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Muscle memory can be an ally for those who are forced take a long break from training. It helps to quickly regain form, but it does take effort.
Injury, overload of duties, holidays, lack of motivation - there are various reasons for a break in regular training. For most people we soon see the effects of such a break, especially if we take a break from following a well-structured diet at the same time. The structure of the body will change, endurance and strength will decline, maybe even a few unplanned kilos appear. A prolonged break in training, unfortunately, does have its negative effects, although for the first two or three weeks you will probably not notice them if you trained regularly, effectively, and intensively before. Suppose, however, that the hiatus has been going on for several months, perhaps even a year or more. Finally, you make an irrevocable decision - it's time to get back to exercise. This is when you will see this extraordinary ally in action. Muscle memory.
What is muscle memory?
Our skeletal muscles are a fantastic creation. When we regularly subject them to stimuli in the form of training effort and at the same time provide building materials, i.e. nutrients, they respond perfectly - they have the ability to increase in size, strength and durability. During this process of growth in muscle cells, not only does the size of the cells increase, but also the number of the cell nuclei. Why? Because it enables more efficient production of muscle proteins.
What happens when we stop exercising or stop providing nutrients? Our body begins to shed muscle mass, simply because it is no longer needed and taxing on the body to maintain. Simply put, muscles eat a lot. But there is good news - cell nuclei are not disappearing at all! Myocytes are shrinking, but the nuclei are still there. They are the ones that are constantly ready to grow again. They just need the right incentives. It is this phenomenon that is responsible for the existence of muscle memory.
So, when you go back to exercise after a break and expose your muscles to the same stimuli again, they respond very well, often better than before. They are ready for it. Of course, this process must still take a while, but it turns out that in people who train regularly and for quite a long time, who have had a break of several weeks, a few training sessions can be enough to jump back to the previously developed level.
Muscle memory plus motor memory
For this fantastic mechanism to work, you also need a solid training plan and correct form. Even after a long break, we often perfectly remember how to perform any given exercise, provided we were proficient in it beforehand. This is why it is much easier for a person with a lot of experience to return to training. It is favored not only by muscle memory, but also by the memory of the whole body - learned movement patterns and the ability to concentrate on a given movement. Here is a hint for all trainees - it is worth doing an exercise for a long time. The adage - practice makes perfect – applies exactly here.
Bad news for beginners
It turns out that you need to exercise for at least a year, and really regularly and intensively, to create the right number of nerve connections and increase the number of cell nuclei to ensure the occurrence of the phenomenon of muscle memory. Therefore, people with short training experience cannot count on this benefit. Of course, there are beginners who, due to their excellent motor coordination, have a very good memory of movements. It will be much easier for them to jump to the previously achieved level after a break, because they will easily recreate the previously performed training. Muscle memory, on the other hand, serves those who are already experienced visitors to the gym.
How long does muscle memory last?
And here - in conclusion - the best news. Cell nuclei live up to 15 years. This means that they are still ready to make the effort – even if you aren’t! So, even if it's been a long time since your last strength training, don't wait! Your body will be your ally. But beware, it will hurt. More than if you were a beginner. Simply try to think of it as ‘pain is weakness leaving the body’.