Find out what Is Muscle Memory. One or the other has certainly gotten a little out of top form due to the closure of the gyms. Has the training break wiped out all old successes?
How long will it be before old achievements can be restored and until you are back in top form? Your muscle memory can help you get back to old performance levels after a long break from training. We explain how that works.
What Is Muscle Memory?
The body is a creature of habit. Everyone has a muscle memory that not only supports us in sports. The so-called “muscle memory effect” also occurs, for example, when playing an instrument. If people did not have this memory effect, activities such as sports or music would require far more effort and all processes would have to be mentally gone through again. Don’t forget to ride a bike overnight.
Muscle memory plays a crucial role, especially in weight training and bodybuilding. After just 14 days, the body begins to break down muscles if you stop exercising. But is everything lost again after a long training break? Quite the opposite: you get back to your old form much faster. While that sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. Numerous studies show that people who have even given up weight training for a few years can get back in shape two to three times faster than newcomers to the gym. The body already knows the movement patterns and knows exactly that it should start adapting to the training now.
How Does Muscle Memory Work?
For example, if you become infected with a virus, your immune system stores information about the pathogen in so-called memory cells. Although this takes some time, it can even go on for weeks, but your body is then well prepared for the next attack and can render the pathogen harmless in a much shorter time.
It’s similar in our muscle cells. When you exercise, your body adds new nuclei to muscle cells. To do this, these cell nuclei must be produced by so-called satellite cells. In the next step, the satellite cells donate their cell nucleus to the muscle cell by fusing with it. However, you cannot absorb new cell nuclei into the muscle cell indefinitely, which is why you also need breaks in training. When the muscle adapts to the stresses of training, new cell nuclei are constantly being absorbed into the muscle cells.
It gets exciting when you stop training because then your muscles shrink, but the cell nuclei remain. This effect allows you to regain muscle mass far more quickly once you start exercising again.
How Long Does Muscle Memory Last?
It is extremely difficult to give a general answer here. Some studies assume that the cell nuclei in the muscles can persist for at least 15 years. However, they are more difficult to recruit, especially among older people than among younger ones. Some researchers assume that it persists for life. So it can be a good idea to start strength training early, as muscle gains and therefore cell nuclei are faster at this time. In later life it is almost certainly easier to get back into good shape with a little less effort, so the training can be seen as a kind of investment for later.
But how long does muscle memory last in weight training? The main problem with this topic is the difficulty of conducting the relevant studies. This would require people who were very athletic in their teens to stop exercising and be retested later in life when they lost their muscles. Of course, it would be best if they had already reached a higher age. In addition, the subjects should then also be willing to start training again, eat healthily, etc. Such studies would certainly not be impossible, but have not yet been implemented in reality.
What Happens To The Muscles After A Sports Break?
The body begins to break down muscles after 14 days at the earliest. This effect is called atrophy. This is because muscles require a lot of energy to maintain. The body sees them as unnecessary ballast and breaks them down in order to gain energy from them. If your diet remains high in protein and adequate in calories and nutrients despite the lack of exercise, muscle loss may be delayed but not prevented.
Maintaining muscles you’ve already built is a lot easier than building new ones. Many athletes believe that you can maintain all of the muscle you have built up with about a third of the previous training. It is important to regularly remind all muscle groups to train, i.e. to stimulate them a little. A good technique for muscle maintenance would be to do 3 sets instead of, for example, 9 sets for the chest, but still, keep the weight high.
How Should I Train After A Longer Break From Sports?
When you start training again, it’s very difficult to predict how long it will take for you to get back to your old form. That depends very much on how long you have been training before, how long your break was, and how motivated you are to push your progress.
When getting back into it, it is very important to slowly start training again. Even though your muscles can remember a lot, you should also give your ligaments, joints, and tendons some time to get used to the training again. It is enough to use 20 to 50 percent of the original weight.
You should pay very close attention to the execution of the exercises! Just like at the beginning of your training career, you are setting new foundations here, which are saved as patterns and should not be wrongly retrained into your memory. Above all, the focus should be on the basic exercises, as these use a lot of muscles at the same time. The old motor movement patterns should be brought back to mind, so go ahead and do exercises that you already know well.
Listen to your body and slowly adjust the weight from workout to workout. Try to fight with your own ego as little as possible, but think long-term. But one or the other isolation exercise can also be very suitable for regaining full muscle feeling. The transport of nutrients and blood to the target muscles activates the motor movements stored in your muscle cells. Try it! Clean technique and little weight until the last repetition, you will see that you will be in top form again very quickly!
Consciously Using Muscle Memory
Even if you’re just in your bulking phase, you can use muscle memory wisely to achieve more training success in the long run. Of course, if you train a lot, you also build a lot of muscles. As mentioned above, satellite cells can donate new cell nuclei, but not indefinitely. That’s why you should always schedule regular training breaks.
Even slightly longer breaks (i.e. more than 14 days) can be useful in the long run. Your muscles will feel a bit slacker and you may lose a little muscle mass, but you will have a very good recovery effect, also mentally and for the central nervous system.
Exercising 365 days a year is not effective. Motivation problems from training also often come from insufficient break times between the training blocks. Muscle building is not linear and can be hindered by overloading the body with too much training in a short period of time. Therefore, sometimes plan a few days without training, with the certainty that you are not doing anything wrong.
Unfortunately, you can’t build new muscles with muscle memory. You’ll get back to your old form more quickly, but for new adaptations, you also have to set new stimuli.
Conclusion On Muscle Memory
It doesn’t matter which sport you do, after a break from training you’ll get back to your old successes much faster than at the beginning of your career. That’s why you shouldn’t let yourself be demotivated, especially at the beginning, and keep in mind that you’ll get back in top shape faster. Muscle cells probably store cell nuclei for the rest of your life, so you don’t need to shy away from training breaks. You should be careful, especially with injuries, and rather save a little more time.
Slowly starting the training is also very important here so that constructive training success is guaranteed without much risk of injury. Start again with the basics and be careful not to work with too much ego. It may also be a good idea to adjust your training plan so that you don’t have to stop training because you are severely overloaded. But don’t use muscle memory as an excuse to keep skipping training. Training breaks only make sense for those who also train hard!