I am dedicating this article to Deji since he coined the phrase “muscle memory” during the course of our discussion after he read my article on body types.
Deji had recently returned to the gym after a five-year hiatus, and according to him, his gym mates were quite suspicious about his massive and almost immediate gains since returning.
He had thought perhaps genetics and the fact that he is predominantly a mesomorph might have contributed to this.
After reading my article, he decided he was going to share it with his mates so they would understand why he was gaining faster than they did.
However, Deji had mentioned “muscle memory” as a reason for such gains since he had used a gym five years ago, although he neither followed any routine per say nor had a trainer to guide him. The question is: Is a month’s worth of work enough for muscle memory?
I have a friend who thinks he is naturally predisposed to grow muscles. He says, “It runs in the family.” But apart from being a mesomorph, could having a history of working out actually aid your muscle growth when you return, say for ectomorphs or endomorphs?
As far as muscle memory goes, I think the obvious is the case as I have formerly pitched for consistency since cumulative effort is the only way to have lasting results whether you are trying to shed or gain mass.
On this one, I have consulted my dear friend Anita Ejiofor who is a medic and blogger, to know if there’s a medical explanation for muscle memory and if it, in fact, does exist.
During the course of our research, the subject of vocal cords came up which gave us more reasons to believe in the concept of muscle memory. Here’s what she had to say:
Muscle memory is a relatively new feature of all the characteristics ascribed to skeletal muscle cell (fiber).
The muscle cells are the largest cells in the body with a volume thousands of times larger than most other body cells. To support this large volume, the muscle cells are one of the few cells in the body that contain several cell nuclei.
Strength training exercises such as weightlifting, increase muscle mass and force by changing the caliber of each fiber rather than increasing the number of fibers.
It was believed that during muscle wasting (periods when the individual did not engage in muscle strengthening exercise) muscle cells lost their nuclei by a nuclear self-destruct mechanism known as apoptosis. Direct observation of these muscle cells using in vivo imaging indicated that no nuclei are lost under such conditions, and the apoptosis observed in the muscle tissue was demonstrated to occur only in other cell nuclei in the tissue e.g connective tissue and muscle stem cells called satellite cells.
Since it has been confirmed that cell nuclei are added during strength training and not lost upon subsequent detraining, the nuclei might provide a mechanism for muscle memory.
So what happens when a physical trainer returns to strength training after a period of inactivity is that the process of muscle building is short-circuited as the extra nuclei previously acquired are still present, and can rapidly start synthesizing new protein to build muscle mass and strength.
It is important to note that the mechanisms implied for the muscle memory suggest that it mainly related to strength training, and a 2016 study conducted at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, failed to find a memory effect of endurance training.
As to whether a month’s practice is enough time to develop muscle memory, a research showed that even a small amount of training may be enough to induce neural processes that continue to evolve even after training has stopped, which provides a potential basis for consolidation of the task.
Also, research has suggested that epigenetics may play a distinct role in orchestrating a muscle memory phenomenon. And from all of the above stated, it is safe to deduce that the development of muscle memory is not exclusive to persons with mesomorphic body types, but all body types can indeed acquire muscle memory.
So there you have it like I had noted: “the obvious” is the case. If the muscles can’t remember the work you’ve put in them, then what’s the point of training them anyway? To put it in plain terms: This is why consistency and cumulative effort cannot be overemphasized.
There’s no waste when it comes to muscle training with regards to strength training. So, if you have abandoned your fitness journey long ago, now may be a time to resume knowing fully well that your muscles are only waiting to be woken up.
– Barry Agava
Barry Agava runs a lifestyle blog dedicated to promoting a self-inspired aspiration towards fitness, healthy living, and personal growth. He shares his personal fitness journey and experiences, as well as his ideas which would foster your personal drive to develop yourself both physically and mentally. Follow his blog and personal fitness journey on Instagram.
Being poorly informed when it comes to fitness, I was unaware of the concept of muscle memory when Barry approached me with the subject. I googled and didn’t find much information on it initially. I asked a colleague who said he had heard about it with respect to vocal cords training in singers. With that assurance that it, in fact, did exist I went to work a second time and found the information I shared above. Have you heard of muscle memory? Better still can you attest to the fact that it does exist, and share your experience with us?