ll get stronger and healthier than ever before!
If improving your health and fitness is one of your goals for 2022, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
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