The Beauty of Muscle Memory

Have you ever seen one of your fit friends in the gym go on a training hiatus for a few weeks and then go back to tip top shape after resuming training a few weeks later? Envy not! There’s a reason why this happens.

Many of us believe that going a few days without exercise is taking us further and further away from our goals to the point where we’re getting weaker, fatter or smaller. However, in a lot cases this isn’t true, simply because of muscle memory. Muscle memory refers to our ability as humans for our muscle fibres to regain size and strength faster than it originally took to get them there in the first place. The same goes for other things in life as well – it’s much easier to re-learn riding a bike after taking a break for a few months in comparison to learning how to do it from scratch! The same goes for knitting, or even playing a tune on a musical instrument. If you’ve accomplished it once it should definitely be easier to do it again. These are two different types of muscle memory and in this article, we will be discussing the workout component of the topic.

In Toronto, we’ve seen many of our clients work with our trainers over the span of a couple years and then go on a vacation for a couple months. Many of our clients like to take the summers off to either travel or to enjoy the perks of living in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Upon their return to training, it’s not as if they’re starting from scratch.  Muscle memory plays a significant role. Within the span of 3-4 weeks, the clients can be back up to a comparable fitness level of where they were at prior to going on vacation. It would be a shame if they could lose all of their progress over such a short time frame, but we’re thankful that muscle memory exists to make sure this isn’t the case. That being said, studies have shown that you can lose as much as 12% of your muscle power within just two weeks of stopping your training. Thankfully, the power can be re-gained a lot quicker than it originally took to get there in the first place.

The reason for this is that when we lift weights, we damage muscle fibres which cause nearby cells to tend to damaged muscle cells and donate nuclei to help them repair. This helps to increase muscle size and strength. The myonuclei that are created can stick around for a very long time which means that if you go on a long hiatus from training, the myonuclei will help prime your body for rapid muscle regrowth when you resume your training. That is to say, even if your muscles have atrophied due to inactivity, the nuclei will still stick around. The length of time that they stick around is up for debate as some research has shown that they stick around for three months, where as others suggest that they are never lost.

When training is resumed after a long period of inactivity, the muscles are able to grow rapidly in size because the initial stage of adding nuclei is skipped. Once they’ve been awoken, they can synthesize protein a lot more efficiently relative to starting from scratch, which can explain why the gains can flow a lot faster the second time around. The moral of the story? It’s best to get to the gym and make the most of your muscle memory. It’s an absolute no-brainer! We’ve also had clients in the past that have taken year long hiatuses from exercise due to injury and have seen significant progress over a short time due to muscle memory as well as being familiar with the key movement patterns. This meant that their gains were able to flow a lot quicker relative to a complete beginner.

If you ever end up taking a break from training and resume at a later date, you’ll know that you have myonuclei on your side to help you out. It would be a shame if we had to start from ground zero and it’s ultimately the myonuclei that we have to thank for muscle memory!

If you’ve exercised actively in the past and are looking for some help with kickstarting an exercise routine, working with a personal trainer can be a great starting point to help you kick things off. Personal trainers also act as an added layer of motivation and accountability to help you fit in your workouts on a weekly basis so that you can continue to progress towards your goals. If you’re looking to get back into a routine, or starting from scratch, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 1-888-682-0724 or sign up on our website at and one of our reps would be happy to assist. We’ll start you off with a complimentary assessment so that we can design an appropriate program for you based on your fitness goals and what you’re looking to accomplish!

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