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All Questions Answered About Muscle Memory

What is muscle memory, how does it work, how long does it take to create it?

Muscle memory sounds like something you should know what it is, but at the same time has many questions about it. Find out the meaning of muscle memory, how does it work, how does that affect or help your training routine and more.

Muscle Memory Meaning

Your muscles do not actually have brain cells, so they do not have muscle memory. However, the term “muscle memory” is related to repeating one task until your muscle gets really familiar with it and you perform an exercise, a squat for example, with perfect form without even thinking about it.

Muscle memory comes into play when, for some reason, you lose muscle – it can be due to an injury, or perhaps you could not have access to a gym for a long time. When learning back the skills and getting back the muscles you lost, you will take less time to reach the same level you were before than when you first started.

In simpler terms, your body will “remember” how to regain muscles even after a long time not using them. That is not true when you are strengthening the muscles for the first few times.

Digging Deeper on Myonuclei

Essentially the size of your muscles is dictated by how many myonuclei a muscle fibre has. The only way to gain more myonuclei is by damaging your muscle, also known as contracting your muscles and working them out.

Exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) is the most commonly cited mechanism for muscle growth. Intense exercise causes damage to your muscle fibres and while your body is repairing them, the muscle fibres grow, hence your muscles getting bigger.

With age, it gets more difficult to induce your muscles to be repaired by your body, create myonuclei and, therefore, grow. Unless such muscle fibres already have myonuclei, their chance to grow is diminished with time.

Related: How to Build Muscle With Proper Nutrition

How Long Does it Take to Create Muscle Memory?

In order to have muscle memory, you need to repeat, repeat, and then repeat more. Contracting your muscles, working them numerous times, is what will create what we know as muscle memory in those tissues.

But how long do you need to train a muscle for it to develop this? The answer is unclear and genetics plays a huge impact in it (as always).

deadlift variationsSource: Anastase Maragos

Some experts said that it would take between 40,000 and 50,000 repetitions to create muscle memory. Others have implied that 3000 to 5000 reps should be enough.

However, a John Hopkins University research published in 2016 stated that you can create muscle memory faster than previously thought by doing variations of the same skills you want your muscle to “memorize.”

”If you practice 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,” said Pablo Celnik, an author of the study published.

Learn how to build muscle for performance and aesthetics by clicking here. If you are 40-years old or older, you can tweak your training in the best way possible to increase your muscle size and strength.

How Long Does Muscle Memory Last?

As expected, the same varies from individual to individual. And what comes into play? Yes, genetics. Depending on your genes you might be able to retain muscle memory for 15 years, while some people can create muscle memory that will last forever.

Again genetics plays a vital role in this matter. How long muscle memory last in one individual depends on a number of genetic factors. It could last from 15 years or it could last forever. Pray you are in the latter group. More research is needed before any sort of conclusions can be made.

CrossFit Open athlete high five with joySource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

What Part Does Muscle Memory Plays in Bodybuilding and Fitness?

If you plan to stay active your entire life, muscle memory will have little, if any, impact. However, let’s consider the following scenario:

A person trained avidly as a bodybuilder from the age of 15 up until 35. For any given reason, may it be physical or psychological, that person stopped doing sports altogether for a few years. At the age of 50, risking diabetes and obesity, this person decides to go back to bodybuilding.

The results this person would get will be much faster compared to someone who never worked out before and decided to do so at the age of 35 until it reaches 50 years old, no matter how hard this person works hard in the gym. And that happens because of muscle memory.

A CrossFit athlete, for example, would not recover faster from an injury compared to other people, but it will come back to his/her lifting and gymnastics level much faster than normal.

Brooke-Wells-Injury - muscle memorySource: Brooke Wells
Brooke Wells injured her elbow during the 2021 CrossFit Games

In conclusion, muscle memory is more or less a trick our body knows to get back to the fitness level it once knew. The good news is that it can motivate many people to go back to being active and doing sports.

Keep working hard on your muscles as you will be rewarded now and in the future, no matter how long you stay inactive.

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