Muscle memory: what it is and how it helps in the recovery process of muscle mass

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Muscle memory Know what it is and why it can be powerful ally in returning to your workout routine.

Who has never faced a moment of pause in the practice of bodybuilding? The reasons are diverse: college, work, family. With the end of the vacation, many people decide to return to active.

When we return “with everything” to active, we soon notice a rapid resumption in strength levels and, especially, muscle mass levels.

What you took years to achieve, as a beginner, is quickly recovered in a few weeks of training and proper nutrition.

Why does it happen? What are the physiological factors involved in this process? That is what we will understand now!

What is muscle memory?

Muscle memory

In order for us to understand what muscle memory is, we must first understand what muscle tissues are made of and how their adaptive process occurs.

Muscle tissues are formed by innumerable cells, made up of nuclei, called myocytes. They are the nuclei of these cells that control the gain of muscular mass.

Therefore, when we perform physical exercises that require more of the muscles, new nuclei are created, in order to manage this requirement, thus promoting muscle growth.

When a person, already accustomed to the practice of strength exercises like, for example, Bodybuilding to train for a period, the muscle mass decreases, but a number of myocytes (cells that make up the muscles) remain the same.

This is what we call cell memory and it is because of it that when we return to training, we gain muscle mass faster.

It is not easy to start over, but it is still easier compared to, for example, the first few weeks of a beginner’s training.

However, it is important to note that the gain in a shorter time is not due exclusively to muscle memory, but also to the affinity with the exercises and their execution.

Muscle memory: cellular gains remain

Muscle memory

A study conducted at the University of Oslo in Norway subjected mice to strength training for 3 months, followed by weeks of activity disruption.

After discontinuation, it was observed that myocyte gains obtained in the previous period of training were maintained for 3 months, considerable time taking into account that the life expectancy of the animal is only 2 years.

With this study, it was found that even without the use of these cells, for long periods, they do not die, only decrease in size.

Types of muscle memory?

There are two types of muscle memory, a muscle memory related to primary movements learned in childhood, for example, cycling and muscle memory physiological through the myocytes.

Memorization of movements (memory of the cerebellum)

muscle memory

Although called muscular, this memory is governed by the cerebellum, where a set of neurones manages to “remember” an already known movement so that it can repeat it in the future.

The brain then gradually concentrates more energy into the correct action and stores it in its long-term memory.

Once it has been stored then you need to use less of the brain to repeat it, which is when the movement gets more natural.

When we move, we activate sensors called receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints are fed by the central nervous system, that is, the body is learning to interpret all these movements and senses.

From the receptors within the joint or the receptors of the skin, all the information is being fed back into the brain in relation to success.

To investigate the phenomenon of memorising movements, a study was made at the University of Manchester that asked test subjects to repeat movements while performing an MRI.

What scientists have discovered while people try to reproduce these movement tasks is that the brain activity changes according to the movement.

It was thus concluded that a much greater activity is obtained in areas of the brain that control unconscious aspects of movement and proprioception (perception of the body itself).

You may not realise it, but the brain is constantly creating “muscle memories.”

Muscle memory (physiological)

Muscle cells have in their interior a series of nuclei, structures that are directly involved in the process of protein synthesis.

The first effect that resistance training with weight has on the musculature, is not to make the muscle grow but to form more cellular nuclei, which, in turn, will stimulate the production of more muscle fibres.

If these cells had only one nucleus, as with almost all cells in the human body, the fibres could synthesise only a small amount of proteins.

So, to grow, a muscle cell needs a good amount of nuclei, a characteristic that people who have trained for years have, and even if they paralyse the training for a period will not lose.

How the training induces permanent physiological changes in the cellular nuclei and muscle fibresMuscle memory

Muscle training is easier for a woman who has had 2 years of bodybuilding than one who has never touched a dumbbell.

Upon resuming training, muscles are able to grow rapidly in size because the early stage of adding nuclei is ignored and, with nuclei formed, muscle growth occurs more easily.

A curious fact that occurs in athletics is the opposition of the return of athletes caught in anti-doping tests, because of the benefit they would have in relation to muscle memory.

Nuclei facilitated by doping remain so that when they return clean, they take advantage of the other athletes.

Muscle memory and its impressive longevity

There is a relationship between muscle memory and the person’s age. It’s amazing how much time the brain maintains muscle memory.

As a young person, you can create a muscle memory more quickly, since the organism is at full steam and the formation of nuclei is greater. Therefore, if when we are young we exercise the muscular memory will remain there until we reach a later age.


Resistance strength training produces numerous benefits that go far beyond aesthetic issues.

Whenever you hear that phrase, “Bodybuilding is an ungrateful sport,” because of aesthetic losses, strength and endurance from a period of inactivity, remember muscle memory and you will see that it is not that ungrateful.

Another factor to consider is the importance of good nutrition. A good supply of macro and micronutrients, obtained through feeding and supplementation, can provide an even faster aesthetic and physiological recovery.

If you are going back to workouts after a quiet period, muscle memory is certainly good news, is not it? Now hand to hand or, better, hands to the “iron”!

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